Lydia and Dan Novakov receive 39th Annual Catholic Foundation Award
By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
Cheryl Mansour fought back tears as she introduced Lydia and Dan Novakov as the recipients of the 39th Annual Catholic Foundation Award Feb. 19 at the Hilton Anatole Dallas. For Mansour, the moment was surreal as she introduced a lifelong friend and noted how history sometimes has a way of repeating itself.
“In 1971, my father Tom Unis stood in front of a packed ballroom at the Americana Hotel in New York City. He introduced Lydia’s grandfather J.M. Haggar Sr. when he received the Golden Torch of Hope Award for his civic and humanitarian contributions,” said Mansour, the senior vice president of donor relations for The Catholic Foundation. “As I stand before you today, more than 50 years later, I know how my dad felt that night.”
In accepting the award, Lydia noted the prior award winners in the audience.
“We are inspired by your examples and honored to be counted among you,” she said.
Dan said he and his wife were deeply humbled to receive the award, but credited the greater Catholic, philanthropic community for its overall work and impact.
“We feel this award is not about Lydia and me,” he said. “It is really about you, the Catholic, philanthropic community, of which we are only a very small part.”
In naming the Novakovs as this year’s Catholic Foundation Award honorees, Matt Kramer touted their lifelong legacy of faith and service to the greater Dallas community.
“Lydia and Dan represent the very best in living a life of service from a Catholic perspective. As individuals, and as a couple, they’ve humbly and graciously taken on some of the region’s highest profile leadership roles for charitable causes,” said Kramer, president and CEO of The Catholic Foundation. “Throughout Lydia’s and Dan’s life, thousands of people have benefitted from the funds they’ve helped raise, programs they’ve enhanced, and impossible dreams turned into realities.”
For Lydia, that legacy stretches back to her grandfather, who she said came to the United States at the age of 13 with nothing.
“His faith never wavered as he experienced what were extremely difficult circumstances. He placed his trust in God while struggling to find his way,” said Lydia, a Dallas native and graduate of Ursuline Academy. “As the patriarch, his message to us was crystal clear: ‘We have been blessed. Be eternally grateful. And share your blessings generously with those less fortunate.’”
She said his past guided his future and he always remembered, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
“His faith has been our bedrock,” Lydia said. “It guides us in the good times and fortifies us in the bad.”
Lydia credited her parents for building upon those core beliefs.
“Through their actions and support, I saw the hungry fed, the poor assisted, the sick healed, the elderly cared for, and children educated,” Lydia explained. “Mom and Dad were always more than willing to lend a hand and truly cared about the well-being of others. For me, faith began at home, and faith and service are intertwined.”
Lydia remembers from an early age her parents encouraging her and her siblings to support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital from its founding. She also recalled her father’s work in leading a campaign that provided the initial funding for the creation of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, North Dallas Tollway and numerous municipal and civic buildings. She pointed to her mother’s and grandmother’s “inner strength, love, grace and kindness” in helping to establish her moral compass.
“These experiences and observations laid the groundwork for my life ahead,” Lydia said, adding that it is something she and her husband have passed along to their two children, Isabell and Daniel, and three granddaughters.
Neither of Dan Novakov’s parents graduated from high school, but that made them recognize even more the need for him and his brothers to have a quality education.
“Mom and Dad worked multiple jobs to send me and my two brothers to Catholic schools,” he said. “They wanted us to have the education they always dreamed of.”
A native of Cincinnati, Dan attended Moeller High School, where he was introduced to football. Upon graduation, he became the first in his family to go to college, attending the University of Notre Dame. He played on the Notre Dame football team for four years, earning the honor of offensive MVP in 1971. After a stint with the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals, Dan was admitted to Notre Dame Law School.
“On this journey, I received much help and support from some very special people who are forever a part of my life,” said Dan of his “guardian angels” that included Gerry Faust, Ara Parseghian and Father Edmund Joyce among others. “There are so many others who provided invaluable guidance, mentoring and encouragement throughout.”
The Novakovs met in college as Lydia earned a bachelor’s degree from Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Ind., and a master’s degree from The University of Notre Dame while Dan earned a bachelor’s degree and J.D. degree from The University of Notre Dame. Dan also earned his LL.M., Tax, from Southern Methodist University.
Between the two of them, Lydia and Dan have served as trustees, campaign or committee chairs or advisory council members for numerous charitable organizations.
Among those that Lydia currently serves include the Catholic Diocese of Dallas Finance Council, Hoblitzelle Foundation, UT Southwestern Medical Center, The Catholic Foundation as Advisory Council chair, Town of Highland Park, Junior League of Dallas, Fair Park First and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. She previously served on the boards of Crystal Charity Ball Committee, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Senior Source and Ursuline Academy.
Dan currently serves on the AT&T Cotton Bowl Board of Directors, The Catholic Foundation Advisory Council, Catholic Diocese of Dallas involving strategic planning for Catholic schools and co-chair of the Our Faith Our Future capital campaign, Communities Foundation of Texas Advisory Council and the Salesmanship Club of Dallas. He also has served on the boards of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Dallas Schools, The Baylor Care System Foundation, SMU Athletic Forum, and the University of Notre Dame Law Association Board of Directors.
“Dan and I believe we can do more — and be more effective — by partnering with our charitable agencies to meet the needs of others,” said Lydia, adding that she could think of no better organization than The Catholic Foundation. “St. James tells us that faith without work is dead. He challenges us to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. The Foundation makes it easy for us to live our faith by deed through feeding the hungry, serving the poor, comforting the sick, caring for the elderly, educating children, welcoming the stranger, enhancing the arts and building and strengthening community.”
Dan agreed, noting that it is through the collective energies of a team working together that they can make a real and lasting impact.
“When Lydia and I reflect on ‘who and what’ have influenced us individually as well as our lives together, we think of three fundamental facets — Faith, Family and Friends,” he said. “Each is central to who we are and what we value.”
They both value their lifelong Catholic schools experience, referring to it as a “total education of body, mind and spirit.” Dan pointed to the support and blessings he received via a Catholic education as inspiration for him to share those opportunities with others.
“I am passionate to pass on the opportunities I received to others, especially a Catholic education,” he said. “Catholic schools made it all possible.”
Through attending Ursuline Academy and St. Mary’s College, Lydia said faith in action became second nature as did women leadership.
“Both of which are the essence of who I am and what I do,” she said.
Touting the blessings they have received throughout their lives, Dan said their actions are rooted in their upbringing and their faith.
“It’s been God’s plan at work in my life and in Lydia’s. Indeed, we have been blessed with so much more than we deserve,” he said. “And God’s plan continues to work through each of us.”