In an 1,162-word story from the Dec. 7, 2014, edition of the Los Angeles Times, James Ring ’70 (Psychology), ’72 (Urban Studies) isn’t mentioned until the 966th word. His part in the story takes up very little real estate — just 89 words.
If you skimmed the story, you might have missed him.
The article was about how a young German woman named Olga Burkhardt who was so taken by the story of an 81-year-old Holocaust survivor named Paula Lebovics that she reached out to her and made a friendship through Skype, emailing and phone calls. Lebovics, an Encino resident, finally met the German resident, Burkhardt, at Auschwitz at the annual March of the Living. Ring and his wife Raina, who knew neither of them, were there at the same time. Ring witnessed this meeting, learned of the story and offered to pay for Burkhardt to come to Los Angeles for a longer visit, which she did. He also offered to pay for Burkhardt to return to visit Lebovics whenever she so desired.
“Jim made it possible for (Burkhardt) to come to the U.S. and connect with (Lebovics), all out of the goodness of his heart, because of the beauty of the friendship that had been created by these different generations, these different histories,” said his friend Jeffrey Zabner. “It meant so much to him. (I’m) pretty proud of him.”
Nine-hundred and sixty-six words in. Eighty-nine total words. A humble, prolific giver to many causes including his alma mater, Ring would likely appreciate the background role he played in this story. However, the successful urban developer eventually received his foreground moment.
Ring, who has been a transformative figure at CSUN and specifically the Department of Urban Studies and Planning through his philanthropy and work, was honored on April 16 in Westlake Village as one of three recipients of a Distinguished Alumni Award.
He has been instrumental in planning and researching the complete landscape design for numerous projects in the Greater Los Angeles area and he was responsible for planning and constructing more than 20,000 residential units. Ring has built and beautified high-rise apartments, commercial shopping centers, senior apartments, senior care residential units, condominiums, high-end single-family homes and redevelopment agency projects.
But for all his success with building, he has built a philanthropic legacy that has risen higher than any structure he has helped erect.
“Jim Ring is one of the most successful urban developers in the region, but the thing that really impresses me about Jim is his belief in that it doesn’t matter what you achieve in your career or what success you have in your career, it doesn’t mean anything unless you give back and that you should help those who haven’t been as fortunate to be successful,” said Stella Theodoulou, the dean of CSUN’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “And that’s one of the truly great things about Jim — his commitment to helping our students develop their fullest potential.”
Ring was the first alumnus Theodoulou met when she became dean in 2001.
“One of the things I love about Jim Ring is his pride in being a graduate of Cal State Northridge, and in particular in being a graduate of the urban planning department,” Theodoulou said. “When Jim and I met, he really was interested in talking to me about how can we make the urban planning program an actual department. And through his generosity, commitment and support, we were able to do that a year later.”
Ring also established the James H. Ring Professorship in Urban Studies and Planning and the James H. Ring Urban Studies Scholarship. At the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Awards event, he announced that he would create another scholarship for the department.
Ring said he received such a quality education while he was at CSUN, and to show his gratitude he wanted to give back. But he also said he sees a rising standard across the whole university, and his desire to lift the department he helped shape has been one of his life’s passions.
“You just want to reach out and help,” Ring said. “Years go on and I get older and I just want to do more. … I want to put the Department of Urban Studies on the map, make it internationally recognized.”
One could say he has some experience with putting things on maps — he’s done it with buildings throughout LA.
Ring is the son of Dr. Ellis Ring, who along with his brother Selden created teh real-estate development company Ring Brothers Management. Jim followed in his father’s path into the business after receiving his second bachelor’s degree from CSUN in 1972 and later being inspired by architecture and landscape while studying in England.
He is the owner of Santa Monica-based real estate investment management company Ring Financial and E&S Ring Management Corporation, a family business.
“Jim has made a tremendous impact on the city, particularly in beautifying it and helping to provide incredible environmental housing for people all around the city, in many areas of the city,” said his wife of 37 years, Raina. “Jim rarely talks openly about what he does or what he has accomplished. He’s very quiet and very humble. It’s almost as if people discover by accident what it is he has done to impact the city and the development of such magnificent spaces.”
With his expertise and his resources, he has helped numerous nonprofits — medical, law-enforcement, educational, arts and faith-based organizations. At K-12 Viewpoint School in Calabasas, where his three daughters attended, he served on the board of trustees and helped build an athletic field for the school.
Ring loves cars and has been known to spend a lot of time at an area car wash. It was there that he heard of a little girl who was born with microtia — a deformity where the external ear is underdeveloped. Ring is paying for the little girl to have surgery and a normal life.
“It’s a pretty noble venture,” said Zabner, a Westlake-based attorney. “I found myself welling up [thinking about it], which makes me think about Jim because one of the most beautiful things about him is he has this exquisite sensitivity to things beautiful, to things poignant and to things that are sad. And from time to time I’ll catch him welling up.”
Ring describes himself as an emotional guy. But he made it through his speech on April 16 without tearing up, though those around him did. He made a statement that sums up what he gets the most out of in life:
“More than my building career, giving back is my biggest accomplishment. [Giving to many] is what I truly enjoy, ” he said. “What I truly enjoy is helping the university.”