Sunday, July 15 , 2018, 2:48 pm | Fair 75º


Local News

Santa Barbara Airport Director Karen Ramsdell Ready to Soar Into Retirement

The longtime civil servant says it's time for fresh leadership to control the course of the agency's next Master Plan process

A phone call interrupted one of Karen Ramsdell’s morning meetings last week, along with a message telling the Santa Barbara Airport director to check the news.

A man had walked into Terminal 3 of the Los Angeles International Airport and began shooting with a high-powered rifle, killing a TSA agent and injuring seven others.

All other plans were pushed aside last Friday as Ramsdell sprung into action, calling a staff meeting, beefing up terminal security and devising a strategy to explain to customers which LAX-related flights would be delayed and for how long.

Shocking as the news was, the longtime director — and retiree-to-be — kept her cool and grasped at some kind of silver lining.

“That was a great example, even though we’re smaller,” Ramsdell told Noozhawk this week. “You never know what’s going to happen. It will be a great learning tool for us.”

The takeaway speaks to Ramsdell’s nature as a lifelong learner, filing away new knowledge even as she prepares to retire Dec. 30 after 37 years of public service with the City of Santa Barbara.

Ramsdell counts herself among the lucky few given a “front row seat” to see the spinning wheels of city government, a career she stumbled upon in 1976 when she was the single mom of a 6-month-old daughter and in need of full-time work.

Although she graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in history and the intent to teach, Ramsdell said she got a job in the City Clerk’s Office when no one was hiring educators.

Her eagerness to learn led to a series of promotions, including positions in the city’s Redevelopment Agency and Risk Management Program. Ramsdell became assistant harbor director for the Waterfront Department before deciding to apply for an assistant director position at the airport.

She showed up to the interview eight months pregnant with her son, absolutely certain the male-dominated panel would turn her away.

They didn’t.

Within three years, Ramsdell was airport director and even took flying lessons — a simple solution to her fear of flying.

“Thirty-seven years later here I am,” said Ramsdell, a Southern California native. “It’s hard to let go. I’ve learned a lot. I was given many opportunities with the city.”

Ramsdell, who previously had no aviation background, described the airport as a fun place to work, where 55 employees hunker down to make the flying experience as enjoyable as possible.

She’s particularly proud of leading efforts to plan and develop the recently completed Airline Terminal Improvement Project and of a safety project that filled in creeks near the runways.

Ramsdell prides herself on the ability to work with both Santa Barbara and Goleta city officials, and her collaborative spirit led to the founding of the Goleta Slough Management Committee.

Still, the Goleta resident feels it's time for fresh blood and leadership to walk the airport through its next Master Plan process.

Ramsdell plans to return to hobbies in genealogy and photography, as well as traveling and writing a book about the history of the airport she loves.

“I’ve certainly lived 29 years of that history,” she said, smiling. “It’s really been an honor. It’s been a great career.”

In the end, the airport director who always wanted to be a teacher came to enjoy life as the one being educated.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff 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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