The Annual Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Legacy Awards

By Joanne A Calitri   |   February 7, 2023
Brad Willis, John O’Brien, Renee Grubb, Luke Swetland, and Elisabeth Fowler (photo courtesy of the SB Museum of Natural History)

Society News is pleased to share the 2023 Legacy Award Winners of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (SBMNH), which were announced at a private Leadership Circles of Giving soirée last week.

The Legacy Awards went to philanthropists Elisabeth and Greg Fowler; Renee Grubb,owner of Village Properties; andornithology supporter, John O’Brien.

In his speech at the awards presentation, SBMNH President and CEO Luke J. Swetland said, “This year’s honorees deserve to be recognized and celebrated for the enormous contributions they’ve made to the work of the Museum. By donating their time, sharing their talents, and offering their expertise, they build on the outstanding work of our staff to connect people to nature for the betterment of both.”

I reached out to the recipients to share their thoughts on being recognized and their role in the growth of the Museum:

The Fowlers, members of the SBMNH for 17 years, write, “It is our honor and pleasure to support and serve the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Greg recalls when he was a boy how he loved spending time running through the woods, pushing the rattlesnake button, and being enthralled by the gallery exhibits. Fast forward, our children also recall the joy of running through the woods, pushing the rattlesnake button, and being enthralled by the gallery exhibits. Elisabeth’s experience serving as volunteer and trustee was wonderfully enriching as well. Our family is full of gratitude to all of the staff and scientists who ensure the high-quality experience for all visitors. Honestly, every time we go to the museum, it is like a homecoming.” 

O’Brien has been a member for 35 years, and a docent for over 20 years. With his wife, Marsha MacDonald, they volunteer with the Santa Barbara Audubon Society stewarding partnerships with the SBMNH, and are members of the Mission Creek Legacy Society.

He emailed me and shared, “I was shocked when Luke called me to announce that I had been selected as one of the recipients to receive the 2023 Legacy Award. I genuinely consider it a great honor to be recognized for my 20 years of volunteering both with the Museum and with the Santa Barbara Audubon Society. As great as it is to be publicly recognized, it is truly not needed since every day I volunteer I am rewarded by my interactions with the visitors, whether that is in the Planetarium with a school group of third graders, or while I have a wild bird of prey on my gloved hand in the backyard. The feedback I receive is reward enough. A quote by Winston Churchill I used during my acceptance speech sums up my belief: ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’”

Further lauding O’Brien’s work is Ms. Katherine Emery PhD, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Audubon Society: “Santa Barbara Audubon Society, Eyes in the Sky volunteers, Board of Directors, and staff join the Museum in congratulating John on his outstanding service and longstanding commitment. John is a critical leader at the Museum and Audubon Aviary. We are filled with gratitude for all that John does, his knowledge, wit, kindness, and diligence, and for the Museum, for selecting him and the other honorees for this important recognition.”

Grubb is the founder of Village Properties in 1996 with her partner, Ed Edick. She has been a member of the SBMNH Board of Trustees since 2010, working with the Master Planning Committee, The Centennial Project, and the Governance Committee. “Receiving the Legacy Award from the Museum of Natural History is such an honor. I served as a Trustee for six years as well as on some exciting committees. Preserving such a treasure for our community gives me so much pleasure,” says Grubb.

Members of the Leadership Circles of Giving play an essential role supporting educational programming, research, exhibits, and collections, and help to keep the Museum experience available to everyone.

The Montecito Journal congratulates all the Legacy recipients and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History for all their programming and dedicated work for our natural world.  



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