Learn about some of our amazing supporters!
Giving Spirit: Karl B. McMillen
This "regular guy" makes a difference
In a time when economic uncertainty has caused many corporations to scale back their charitable contributions, Karl B. McMillen stands apart. He truly is a self-made man, a former plumber who parlayed a single plumbing supply store into Todd Pipe & Supply, a multimillion dollar wholesale company.
McMillen is also a man of integrity who believes in old-fashioned values, such as customer service, honesty and loyalty. Humble and plainspoken, he is a self-professed "regular guy" committed to using his fortune to make a difference for the people in his community.
To that end, McMillen has pledged $5.3 million to Torrance Memorial Medical Center, the single largest donation in the 81-year history of the medical center. His generous contribution will establish the Thelma McMillen Center for Chemical Dependency Treatment, named in honor of his late wife. The center will be dedicated to the treatment of alcohol and drug dependency in adults and adolescents.
"I feel incredibly fortunate to have reached the point in my life where I can give back to community," McMillen said. "I'm just one man, but I want to make a difference in this world and inspire others to do the same."
As chairman of the board and co-founder of Todd Pipe & Supply, McMillen actively oversees operations at nine locations, including Hawthorne, Garden Grove, Sylmar, El Monte, San Diego, West L.A., Las Vegas, Escondido, and Riverside.
McMillen credits his success to providing unparalleled service excellence to his customers and exceptional benefits to its loyal employees.
McMillen learned the plumbing business from his father, who traveled with his family throughout the west in the mining business. After serving in the United States Marines, he worked his way through the University of Southern California as a plumber. Following his graduation in 1954, he started Alert Plumbing with two partners.
A man who trusts his instincts, McMillen knows well that timing is everything. After riding the Southern California building wave of the 1950s and '60s, McMillen sold his interest in Alert Plumbing just before the Los Angeles home building industry bottomed out. The company filed bankruptcy two years later.
McMillen then went to work in the commercial real estate business, a move that put him back in touch with Ralph Todd, a former purchasing agent at Alert Plumbing. McMillen joined Todd as an equal partner at Todd Pipe & Supply in 1968. In 1979, they split the company and McMillen took over the southern California locations.
When the Southern California housing market crashed in the early 1990s and commercial construction slowed, other companies pulled back. Bucking the trend, McMillen actually expanded. "I looked around and saw that everybody else was pulling in the reins, trying to cut their losses," McMillen said. "I decided to take a chance and do just the opposite. We went after market share. Turns out it was a pretty good decision."
Pretty good, indeed. After weathering four years of declining sales, the building slump ended. Todd Pipe & Supply's sales volume increased from $65 to $83 million in just one year.
Further growth came in 1996, when Todd Pipe & Supply expanded into Las Vegas, a gamble that cashed in big on that city's subsequent building boom.
Timing and instinct had an impact in his personal life, as well. In June of 1950, McMillen met the woman who would become his wife at the Pasadena Civic Center. He married Thelma three months later - a union that lasted 48 years. A little bit of business acumen also came into play.
"She was pretty, she had some money saved up and a car that was paid for," he joked. "I knew a good thing when I saw it!"
It is appropriate that the center will be named for Thelma McMillen. When she passed away in 1998, she left a legacy of care and compassion that will be carried on in her name through the Thelma McMillen Center for Chemical Dependency Treatment.
Despite suffering great losses in her lifetime and fighting a long and determined battle against her own illness, everyone who had the good fortune to know Thelma McMillen remarks on her kindness and generosity of spirit. She was an integral part of Todd Pipe & Supply's success, but still found time to volunteer at the South Bay Free Clinic.
Although his fortune has allowed McMillen to make this generous donation to Torrance Memorial Medical Center, he is a down-to-earth man who hasn't been lured in to a lavish lifestyle. He says he most enjoys jumping into a four-wheel drive vehicle and finding an inviting dirt road anywhere between Mexico and Alaska. Visit his corporate headquarters, and you won't find pricey mahogany desks. In fact, the only obvious adornment is his treasured collection of 20 Winchester "trappers," rare rifles dating back to the 1800s. Instead, McMillen prefers to use his wealth to benefit others.
"I was looking out at the ocean one day, and I saw a huge yacht sail by," McMillen said. "I thought 'I could buy that,' but what would I do with it? I'd rather put my money to use helping people."
McMillen's donation is a major step in fulfilling his dream to help people, particularly those individuals battling drug and alcohol addiction. His dedication to this cause comes from personal experience. Not only is he a longtime member of Alcoholics Anonymous, but the McMillens lost a son to a drug overdose.
"I know firsthand about the devastating effect addiction can have on individuals and families," McMillen said. "I also know these are problems people don't discuss openly, making treatment all the more difficult. My sincere hope is that the Thelma McMillen Center for Chemical Dependency Treatment will help change that."
Giving Spirit: George and Reva Graziadio
Radiology Center dedicated to the Graziadios
George and Reva Graziadio made a major gift commitment to the medical center, which is being used to expand radiology services. Their giving spirit will benefit South Bay and Peninsula residents for many years to come.
In recognition of the Graziadios' generous financial contributions and more than 20 years of volunteer leadership, the Torrance Memorial Health Care Foundation recently dedicated the George and Reva Graziadio Radiology Center.
A longtime medical center supporter, George Graziadio passed away in 2002. Always generous with his time as well as his money, the Torrance Memorial family feels this loss and misses seeing him at various events around the medical center.
During the years, George Graziadio was named a "Distinguished Benefactor" for his numerous gifts. He was active in many medical center fund-raising activities, including Festival of the Trees, the annual Golf Tournament and An Evening of Music. He was also a member of the Legacy Circle and a life member of the Torrance Hospital Ambassadors.
In addition to offering his own financial support, Graziadio was instrumental in helping Torrance Memorial secure gifts from other individuals and corporations.
Along with a business partner, Graziadio founded and opened the first Imperial Bank in Los Angeles in 1963. In 1968, Imperial Bancorp was formed.
"Behind every successful not-for-profit healthcare organization exists a core of people who not only believe in the cause of quality medicine, but who also put that belief into action through their support," said Thomas Simko, M.D., president of the Torrance Memorial Health Care Foundation. "We are honored that an individual of George Graziadio's caliber gave so much of himself to bring the goals and objectives of the Foundation to fruition."
Giving Spirit: Vasek Polak
Fast cars, kind heart
Just mention "Porsche" in the South Bay, and you're sure to conjure up fond memories of Vasek Polak. More importantly, though, are a few other words worthy of this gentleman - generosity, kindness, compassion and dedication.
The Vasek and Anna Maria Polak Charitable Foundation strives to ensure Polak's generosity continues, even though he died several years ago. Most recently, the Foundation pledged $2 million to Torrance Memorial Medical Center. This money was used to benefit the Vasek and Anna Maria Polak Breast Diagnostic Center to continue the fight against cancer.
Polak knew a thing or two about fighting for his life. Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, he was a member of the Czech anti-fascist underground during World War II. Polak was wounded in the Prague uprising on May 5, 1945 when a bullet struck him in the shoulder and then penetrated his lung as he attempted to save the life of a wounded friend. Also, as the occupying Germans were fleeing Prague, Polak and other freedom fighters are credited with deactivating dynamite charges that were placed by the Germans to destroy the famous Charles Bridge.
Born Vaclav Polakova on Sept. 11, 1914, Polak left Prague in 1948 when the secret police showed up at his motorcycle repair shop to arrest him. He fled through the back door of the shop moments after his first wife, Jindriska, had warned him about the secret police visit to his home with a phone call asking when he would be home for lunch. That was the danger signal the couple had agreed upon because Polak never went home for lunch.
Penniless, he was forced to leave his wife and children behind. With the help of friends, he traveled 35 miles to the West German border, beginning a journey that eventually would bring him to Southern California.
After leaving a German refugee camp and working in Munich heading the motor pool for the Red Cross and the American Consulate, Polak came to New York. He worked as a Porsche repair specialist, paying $25 a month to sleep in an equipment room next to a volleyball court in a Czech community center. "I had more showers than any immigrant in New York," Polak told The Prague Post, a Czech publication, in 1995.
In 1958, Polak drove a beat-up Volkswagen bus towing a Karmann Ghia sports car across the country, arriving in the South Bay with $3,000 in savings - seed money for a business. Through his motorcycle racing and car motor business in Europe, Polak befriended Dr. Ferry Porsche, who offered Polak his own sports car dealership in 1959. His Hermosa Beach business was the first in the nation to deal exclusively in Porsches.
By 1973, the dealership grew to include Audi, BMW and Saab. Polak later acquired Subaru and Volkswagen franchises. In 1995, his outlets earned gross revenues of $51 million.
During their years of separation, Polak always sent money home to his wife and two children, even though he was told that communist authorities intercepted and pocketed the hard currency. He never gave up hope of getting his family out of Czechoslovakia.
As a result of the Prague Spring in 1968, his wife and then grown son and daughter came to the United States. By then, however, his daughter had fallen in love with her instructor in machinist training school and wanted to return to Czechoslovakia. Unfortunately, the years of separation changed the relationship between Polak and his wife. They divorced within a couple of years.
In 1983, Polak married Anna Maria Littlejohn, a Czech-born widow of an American pilot. The two met when he repaired her Cadillac.
Polak's 39 years of business success made it possible for him to create a legacy of healthcare excellence through his support of the Torrance Memorial Breast Diagnostic Center. (Click here for information on the Vasek and Anna Maria Polak Breast Diagnostic Center.) (Click here for information on the Vasek Polak Research Program.)
Anna Maria Polak died in 1993, and Polak donated $1.7 million in cash and property to the Breast Diagnostic Center. His friend Dr. Porsche also made a substantial contribution to the center. Almost 150 people were on hand to witness the dedication of the facility in 1994 when it was renamed the Vasek and Anna Maria Polak Breast Diagnostic Center.
Polak died in 1997 at age 82. A month before his death, he crashed the Porsche 911 Turbo S (billed as the most powerful in Porsche's turbo line at that time) he was driving at speeds of more than 110 miles per hour on the German Autobahn. He was traveling from Prague where he was exploring the idea of establishing a breast diagnostic center in his native Czech Republic. Polak broke both arms and legs in the accident, but allegedly suffered no internal injuries and was expected to make a full recovery.
After his condition stabilized, Polak insisted on returning to Southern California to continue his treatment at Torrance Memorial Medical Center. Unfortunately, his wish went unfulfilled, as he died on April 17, 1997 en route to the medical center. The cabin of the Lear jet on which he was traveling had been converted into an intensive care unit. It had landed in Great Falls, Montana for refueling when Polak suddenly went into cardiac arrest and died.
Polak was eternally grateful for the opportunities America gave him. In a 1978 Daily Breeze article, he spoke of his rags-to-riches success and his affection for his adopted homeland.
"Many people ask why I don't leave and take my success with me back to Europe," it was reported that Polak said. "I tell them that the U.S. gave me my freedom and success. I'll keep my money here and die here in gratitude."
Thanks to the Vasek and Anna Maria Polak Charitable Foundation, Polak's dream of giving back to the community he loved will continue for many years to come.
For more information on mammography or any of the other services offered at the Vasek and Anna Maria Polak Breast Diagnostic Center, please call 310-517-4709.
Giving Spirit: Bill and Joelene Mertz
A lifetime of hard work leads to the joy of giving
Hard work throughout their lives now affords Bill and Joelene Mertz a luxury they cherish - the ability to help others.
Bill Mertz was born to a farming family and reared in the South Bay. His father taught him and his brother, Dick, the skills they would need to successfully run the family business - growing celery, beans, corn and tomatoes.
Working together, the brothers founded the American Plant Growers. Among their many accomplishments is the invention of the Pony Pack, the handy six-pack carton we use today to bring flowers home for our gardens.
The Mertz brothers credit much of their success to hard work, long hours and employees who were more like family. Some of their employees were with them during most of the 50 years they ran the business.
"We do nothing and can take credit for nothing ourselves," Bill Mertz said. "Everything we've succeeded at we did with the help of others."
A break from work to go bowling led Mertz to the love of his life, Joelene. He learned that she was an avid dancer and got up the nerve to ask her to dance - after much cajoling from his friends. The two married a few years later and are still very much in love after more than four decades. They are blessed with a son, a daughter, grandchildren and a great grandchild.
The Mertzes love to travel and have enjoyed the beauty of America the best way possible - on the road in a motor home. Of course, the motor home was of no help in getting them to one of their favorite destinations - Hawaii. They also have been to Germany, France and the Orient.
A love of nature is still in Mertz's blood. Although he has retired from farming, you'll still find vegetables growing in the backyard, and fruit trees surround the beautiful flowers in his garden. Mertz said that the mockingbirds enjoy the tomatoes, so he leaves the ones that fall on the ground for their dining pleasure.
Animals are another passion for this couple, and the Mertzes share their Palos Verdes home with one dog and a cat. They also have a home in the Pauma Valley, where two more dogs reside. Horseback riding is a hobby that Bill unfortunately had to give up, as he had hip replacement surgery at Torrance Memorial in 2001, but he says he hopes to ride again someday.
'I just can't say enough about Dr. Donald Borden, the surgeon who performed my hip replacement surgery," Mertz said. "It's incredible to be able to move around and enjoy my life again - without pain."
Charitable individuals, the Mertzes donate poinsettias each year to brighten the hospital and its annual Holiday Festival. They also have made several generous cash donations to Torrance Memorial throughout the years, saying they are investing in the community's future.
"Joelene and I believe in Torrance Memorial's dedication to serving our community by improving lives, saving lives and welcoming new lives," Mertz said. "We feel our donations to the hospital truly make a difference."
Giving Spirit: Winton and Shirley Baker
CRTs create "win win" financial situations
Shirley and Winton Baker are always happy to discuss the benefits of a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT). But first you have to catch them at home. The Bakers are always on the go, world travelers thanks in part to income generated by their CRT.
Long-time Manhattan Beach residents, the peripatetic couple recently embarked on a two-month vacation recreating Lewis and Clark's historic journey across the United States. They joined 13 other motor homes in an organized "Wagon Train," complete with a "Wagon Master" at the front and "Tail Gunner" bringing up the rear. Their other travels have brought them to a wide variety of distant ports, including Mexico, Alaska, New Zealand, England, Scotland, Israel, Egypt and more.
When the Bakers received an inheritance nearly eight years ago, they turned to Certified Financial Advisor Betty Grissom to help them create a fund that would provide them income and avoid estate taxes. Grissom, a member of Torrance Memorial Medical Center's Professional Advisory Council, recommended a CRT.
"The CRT was perfect for the Baker's needs," said Grissom. "It allowed them to reduce their estate taxes, eliminate capital gains, claim an income tax deduction and benefit a worthy cause - Torrance Memorial - instead of the IRS."
Created by the U.S. Congress by the Tax Reform Act of 1969, the CRT is an irrevocable trust designed to convert an investor's highly appreciated assets into an income source without generating estate and capital gains taxes. When you establish a CRT, you and your spouse receive income from the trust for life. When the trust ends, the remaining assets pass to the charities you have named. The amount of income you will receive depends on the payout percentage you assign.
"I was initially most interested in creating a CRT to supplement our retirement income," said Winton Baker. "But it has provided many other benefits, including reducing our income tax and allowing us to maximize the assets we can pass on to our children and grandchildren."
"It has also brought us closer to Torrance Memorial, which is a wonderful organization," said Shirley Baker. "I volunteer at the hospital now, and I have been a member of the Auxiliary for two years."
Because CRTs donate their principal to a designated charity when you and your spouse pass away, bypassing any other heirs, many financial advisors recommend combining a CRT with another strategy. For instance, joining a CRT with a Legacy Trust provides a cash distribution upon the death of the owner that subdivides into individual trusts for each named heir. Everyone wins: The estate owner receives income and tax deductions, the charity receives the principal of the CRT, and the heirs receive a cash distribution.
For more information on Charitable Remainder Trusts and other giving arrangements, please contact Laura Schenasi at (310) 517-4708.
Giving Spirit: Al and Joan Hansen
Give and receive with a CRT
When Al and Joan Hansen established a charitable remainder trust (CRT) in 1989, it was a sound financial strategy. It also reflected a philosophy of helping others that comes naturally to the Hansens.
"My father always said if you're not giving, you're not living," said Al Hansen. "That's the way we've lived our life, and that's the way we raised our children."
Married for almost six decades, the Hansens have been Torrance residents since 1952. Both retired, they have three sons, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Years ago, the Hansens owned a home in Buena Park. By 1989, the value of that property had nearly tripled. Although no longer interested in maintaining the house, they faced heavy capital gains taxes if they sold it. That's when they turned to financial adviser Robert Harte.
A member of Torrance Memorial Medical Center's Professional Advisory Council, Harte recommended creating a CRT.
"A CRT was ideal for the Hansens' situation," said Harte. "CRTs are particularly beneficial when a person has an asset that has appreciated significantly. It provides both an income stream and a substantial income tax deduction, avoiding capital gains taxes at the time the trust is created and saving on estate taxes in the future.
"Just as important to Al and Joan Hansen, it allowed them to contribute to causes they believe in. In fact, theirs was the first CRT established to benefit Torrance Memorial Medical Center," he added.
"We were able to designate Torrance Memorial, a church and a museum as beneficiaries of our CRT," said Joan Hansen. "That was as important to us as the financial benefits."
A CRT is an irrevocable trust designed to provide income and estate tax benefits while converting highly appreciated assets into an income source. When you establish a CRT, you and your spouse receive income from the trust for life. The amount of income you receive depends on the payout percentage you assign. When the trust ends, the remaining assets pass to the charitable organizations you have named.
"There are three clear benefits to our CRT," said Al Hansen. "We have the satisfaction of helping others, we gain economically, and we enjoy special recognition from the medical center. When we go to Torrance Memorial, we really feel like it's our hospital."
Because the CRT principal goes to a designated charity when you and your spouse pass away, bypassing any other heirs, many financial advisers recommend combining a CRT with another strategy, such as a "wealth replacement trust" or "asset replacement trust."
Donors should be aware that all of these plans have strict technical requirements that call for knowledge and expertise of tax and legal professionals. Members of Torrance Memorial's Professional Advisory Council can provide the guidance necessary for you to make a decision that provides maximum benefit to you and the medical center.
Hard work throughout their lives now affords Al and Joan Hanses a luxury they cherish - the ability to help others.
The Torrance Memorial Health Care Foundation extends its sincerest condolences to the family of the late Al Hansen.
Giving Spirit: Roy Palmer
IRAs are worth more as a charitable gift
If he's not walking in the Swiss Alps, where he travels to renew his soul, or tending to orchids and roses in his lavish garden at home, Roy Palmer is doing what he can for charitable organizations. A native Californian, Palmer has been a resident of the South Bay since 1958, settling here after serving his country in the Korean War.
After working for Imperial Bank for 21 years and retiring as vice president of the Inglewood corporate headquarters, Palmer decided that he wanted to share his good fortune with others. His desire to help others grew when Palmer experience a heart attack in 1987. He underwent bypass surgery, performed by Joseph S. Carey, M.D. , then received care from cardiologist Mark Lurie, M.D. both physicians are on the medical staff of Torrance Memorial Medical Center.
Palmer is grateful to the medical center and its physicians for helping him maintain his good health for the past 15 years. It is now his goal to leave a financial legacy to Torrance Memorial, so that future generations will also benefit from an outstanding hospital in their community. Palmer's observations of the medical center include an appreciation for the advanced technology and compassionate care available here. In his eyes, Torrance Memorial is an exceptional place, far above the average hospital. Palmer believes in "doing his homework."
Recently, after meeting with the legal and financial counsel, he decided to leave a financial legacy to the Torrance Memorial Health Care Foundation by naming the medical center as the ultimate beneficiary of his Individual Retirement Account (IRA) He feels that his is a great way to direct funds, and the funds are not diminished by taxes. In fact, you can actually leave more in your estate by designating your IRA to charity. Palmer stresses that IRA giving arrangements and their benefits are available to everyone. Your heirs will pay both income and estate taxes if you leave them your IRA. So, why not leave it to your favorite charitable organization?
IRAs are excellent vehicles for accumulating assets for your use during retirement, but don't work as well when transferring wealth to others (except your spouse). Whoever inherits your IRA(s) may find the funds seriously depleted by taxes - unless the recipient is a charitable entity like the Torrance Memorial Health Care Foundation. IRA transfers to a charitable organization after your lifetime avoid both estates and income taxes. Estate planners often advise clients to consider a charitable bequest of IRA funds simply because an IRA is worth far more to a tax-exempt organization than it is to heirs, after taxes.
The Torrance Memorial Health Care foundation will work with your IRA plan administrator or tax advisor to assist you in arranging to name the medical center as the primary, secondary or contingent beneficiary of your IRAs. For more information, please call 310-517-4703.