Woman Of the Year, 2004

By Beverlye Fead   |   January 24, 2019
Susan Miles Gulbransen, Santa Barbara Foundation’s 2004 Woman of the Year

Susan Miles Gulbransen is a real Santa Barbara girl. She went to Santa Barbara High School and graduated from Laguna Blanca. After graduation, she attended Mills College as a History major, English minor, and went to UC Berkeley to get her secondary teaching credential. Already, I’m impressed! There is, however, a lot more learning she wanted to do.

After a year of teaching, she earned a Masters in History at UCSB while living at home. Then in 1966 she headed back up to San Francisco to resume teaching and moved into an apartment with three Pan Am stewardesses who were friends of a friend.

The next morning when she went into the kitchen for a cup of coffee, there was one of her new roommates and a cute Pan Am pilot, who lived upstairs, doing a crossword puzzle together. The following year she was accepted to Pan Am as a stewardess and three years later in 1969 she married that cute pilot who was doing the crossword puzzle – Gary Gulbransen.

Her next years were busy raising their daughters Krista and Carrie, but she always found time to be involved with reading, writing, and community activities, her life’s work.

When they moved back to Santa Barbara in 1978, she quickly integrated again into the community and became involved and engaged in what she loves to do: community service.

She worked for 21 years writing book reviews and 16 years doing the weekly literary column “Inprint” for the Santa Barbara News-Press, then a New York Times paper. During that time she also wrote freelance articles for regional magazines. Her writing is informative and light and fun at the same time.

Susan was a Pan Am stewardess in the 1960s before moving back to Santa Barbara in 1978

Since the 1980s she has loved teaching nonfiction writing at the annual Santa Barbara Writers Conference. She also formerly taught writing at SBCC’s Adult Ed. These days she writes a really good monthly column “Beyond Books”thatappears in Noozhawk.Her community activities are many. Starting with serving on several boards, among them Santa Barbara Foundation, Montecito Educational Foundation, Santa Barbara Public Education Foundation, UCSB History Associates Board, and Antioch University. She is currently serving on the CALM (Child Abuse Listening and Mediation) Board for the second time, a nonprofit (amazingly) her mother started 50 years ago. Their current efforts are to help prevent and treat families dealing with childhood trauma while building resiliency throughout the Santa Barbara County communities. But that’s not all she had to give. Now you’ll see why she was voted Woman of the Year.

In 1998, Susan and Joan Rutkowski began the restoration project for the Granada Theatre, which opened in 2008. For six years she served as President of the Board and watched the theater grow far beyond their wildest dreams. The first person they approached to join the effort was Michael Towbes. Talk about success! Today it’s a wonderful resource for our community and arts programs. In looking at all of this, I think I’ve figured it out. Susan has more hours in the day than the rest of us.

In 2000, Fred Klein and Susan co­founded the Santa Barbara Book & Author Festival, which ran until the recession hit eight years later. At a youthful, energetic 77, she has no thought of slowing down. That’s a good thing for us because this community needs her.

The Santa Barbara Foundation named her Woman of the Year in 2004, and the year before that she had received the News-Press Lifetime Achievement Award.

Susan has always loved the outdoors and still finds time for walks or hikes – every day. Being with friends or alone with Gary and talking about a wide range of topics is her favorite way to spend free time.

She and Gary also love to travel and explore the world. Other places fascinate her with the usual tourism plus the histories and cultures of other countries or regions.

I asked her what her advice to others as they continue on life’s journey would be, she replied “Remain active and open to new ideas and take time to socialize, two ways to avoid the word ‘old.’ Also use a sense of humor to move life along.”

Expressing her humor, she then said, “That’s enough to know or, as they say in the texting world, TMI!”


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