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La Sierra University celebrates new $16 million business building


This article by Darla Martin Tucker appears on the La Sierra University website.

Jill Richards, a graduate business student at La Sierra University is sometimes asked by schoolmates, ‘are you going to ‘the building?’ Do you have classes in there?’

Richards, who is pursuing a Master of Business Administration in finance degree can happily answer ‘yes.’ She is among more than 400 students enrolled this fall in La Sierra’s business program based in the newly opened, award-winning, $16 million Tom and Vi Zapara School of Business. She and classmate Sherani Johnson, a second-year MBA student were among approximately 600 people who attended the highly anticipated grand opening celebration Sept. 26 of the Zapara School of Business. The festive occasion included talks by California State Senator Richard Roth and his wife, Cindy Roth, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce.

The grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony took place in front of the Zapara school, with university leaders and dignitaries seated at the top of the main entrance steps, including the building’s primary benefactors, Tom and Vi Zapara and School of Business Dean John Thomas. Audience members were seated on a patio area paved with historical markers, inaugural bricks and legacy bricks contributed by donors, many of who attended the grand opening. Following welcoming comments from La Sierra’s Vice President for Student Life Yami Bazan, and Provost Steve Pawluk, Ricardo Graham, chairman of La Sierra’s Board of Trustees launched the ceremony with words of appreciation for the business school and its rise within the Seventh-day Adventist denomination.

“The school’s previous building was bursting at the seams. This impressive new building, and the faith-based learning that will take place inside it, establishes La Sierra University as the leading institution for business education in the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church,” said Graham. “Our commitment is that students who study here will develop a strong foundation based on the values of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, then build on that foundation with a vision to create the ground-breaking ideas that will shape tomorrow’s economy.”

Thomas, in his address noted that business education within the Adventist system, as in other Christian denominations, has historically been viewed with skepticism, and in fact played “a limited role in La Sierra’s early history,” he said. “Business …has too often been viewed as corrupted by dishonesty, cheating, and narrow self-interest,” said Thomas. “Fortunately, when La Sierra alums Tom and Vi Zapara entered the world of business in the early 1950s, they did not share the skepticism about business embraced by so many of their fellow Adventists. They saw business as a way to participate in God’s creative work in the world, as a way of doing good, of discovering and embodying excellence.”

Continued Thomas, “The motto of the Zapara School of Business is simple –‘Create Value. Make a difference.’ We seek to put creativity—human creativity that mirrors and embodies and cooperates with God’s—on center stage. …Ongoing innovation, driven by entrepreneurial risk-taking in the social, cultural, and economic spheres, has dramatically enhanced the lives of people across our planet. We want our students to join in this amazing creative process.”

The Zaparas are Seventh-day Adventist philanthropists and former La Sierra students who contributed $5 million in seed funding for the new business building. Violet Zapara graduated from La Sierra in 1947 and her husband attended in 1950. The couple founded Zee Medical Inc. in 1952, an occupational first aid, safety and training products company that grew to serve more than 400,000 manufacturing plants, construction firms, restaurants, hotels and other organizations in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. The Zaparas sold the company 30 years later to McKesson Corporation.

Just before the ceremonial cutting of the large red ribbon stretched across the main glass doors of the business school, Tom Zapara asked to make a few comments. He said he and his wife became connected with the business school 13 years ago through their friendship with Thomas. They were highly impressed with the accomplishments of the school’s SIFE team and listened to Thomas’s dream for a larger school in which he could grow the program. “We’re proud to do it [donation] and we thank you for giving us this opportunity,” Zapara said. “Without Johnny this building would never have happened. He kept sharing that dream with me.”

He noted that he met his wife, Violet, during the one year he studied at La Sierra and motioned to his grandchildren and great grandchildren in attendance. “The best thing that ever happened to me at this university is that I met Vi,” said Zapara. “We just love this place, La Sierra.”

To the students Zapara said, “Wherever you are, always give more than what’s expected, do more than what’s expected. You will be outstanding and a witness to God.”

In her talk, Cindy Roth noted the chamber’s involvement from the university’s inception in 1922, when the chamber supported the decision of the Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists to create a school on a former Mexican land grant known as Rancho La Sierra. She also cited her predecessor Art Pick, a beloved Riverside community leader and former chambers of commerce president who mentored Roth and was a member of La Sierra’s board of trustees.

“The chamber has been so proud of the hard work and accomplishments” of La Sierra’s Students In Free Enterprise team, now known as Enactus, Roth said. “I still have my Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box,” she said, holding up the cereal box that bears a photo of one of La Sierra’s World Cup winning SIFE teams. The team, organized in 1991 and based in the business school, won six national or international SIFE trophies by 1994 and two World Cups in 2002 and 2007. “You guys, you gotta’ bring it home again,” Roth said.

In the business world, La Sierra students “will raise the bar even higher, and that will mean great things for this business community. La Sierra is going to put Riverside on the map,” she said.

Roth’s husband, Richard Roth spoke next. He cited the differences in business practices between fallen Tyco International chief executive Dennis Kozlowski, convicted in 2005 of stealing more than $150 million from his company, and Whole Foods Market co-CEO John Mackey who earns $1 a year and whose company is widely known for its ethical and sustainable business practices. Mackey co-authored the book, “Conscious Capitalism, Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business,” which challenges business leaders to aim for a higher purpose and work “for the good of both business and society as a whole.”

“For over 25 years the School of Business has been educating students, not only in business, but in ethics and service,” Roth said. “Ethics in business as in all walks of life is a living testament to who we are. The Zapara School of Business is where business and ethics join together [to create] leaders who are unafraid to answer Mackey’s call. They will continue to serve as the moral compass for the region, the state and the world.”

Roth concluded by presenting Thomas and university President Randal Wisbey with a state resolution commemorating the opening of the new business school.

La Sierra business student Jessica Hunzelman also gave a talk titled “Hope.” She remembered her introduction to the campus and its business school in 2008 and said she is particularly excited about the new building’s startup garages, incubators where students can grow their ideas into new businesses. “They show how much this school believes in us,” Hunzelman said, by allowing students to take risks and dreams and turn them into realities. “Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for giving us the chance to do great things,” she said.

Wisbey, who lead the ribbon cutting ceremony, thanked the university’s donors and Thomas for his vision for the new building. “I thank you for the dream, for not letting it go,” and for the relationships and connections Thomas has formed that have brought many people to the school, Wisbey said. He expressed gratitude to the Zaparas, “for their extraordinary commitment to their alma mater. Tom and Vi Zapara are wonderful examples of the visionary leaders La Sierra seeks to develop,” Wisbey said.

Anil Punjabi, a physician and friend of Thomas’s was among the crowd that attended the ceremony. “Johnny is a guy with a passion and a dream that made this happen,” Punjabi said. “He’s a great model for young people, a great mentor.” He described the new building as “inspirational” and said, “a building is only as good as the people who inhabit it.”

Richards, the MBA finance student, views the 60,200-square-foot new business school building, prominently situated near the campus entrance, as a landmark structure that can serve as an attraction for potential students. Her classmate concurred.

“I think it’s pretty cool, it’s great. You can see it from pretty much anywhere,” said Johnson. She elected to enroll in La Sierra’s business program through the influence of business school Dean John Thomas, a friend of her father’s.

“It’s humbling to know we got to be part of the university and to see this come to fruition,” said Wayne Herling, an alum of the business school and one of the new building’s donors. His son, Jared Herling graduated from the business school in 2009.

“It’s a dream come true for Johnny Thomas, whom I have a lot of respect for,” Herling said. “In the Adventist world different schools are known for different areas of expertise and obviously La Sierra is going to be the business school in the Adventist system.” La Sierra’s students will be successful in business, he continued, “and more importantly will succeed in life with God’s blessing and give back.”

For a photo album from the Zapara School of Business grand opening, go to

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