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DROPOUT GIVES CSUN MILLIONS MIKE CURB'S GIFT RECORD FOR SCHOOL.

Byline: BRENT HOPKINS Staff Writer

In 1963, a young musician named Mike Curb dropped out of what would become California State University, Northridge. On Wednesday, the dropout paid his respects with a $10 million gift.

CSUN will use the money -- the largest cash contribution in its history -- for its College of Arts, Media and Communication; to endow a faculty chair in music industry studies; and for the Imagine the Arts Center, a proposed $100 million performing-arts venue.

The performing-arts center, long sought by the university and its boosters to provide a major cultural draw to the San Fernando Valley, will receive half the gift. This puts the dreamed-of development another step closer to reality and the private fundraising effort significantly closer to the goal.

Back when Curb, owner of the Nashville-based independent record label that bears his name, entered the school, there was no hint of the cultural mecca he now supports or of the fact that he would go on to become California's lieutenant governor.

In 1962, he was fresh out of Grant High School, where he sang in the choir and lettered in tennis. His band played frat parties at San Fernando Valley State College, as CSUN was known in those days, and he developed a fondness for West Coast rock `n' roll.

``It all started at San Fernando Valley State College,'' Curb said. ``There were some very nice people there who were kind enough to let me use the facilities while I was waiting for my mom. None of this would have happened without that.''

At the time, his family had just one car -- a durable 1953 Chevrolet that Curb shared with his parents. After leaving their Sherman Oaks home and dropping off his father, an attorney, at his downtown office, the son and his mother made the trip back to the campus.

He took music and general-education classes. His mother studied for her teaching credential.

Her program required long hours in the library, so the 18-year-old Curb hung around with the guys in the music department, playing the piano and recording sketches of songs. One turned into ``You Meet The Nicest People on a Honda (Go Little Honda),'' which became a hit jingle and got Curb $3,000.

He quit school, started a record label and went on to enjoy a long, successful career in the music business.

He worked with Brian Wilson, Gloria Gaynor and the Osmonds. He eventually wrote 400 songs, and his company churned out more than 250 records that hit No. 1.

And yet, he was never quite satisfied with the path he chose.

``It was a struggle,'' he said. ``I had an office on the Sunset Strip, but my sister and I lived in the janitor's section of the office building because we couldn't afford an apartment. I always regretted leaving school.''

Truncating his formal education didn't hurt him professionally or politically, as he went on to serve four years as California lieutenant governor -- 1979-1983, including nearly a year as acting governor when then-Gov. Jerry Brown was out of state.

His bid for the Republican Party's nomination for governor foundered in a hard-fought 1982 campaign that was won by George Deukmejian, who went on to serve two terms.

CSUN acknowledged Curb earlier this year with a distinguished alumnus award, which led to a conversation between Curb and university President Jolene Koester.

Koester explained plans to build the ambitious Imagine the Arts Center, a performing-arts facility and learning center tentatively set to open in 2009. The state will fund half the bill, with the other $50 million from private donations. Curb was so taken with the project that he agreed to pitch in, bringing the school's fundraising to nearly $15 million to date.

``I'd had conversations with him about what he wanted to support, but I was thrilled and delighted when he made the commitment,'' Koester said.

In addition to the $5 million set aside for the center, Curb's gift will help improve the Music Industry Studies program. For the past 12 years, the 125-student program has taught the business side of creativity, something Curb wishes he'd studied during his school days.

``We'll expand the program's reach a bit and make it more effective,'' said Joel Leach, a music professor who heads it. ``We've got a yearlong recording project where the class finds an artist, records them and develops a media kit to send out to the industry. We've been doing it for $1,500 a year, so now we can put more money into that.''

For years, Curb never even called himself an alumnus -- to avoid seeming to take credit for a degree he never earned.

Now, to show appreciation for his largesse, Koester plans to ask the Board of Trustees to rename CSUN's arts college. It would be the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication.

``If I'd had a college education, I could have had this happen faster,'' Curb said. ``It seems like it took forever to get to where it is.''

brent.hopkins(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3738

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 24, 2006
Words:847
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