Noémi Neidorff, a longtime benefactor of Washington University in St. Louis and other cultural and educational institutions locally and beyond, has made a $3 million pledge to the university to endow a new distinguished professorship in Arts & Sciences.
The Bela Kornitzer Distinguished Professorship — named in memory of Neidorff’s uncle, an acclaimed author, historian and journalist from Hungary — will serve as an invaluable tool for recruiting and retaining exceptional faculty in the Department of Political Science, according to Feng Sheng Hu, dean of Arts & Sciences and the Lucille P. Markey Distinguished Professor.
“I am extremely grateful to Noémi Neidorff for her unwavering support of the university and its mission,” Chancellor Andrew D. Martin said. “This gift is another example of her commitment to supporting education and research that makes a difference in the lives of St. Louisans and beyond. Noémi and Michael’s vision and generosity have allowed us to reach new heights in teaching and research.”
Noémi and her late husband, Michael Neidorff, have been champions of both the university and the St. Louis community for decades.
“Like Michael, I believe it is important to give back to our community,” Neidorff said. “Washington University is recognized not only in the U.S. but throughout the world as one of the best universities. With this professorship, I hope to help further the university’s investment in thought leadership, accomplishments and contributions to society in this space.”
The inaugural recipient of the Kornitzer Distinguished Professorship will be Diana Z. O’Brien, a professor of political science in Arts & Sciences. She will be formally installed in a ceremony this fall.
“Professor O’Brien is a superb scholar whose work is impactful, timely and critically relevant to many aspects of our society,” Hu said. “We are thrilled to be able to recognize her contributions with this honor, and I extend my sincerest thanks to Noémi Neidorff and Chancellor Martin for their vision and role in establishing this professorship.”
O’Brien studies the causes and consequences of women’s political representation in democracies across the globe. Her research examines gender and political parties, executive branch politics and citizens’ responses to women’s presence in politics.
She has published articles on these topics in leading journals including the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, Politics & Gender, and Comparative Politics. News coverage of O’Brien’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Newsweek, MSNBC and multiple international outlets.
“I feel tremendously honored to be the inaugural recipient of this professorship,” O’Brien said. “Bela Kornitzer lived an extraordinary life in Hungary and the United States, as both a journalist and a politician. His work demonstrates his deep commitment to upholding — and understanding — democracy and democratic values. I hope that my research and teaching will honor this legacy.
“Like Bela Kornitzer, I’m also fascinated by politics and political institutions,” O’Brien said. “Kornitzer used his journalistic prowess to interview politicians to better understand political leadership. I use the tools of social science to try to answer some of the same questions. And I feel a special connection with both Bela Kornitzer and Noémi Neidorff. Like them, I’m also an immigrant to this country. This experience fundamentally influences your worldview and provides you with a unique connection to the United States.”
“I am especially pleased about Diana’s appointment,” Neidorff added. “Obviously, her accomplishments and credentials are most impressive, but I also know that my Uncle Bela would have enjoyed her warm, outgoing and effervescent personality.”
Bela Kornitzer’s legacy
In his native Hungary, Kornitzer was immersed in politics and helped organize the Ministry of Supply. In 1947, the rise of Nazism and communism caused him to flee to the U.S. as a political exile. When he arrived, Kornitzer did not speak English, said Neidorff, who had an especially close relationship with her uncle. She said he learned English by going to the movies and prided himself on being a self-made, self-educated man.
Kornitzer authored “American Fathers and Sons” and the bestseller “The Great AmericanHeritage.” As a political columnist, he valued truth and integrity above all else. He had a reputation for building relationships with political figures that enabled him to get the interviews others could not. In his relatively short life — he died at age 54 in 1964 — Kornitzer had major cover stories and exclusive interviews with the likes of Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, John Kennedy and Douglas MacArthur, among many other notables.
Because he never married or had children, Neidorff said creating this endowed professorship ensures his name will live on.
“My uncle was a man who was proud of the fact that he made so much of himself without traditional schooling, and here I am, giving him the honor of a distinguished professorship in a leading university,” Neidorff said. “I think he’s smiling down from above. I truly do.”
About Noémi Neidorff
Neidorff is an active leader in the arts community. A native of Budapest, she fled Hungary with her parents during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and the family settled in New Jersey. Neidorff became a classical pianist, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Manhattan School of Music and continuing her postgraduate studies at Columbia University.
She and her husband moved to St. Louis in 1985 when he accepted a position as president and chief executive officer of Physicians Health Plan of Greater St. Louis. Michael Neidorff later served as chairman and CEO of St. Louis–based Centene Corp. from 1996 to 2022. Under his leadership, the company grew substantially, becoming one of the nation’s largest Medicaid managed-care providers and earning a No. 24 ranking on the Fortune 500 list.
The Neidorffs previously established three endowed professorships and a fellowship program at Washington University School of Medicine. With the Centene Charitable Foundation, they endowed the deanship at the Brown School. They also provided funding for COVID-19 projects and research at the Brown School and the School of Medicine. Additional support advanced new and innovative cancer research at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the School of Medicine.
Neidorff is a vice chair of the board of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and serves on the executive committees of the Manhattan School of Music and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Previously, Neidorff served as chair of the National Trustees of the National Symphony Orchestra and chair of the board of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, as well as serving on the board for Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. She played a significant role in founding the St. Louis radio station Classic 107.3 FM, which focuses heavily on classical music and the arts.
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