Real Estate Mogul Getting into the Research Side of Things

Turns out that when real estate mogul Conrad Prebys made his $20 million gift to establish the Prebys Bio-Medical Research Scholars program at San Diego State University in February 2014, it was a sign of big things to come. Or rather, a sign of smaller, but connected things to come. Earlier this month, the university announced the receipt of another $2.5 million from Prebys, this time to endow a faculty position in biomedical research.

This year, Prebys has seemed to be shifting more toward the health research side of things with his giving. First, there was the February gift. Then, in June, he announced a pledge of $25 million to the Salk Institute. As with so many independent philanthropic gestures, Prebys’ generosity is underwritten by personal experience. He grew up blue collar in South Bend, Indiana, saw his brother get polio, suffered through a whole year of bedridden illness due to a heart infection, and was told he would never be able to lead an active life. 

Instead, he was the first in his neighborhood, and family, to graduate college, and he went on to make millions in real estate development. Now, his childhood experiences are coloring his philanthropy. Actually, those experiences have been coloring his philanthropy for a long time. He’s given $45 million to fund the Prebys Cardiovascular Institute of Scripps Health in San Diego, no doubt inspired by his own heart issues. Previously a trustee of the Salk Institute (and do you need to be reminded that it was Jonas Salk who developed the first polio vaccine?), Prebys has given $2 million to establish the Conrad T. Prebys Endowed Chair in Vision Research.

Lately, the man seems to be coming to the understanding that frankly unglamorous research is required before the big "a-ha" moments are achieved. "We need this foundational science to lay the underpinnings for new therapies and cures,” said Prebys, of his Salk gift earlier in 2014. And now, of the SD gift: "It gives me great joy, especially at this time of year, to give to the education program at San Diego State University," said Prebys.