Monday, July 23 , 2018, 2:51 am | Fair 68º


Santa Barbara Foundation Unveils Tile Mural Depicting Life of Philanthropist Clifford Sponsel

His wife, Juliette, helped design the hand-painted artwork titled 'Giving Back: From birth through education to end of life'

The Santa Barbara Foundation’s headquarters has a new work of art — a hand-painted tile mural depicting the life of community philanthropist Clifford Sponsel.

Sponsel, 102 years old, has founded and fostered dozens of local nonprofit organizations and given millions of dollars to causes he believes in.

Sponsel’s wife Juliette worked with California Pottery and Tile Works and artist Michael O’Kelly to come up with a design for the mural, which is made of 160 hand-painted tiles and took a year to make.

It takes up a whole wall of the aptly named Clifford and Juliette Sponsel Board Room, and is titled “Giving Back: From birth through education to end of life” to reflect Sponsel’s passions, particularly his involvement with Planned Parenthood, the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara and Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care.

The mural was dedicated at a black tie reception Wednesday night, followed by a dinner with Sponsel’s family and friends next door at the Santa Barbara Club.

Sponsel was the Santa Barbara Foundation’s 2011 Philanthropist of the Year and served as a trustee for the organization for 10 years.

He was educated in a one-room schoolhouse in New York — its image is included in the far right side of the mural — and was interested in cars and mechanics from a very early age.

He designed and engineered military aircraft parts and owned Goleta’s Western Design and Manufacturing, which manufactured missile guidance aviation parts and was the biggest employer in the area at the time. He worked for Bell Aircraft Corporation, Ryan Aeronautical Corporation, Spectral Dynamics, Brooks and Shield and American Car & Foundry, which are depicted on the mural.

While working for General Motors, Sponsel invented the car thermometer, which is still used today. Before that, people often had to add water to their overheated radiators.

He has been a philanthropist and volunteer on the South Coast for more than 60 years, serving on countless boards for nonprofit organizations and bringing his business savvy to help them become more financially stable.

“He doesn’t just write checks,” the Santa Barbara Foundation’s Alixe Mattingly said.

Mattingly showed off the mural to Noozhawk on Tuesday as the last few tiles were being placed.

“Here he is at 102 and he has touched so many organizations in this town,” she said.

Sponsel was one of the biggest funders of the new Serenity House facility and is a passionate supporter of the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara.

He founded the Santa Barbara Area Economic Development Association and the Toba, Japan Sister City Organization in addition to serving on boards for Old Spanish Days, chambers of commerce, the Foundation for Santa Barbara City College, the Santa Barbara Foundation and the La Cumbre Mutual Water Company.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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