Hermione Isakow loved the outdoors and the arts, and she instilled in her four sons a deep appreciation for education, discipline and family.

After living most of her life in South Africa, Isakow and her husband Leiz moved to Merced in 2010 to be closer to their eldest son Isaac and his family, and she grew to love the town. Sadly her golden years were clouded by a long bout with amyloidosis, a difficult and painful disease that forced her into chemotherapy and other difficult treatments, and she died in 2020.

Now, her sons have chosen to honor her memory and her contributions to their lives through a $1 million gift that will fund the design and construction of the Hermione Isakow Plaza at Merced College.

“The Merced community is blessed with generous supporters and the Isakow family is certainly among them, with a genuine and humble attitude towards giving back,” Merced College President Chris Vitelli said. “We are incredibly grateful to accept this gift in honor of Hermione Isakow and plan to use the funds to enhance the beauty of our campus for the benefit of our students.”

Isaac and his father Leiz met with Vitelli and Jill Cunningham, Executive Director of the Merced College Foundation, and the idea for the plaza was born. Isaac’s three brothers were enthusiastically on board with both moral and financial support. After some initial design concepts were created, the gift to fund the project was signed, and the college’s Board of Trustees approved the agreement at their Dec. 14 meeting.

“On behalf of the Merced College Board of Trustees, we are eternally grateful to the Isakow family for their willingness to give back to the community in such a big way,” Board President Ernie Ochoa said. “This gift will be memorialized in a way that not only honors their family, but tells a story of selfless giving and a legacy of supporting our future generations.”

Isakow's family

For Isaac Isakow, who moved to Merced more than two decades ago and whose company employs many Merced College graduates, the college was the perfect place to memorialize his mother.Hermione Isakow’s greatest legacy might be the successes of her four sons: Isaac Isakow, owner of Laird Manufacturing in Merced; Julian Isakow, a cardiologist; Kevin Isakow, a small animal veterinary surgeon; and Warren Isakow, a pulmonologist. Even more telling, perhaps, is the love her sons felt for their mother, and their desire to recognize and honor her in such a public and meaningful way.

“I’ve always wanted to honor my parents, and I think my brothers feel the same way,” he said. “They gave us such a fantastic upbringing and a loving home.

“Merced is our home now, and it became her home, as well. If there’s something we can do to give back to the community and make Merced a better place, she would have been strongly in favor of that.”

The plaza, near the front of the college’s Merced Campus, is envisioned as a welcoming space for the community and campus visitors, a gathering place for students and the campus community, a unique learning space for our the college’s arts program, and an intimate outdoor location for events.

plaza rendering

The centerpiece of the plaza will be a large sculpture of a Baobab tree, which will be illuminated from within at night. The Baobab carries great symbolic significance in Africa and is known as the “tree of life,” because it can produce fruit and nectar year-round, even in very dry climates. That Merced College features a tree prominently in its logo was a nice tie-in, Isaac said.

Leiz Isakow said his wife would have loved the idea of contributing to a community college, and the plaza is the kind of space she would have appreciated. On safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, she would study birds intensely, often identifying 90 to 100 different species during a weeklong excursion. She also would have appreciated the plaza’s proximity to Merced College’s theater and arts departments.

Plans for the plaza also include a series of benches adorned with the names of Hermione’s nine grandchildren.

“I think she would have really liked it,” Leiz Isakow said. “She’ll be there forever, we hope.”

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Media Contact: James Leonard, james.leonard2@mccd.edu, 209-681-1061