Senior Portrait: Joanne Rapp

By Zach Rosen   |   April 8, 2021
Joanne Rapp and her husband, Brian, at the Knowlwood Tennis Club

Home can certainly be where you make it, but sometimes home is simply where it has always been. For Joanne Rapp, who grew up in Santa Barbara, she did not expect to come back home to the area after college. But when life gave her the opportunity to return, she found that the tight-knit community of Montecito had always been home. As she raised her own family at the Knowlwood Tennis Club alongside its surrounding enclave of families, her participation in the community has helped the area feel more like home to many other families.

Joanne was born in Milwaukee, with both of her parents coming from Wisconsin. Their family originally came to Santa Barbara around 1945 when her father was offered a job as the head of the Industrial Arts department at the Santa Barbara College in what is now the Riviera Theatre. He would later continue on as a professor in the Education Department at UCSB. Her mother was the first principal of Cleveland Elementary School and Joanne notes that she came from a “family of educators.” Joanne grew up on the Riviera, living in the home her father had built himself. She attended the local schools, graduating from Santa Barbara High School. While attending SBHS in 1959, she had a life-changing experience during her time abroad in France with the American Field Service, a student exchange program. She went on to major in French and Art History at Berkeley and even studied abroad again in France and Switzerland during her studies. While in college she also met her husband, Brian Rapp, whom she has been with ever since. 

After they both graduated and were married, Brian was working as a young lawyer in Los Angeles. While at a wedding for a Santa Barbara couple, another lawyer mentioned they may be looking for a new lawyer in Santa Barbara. Of course, Joanne didn’t really want to return to her hometown so soon, but they decided to give it a shot for one year and ended up never leaving the area. Brian also happens to be one of the three founders of Knowlwood Tennis Club. While working on putting together the project, he discovered two landlocked lots below Knowlwood and fortunately the owner needed to sell them. After finding another family to take one of the lots, they developed a home on each one, using the same contractor and architect for both. The two families barely knew one another but it was a fortuitous meeting as they soon grew close. As Joanne notes, “We’ve raised our families together. We helped each other bury our parents. It has been a lovely arc. For which I’m very, very grateful.” Brian and Joanne moved into Knowlwood in 1970, two years after coming back, and have been there ever since. During this time other younger couples who had graduated from UCSB were deciding to stay in the area more and moved in around Knowlwood, forming a “community within a community” as Joanne puts it. Today, the families from that era are still close and stay in touch. Nowadays her passion is ping pong, however the Knowlwood Tennis Club is still going (with a waiting list) and Joanne emphasizes that it is “a good family club where children come first.” 

Olympic Escapades 

With a background in French, Joanne decided to volunteer for the 1984 L.A. Olympics, hoping to be assigned to the French team. She ended up helping as an aide for the Canadian rowing team which happened to be the famed “Canadian men’s eight.” During the Olympics she had the rare opportunity to watch their coaching conferences and even heard the coach’s rousing speech before their big win. When celebrating back in Ontario, Joanne was invited to take part in their victory celebration, sitting on the parade float with the team. Her Olympic escapades actually led her to start a side event planning business with a friend for several years that eventually morphed into hosting adventure trips for women. Even before the Olympics, Joanne had always had a volunteering spirit. Over the years she has served on a range of boards and committees for a variety of organizations including Cottage Hospital and the Montecito Association and has been a docent for such institutions as the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and Santa Barbara Courthouse. Along with Patty Bliss, she was one of the “original instigators” of Beautification Day in the late ‘eighties during her time as President of the Montecito Community Foundation. The first board she ever served on was for Child Abuse Listening Mediation (CALM), which today focuses on helping families be free of trauma and treating existing trauma within families. Teachers are normally the first line of defense in noticing trauma in children. With schools closed and extra stresses being put on families, there has been a notable rise in mental health issues during the pandemic. Joanne calls it “the epidemic within the pandemic” and has actually recently returned to the CALM board, decades after her first term. She strongly believes in their mission and has been impressed with their intelligence and reach in positioning their limited resources during this time. 

Over the years, the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara (SFSB) has been one of Joanne’s main focuses. Last year alone, this 65-year-old organization granted $2.8 million to local high school graduates for college and further education. Coming from a family of educators, Joanne has found her time working with SFSB and the Santa Barbara Foundation (SBF) very fulfilling. She originally happened to consecutively chair both organizations. At the time they were both granting money to students and this allowed them to develop a close relationship, consolidating practices and simplifying the application process so students could easily apply to both programs. She feels that education is the “elevator to life” and Joanne herself was actually trained as a 1st grade teacher, however she never ended up teaching as they started having a family. 

The lockdown has brought about a simpler life for Joanne which she has found nurturing at this “age and stage.” During this time, Joanne and her “wonderful husband” Brian have been focusing on their three children and five grandchildren, who all live in the area. And of course, they have been staying in touch with the other Knowlwood families and friends. Three of her closest friends today she has known since she was about five years old. It was actually one of those friends who first asked her to get involved with CALM. Joanne is very grateful to have lived in such a great community around so many wonderful families. As Joanne puts it, “I think in the end, it is all about friendship, and it is all about people. And it is all about whatever kind of basket of friendship you can weave that holds good things within it. And Montecito is that basket. We have so much here. We have so much materially. But really the richness is always in the people, and in the families, and in those that we’re just so lucky to surround ourselves with day in and day out.” Between her childhood friends, committee companions, and the interwoven Knowlwood families, Joanne has spent her life helping weave the tight connections that form a community. 


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