Wednesday, September 7, 2016

La Mesa couple keeping the arts alive at Grossmont College

Bob and Laura Duggan
Bob and Laura Duggan haven’t forgotten their roots. 

“Both of us come from modest means and neither of us had much growing up in Brooklyn,” said Laura. “I had medical issues when I was a kid, and other people paid for my medical costs. You don’t forget things like that. Now that we’re in a position to help others, we’re not going to hesitate in paying it forward.” 

Their most recent gift to the community: A $20,000 matching grant ensuring that the 4th Annual Summer Conservatory at Grossmont College is fully funded in 2017. Open to high school and college students alike, the Summer Conservatory Program enables student performers and technicians to learn what it’s like to work in a professional theatre through daytime and evening classes that teach specialized skills. High school students earn college credit, and the course culminates with several performances at a packed Stagehouse Theatre. 

“When you give to Grossmont College, you know you’re going to impact a lot of lives,” said Bob Duggan. “The Theatre Department alone produces so many wonderful opportunities for so many students from so many backgrounds. It’s really an honor to be in the position to support them, and we’re hoping our donation will encourage others to give.” 

The contribution is the latest in a long string of philanthropic efforts, most of which were done anonymously and behind the scenes. In 2015, the couple contributed a $15,000 matching grant to the Summer Conservatory. They’ve also funded scholarships for Grossmont College students and have given generously to the Polinsky Children’s Center, the Peter Pan Junior Theater, Promises2Kids, Classics4Kids, the Vista Hill Foundation and San Diego Las Hermanas, among others.  

Getting the Duggans to talk about their generosity, however, is about as easy as getting tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway. 

“We don’t do it for the notoriety or the recognition,” said Bob, who had to be convinced to be interviewed. “Everything we do is aimed at encouraging others to contribute. If we can tell an organization that we’ll provide matching funds, then we’ve helped involve others in a worthy cause, and nothing can be more valuable or rewarding.” 

The Duggans are especially fond of donating to the theater and have been involved with youth theater since their youngest son, Aaron, was cast in a Peter Pan Junior Theater production of Oliver! The Duggans’ daughter-in-law, Beth Duggan, is the Grossmont College Theatre Arts Department Chair.  

“The Duggans have been giving to youth theater for as long as I’ve known them, and I’ve known them for 35 years,” said La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis, who was cast in the role of Mr. Bumble in that production of Oliver! and who now is the director of the Peter Pan Junior Theater and the C. Hook Theater, an after-school program for high school students. 

“Their latest contribution to the Summer Conservatory offers a bridge to college for students who possibly were not considering continuing their education after high school but who now have an opportunity to be on a college campus and work with professionals in the theater and theater tech,” Arapostathis said. “It underscores their commitment to the community.” 

High school sweethearts, the Duggans never imagined in their younger days that they would be in a position to make a difference in the lives of so many others. Shortly after earning his diploma, Bob Duggan enlisted in the Navy, where he was stationed at North Island and flew as an aerial photographer for the service. Laura was a secretary on Wall Street. They married in 1966 and will celebrate their 50th anniversary Oct. 22. 

When he left the Navy after four years, Bob Duggan decided to stay in San Diego. “I couldn’t afford to go back to New York if I tried,” he said. With Laura working at a temporary services agency, Bob began a long and successful career buying and selling real estate. He started off with North Park homes that could be purchased for $12,000 and virtually no money down, then moved up to duplexes, fourplexes and apartments. Laura handled the property portfolio and apartment management. 

In 1977, Bob founded Marc-Aaron Corp., named after his two sons. He also served on the La Mesa Planning Commission from 1994-2009, is a past board member for the Polinsky Children's Center and Child Abuse Prevention Foundation, and was also Finance Chairman for Prop D, a La Mesa bond measure for new fire and police stations. He then served as co-chair of its oversight committee responsible for $27.9 million in bond proceeds. The couple has lived in their home overlooking downtown La Mesa for more than 40 years and have been donating to various causes since before then. 

“Bob and Laura Duggan’s generosity and selflessness have benefitted so many people, and Grossmont College and our students are so grateful for their latest gift on behalf of our theatre arts program,” said Grossmont College President Dr. Nabil Abu-Ghazaleh.