The pledge includes an outright gift of $18.5 million to the UC Davis Eye Center, which serves more than fifty-five thousand patients each year with advanced specialty care. In recognition of the gift, the center will be renamed the Ernest E. Tschannen Eye Center. The remaining funds will support research on the optic nerve and glaucoma at the vision science center. The gifts make Tschannen the largest individual donor to UC Davis in its 108-year history.
In 2000, Tschannen noticed his eyesight was failing and was referred by his optometrist to the UC Davis Eye Center, where he underwent eye surgery to improve his vision and manage his glaucoma. Because of his experience at the eye center, he was inspired to donate $1.5 million — after an initial donation of $25 — to advance research on the optic nerve and help find a cure for glaucoma and other eye diseases.
Born in 1925, Tschannen grew up in the small town of Aarwangen, Switzerland. He received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in Switzerland and, in the 1950s, emigrated to Canada and then to the Midwest — first Detroit, then Minneapolis — to pursue a career as an engineer. Eventually, he started buying investment properties as a hobby and eventually quit his job to manage his properties full time. In addition to his gifts to UC Davis, Tschannen has made significant philanthropic commitments to the American River Parkway Foundation, Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway, and other Sacramento-based organizations.
"On behalf of the entire university, I would like to thank Mr. Tschannen for this tremendous gift to UC Davis," said UC chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi. "As UC Davis continues its quest to be a leading university for the twenty-first century and beyond, partnerships like the one we have with Mr. Tschannen will be critical as we work together to tackle some of the greatest challenges of our time, including finding a cure for the world's leading cause of blindness."