Together and individually, couple dedicated to serving local and global communities | New


It is certainly not uncommon for longtime couples to meet at university, but a truly special partnership was forged decades ago when an economics student met an engineering student at the university. from Leuven in Belgium.

This meeting brought together Armand and Eliane Neukermans, who have been married for almost 60 years, have four children and nine – soon to be 10 – grandchildren. But this college meeting also brought together two people dedicated to serving others, whose many philanthropic projects are making a difference in people’s lives both locally and globally.

Together and individually, the Neukermans’ philanthropic work takes surprisingly broad scope, from complex social issues such as education and accessibility to the thorniest environmental challenges, with projects aimed at mitigating climate change.

“The only way to live is to share what you have with your family and your community. We don’t live for ourselves,” Eliane said.

Eliane graduated in economics and philosophy from Louvain, and Armand graduated in electrical and mechanical engineering, with a doctorate in applied physics from Stanford University.

The Neukermans arrived in the Bay Area in the early 1960s after a short time in Arizona, and Armand, an engineer and physicist, worked for early Silicon Valley companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Xerox. He then set up his own consulting firm and also founded a company based on a revolutionary optical switch.

Armand was named Silicon Valley Inventor of the Year in 2001 by the Silicon Valley Intellectual Property Law Association. He holds over 75 patents and his work has spanned everything from inkjet printer development to innovations in fiber optics, advances in hearing aids to transdermal medical delivery systems.

For more than a decade, Armand has been part of a small group of engineers and scientists who offer their time and expertise to tackle one of the greatest challenges of all: climate change. One aspect of their work focuses on a “geoengineering” strategy known as “marine cloud lightening,” which aims to lower temperatures through a process that makes clouds more cloudy. dense and able to reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere. It is being used on an experimental basis to try to cool Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Eliane said.

“Other people who have influenced Armand’s work for two decades have been (Stanford Professor) Steve Schneider and (scientist and futurist) James Lovelock who each in their own way promoted the need for involvement, action and research on climate change. We have had several meetings with Armand’s work with his fellow engineers and scientists on climate change and geoengineering is the product of that, ”said Eliane.

The couple are long-time leaders in the fight against climate change, including helping to lead the early adoption of home solar panels in 2006 in Portola Valley Ranch, the neighborhood where they still live. This project became the model for Solar City’s Community Solar program.

For her part, Eliane has taught at the Thunderbird School of Global Management and Sacred Heart Preparatory and Castilleja Schools at Arizona State University.

Her volunteer work has reached many community organizations: Palo Alto Community Fund, Foothill College, Environmental Volunteers, Avenidas, Big Sur Environmental Institute, Human Rights Watch, Thomas Merton Center, St. Elizabeth Seton School, Portola Valley Ranch, Global Women’s Leadership Network, the Jaipur Foot Organization and Amici Lovanienses.

It was a social entrepreneurship project at the Castilleja School that introduced the Neukermans to the Jaipur Foot Organization, a project based in Jaipur, India, and led by DR Mehta, which provides prosthetics to the poorest.

“Her example of dignity and helping these people has been very influential for us,” said Eliane.

When Mehta came to Castilleja to share his work with the school’s students, teachers, and parents, he stayed with the couple, and Armand introduced him to Stanford researchers and organized their meetings at the Neukermans home. – meetings that led to the development of a low cost prosthesis called the Stanford-Jaipur knee.

“DR Mehta has been a true inspiration for philanthropy,” said Eliane. Armand is now supporting research into a prosthetic hand with the University of Santa Clara following the retirement of Professor Thomas Andriacchi, Stanford principal researcher on the project.

Eliane counts many nonprofits and schools among her philanthropic endeavors, but she notes that her goal is to showcase others, to bring people together.

“A lot of times people describe me as a facilitator with all the projects we’ve done together. I know quite a few organizations, and one thing I really love to do is try to bring them together so they can work. on projects. I like bringing together different interests and different talents. It’s very satisfying, “she said.

One of these symbiotic projects arose from an invitation from Judy Koch of the non-profit Bring Me a Book Children’s Literacy Foundation to visit St. Elizabeth Seton School in Palo Alto. Koch, in turn, brought a friend, Deborah Mudd, Stanford’s dean of education, on the trip.

“It turned into a teacher training program offered by Stanford in conjunction with principals as well as a Stanford tutoring program for preschoolers,” Eliane said. She notes that when visiting scientists, academics and leaders of nonprofit organizations come to town, she frequently arranges the visit, especially because, as she puts it, “they often become guests.”

While the couple happily discuss the projects they support, it’s clear that they both prefer to shine the spotlight on the efforts of others – not themselves. For example, Armand was knighted several years ago by the King of Belgium but remains modest about this honor.

Looking at their impressive philanthropic resumes together and individually, the Neukermans’ long list of accomplishments is inspiring – and with so much need in the world, can lead one to wonder how to possibly take the first step in volunteering.

“For starters, support the people you know who make a difference. Don’t sit on the sidelines. (Justice lawyer) Bryan Stevenson puts it well: ‘Be close. Change the narrative. Do uncomfortable things. Keep hope, “said Armand.

Read our stories about other Lifetimes of Achievement winners:

• Fran Codispoti: She has raised millions of dollars as an advocate for young and old.

• Betsy gifford: She has spent hundreds of hours helping out with nonprofits.

• Bill and Gay Krause: They have spent decades working to improve local education.

• Etienne Player: He brought his legal expertise to help launch non-profit startups.

• Alma and Jim Phillips: They have changed lives through more than a dozen local organizations.

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