Don and Viv Bellisario named 2018 Philanthropists of the Year

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State has named Donald and Vivienne Bellisario its 2018 Philanthropists of the Year for their transformational support of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. The award, which was presented to the Bellisarios on April 20, recognizes individuals, couples or families who have demonstrated exceptional generosity in the promotion and support of Penn State.

“Don’s accomplishments as a television legend reflect values central to the Penn State community — a commitment to hard work, excellence and transformative results,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “The extraordinary commitment Don and Viv have made to our university will enable our students and faculty to follow their own paths to success. We are delighted to celebrate Don and Viv as our 2018 Philanthropists of the Year.”

The Bellisarios have been dedicated supporters of Penn State for many years and philanthropic leaders during the University’s current fundraising campaign, “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence.” In April 2017, in recognition of the Bellisarios’ $30 million gift to Don’s academic home, the University renamed the College of Communications the “Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.” 

The Bellisarios’ landmark commitment has supported the college in becoming the best of its kind in the nation by:

  • providing scholarships for communications students, with first preference for undergraduates who, like Don, are U.S. military veterans, active duty service members, reservists, or members of the National Guard;
  • creating an endowment to support faculty leadership and innovative programs to provide “real-world,” hands-on experience for undergraduates; and
  • helping the University build the new comprehensive Donald P. Bellisario Media Center to house the college’s media operations and serve as a creative hub for communications students.

Even before making this historic gift, the Bellisarios had been leading supporters of Penn State students. Their $1 million commitment in 2006 to create the Donald P. Bellisario Trustee Scholarship was one of the largest gifts ever made through the Trustee Matching Scholarship Program, and the endowment has since helped hundreds of students to gain a Penn State degree. Don Bellisario also has donated scripts and videos from his television career to be used in communications courses.

“Don and Viv’s philanthropy has been a catalyst in the ‘Greater Penn State’ campaign,” said O. Richard Bundy III, vice president for development and alumni relations. “Their visionary commitment has already begun to transform the Bellisario College of Communications, and it will continue to support countless students and faculty on their paths to professional achievement and service to the Commonwealth, nation and world for years to come.”

Don Bellisario, born during the Great Depression in western Pennsylvania, launched his esteemed career after graduating from Penn State. He first enrolled in 1953 but left to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps. He returned four years later with his young family, earned his degree in journalism, and worked for the Centre Daily Times. After graduation, Bellisario built a reputation as an innovator and leader in advertising. After rising to the rank of senior vice president of the famous Bloom Agency, he made the leap, during the mid-1970s, to Hollywood. There he became a hit maker whose creations included "Magnum P.I.," "JAG," "Airwolf," "Quantum Leap," and "NCIS."

Don Bellisario has received numerous awards and recognitions for his work, including the Edgar Allan Poe writing award (1981), multiple Emmy nominations, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2004), the Marine Corps Scholarship Fund Globe and Anchor Award (2002), and the Red Cross Spirit Award (2000). He was named 2001 Producer of the Year by the Caucus for Producers, Writers and Directors and a Penn State Distinguished Alumnus (2001). He holds an honorary doctorate of arts degree from Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania.

“Viv and I are honored to have been selected as Penn State’s 2018 Philanthropists of the Year,” said Don Bellisario. “We have a deep sense of pride in this university, and it is a great privilege to give back to a community that has given so much to us. We hope our philanthropy will inspire other Penn Staters to consider what they can do to help build 'A Greater Penn State.'”

Don and Viv Bellisario live in Montecito, California, and are life members of the Penn State Alumni Association. They have nine children, Joy Bellisario-Jenkins, Leslie Bellisario-Ingham, David Bellisario, Julie Bellisario Watson, Michael Bellisario, Troian Bellisario, Nicholas Bellisario, Sean Murray, and Chad Murray.

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Last Updated July 30, 2018