Exclusive: Sidney Kimmel on his $110M gift to Jefferson

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014
VIDEO: Sidney Kimmel on $110M gift
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Jim Gardner speaks with Sidney Kimmel on the $110-million gift to Thomas Jefferson University.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Wednesday will be a historic day in the 190 year life of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

Officials there will celebrate a $110-million gift from Sidney Kimmel and the medical school will be renamed the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University.

I had the chance to talk with Kimmel Tuesday afternoon at the school that will now bear his name.

"I'd like to think that I'm a mensch, a gentleman who cares for other people," Kimmel said.

Philadelphians may know Sidney Kimmel best for the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, the home of the Philadelphia Orchestra. But the fact is that Kimmel has spent more than $400-million to create cancer centers at Johns Hopkins, Sloan-Kettering, and Thomas Jefferson.

His best friend's daughter died of cancer in 1993 and that led to a lifetime commitment to fighting the disease and supporting its victims.

"She was on her way out at the age of 24 and the empathy that I felt, I felt so horrible, I guess that triggered my desire to help him and the cancer world," Kimmel said.

Kimmel made his billion dollar fortune in the clothing business, establishing and selling the Jones apparel group, but as a child of the depression, he started from nothing in South and West Philadelphia.

He's given tens of millions of dollars to Philadelphia institutions, including Jeff, The National Constitution Center, the American Jewish History Museum and the Pearlman Jewish Day School.

This gift to Jefferson Medical School will be transformational.

The money will be used for financial aid, new facilities, research and endowment.

I asked Kimmel why Jefferson and why now?

"Why Jefferson? Because I'm a Philadelphian, I always have been even though I don't live here now. I'm very fond of the people of Jefferson and particularly, why now is because I sense a new burst of energy with Steve Klasko coming in and revitalizing the entire operation at Jeff," Kimmel said.

The President and CEO of Jeff is Dr. Steve Klasko.

"It means everything. To say it's transformational is an understatement. It's transformational because of the sheer dollar amount and what that can do to help us serve the community and become nationally and internationally recognized," Klasko said, adding, "It's transformational because Sidney Kimmel investing in us and believing in us enough to put his name on our medical college is huge and sends an amazing signal."

If you're a movie buff, you may have seen Kimmel's name in the credits as producer, for movies like The Kite Runner, Moneyball, and Lincoln Lawyer.

But Hollywood success hasn't come easily to Kimmel.

It does seem that making money isn't quite as important to Kimmel as giving it away.

For current and future medical students at Jeff, Kimmel is one huge hit.

Kimmel told me he wants to give all his money away before he dies. That's about $1-billion.

So, the Sidney Kimmel Foundation still has a whole lot of work to do.