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Royal Gala Celebrates Crowining Achievements of San Marcos High Fundraising Group

Royal Pride Foundation, which has raised $2.3 million to date for an aray of school projects, presented awards to four local leaders.

San Marcos High School hosted its third annual Royal Gala Oct. 14 celebrating the strength of community and honoring four local leaders who have made significant contributions to both the greater Santa Barbara community and to San Marcos.

“This is not a typical high school fundraising auction,” said Eric Voulgaris, board chair of the Royal Pride Foundation (RPF). “It’s about raising money to develop more programs and opportunities for students, some of whom might not graduate high school without the support and unique curriculum options we’ve been able to provide.”

Sal Rodriguez, Katina Etsell and Mardi and John Warketin honored at San Marcos High gala. Click to view larger
Sal Rodriguez, Katina Etsell and Mardi and John Warketin honored at San Marcos High gala. (Priscilla)

“When we support the youth in our community, the whole community benefits,” said Principal Ed Behrens, the visionary behind the Royal Pride Foundation.

Started four years ago, with the help of four San Marcos families, the foundation provides strategic guidance and funding for projects that support all students and drive the school to achieve excellence in academics, extracurricular pursuits and facilities.

To date, 800 families have donated to the Royal Pride Foundation and $2.3 million has been raised, helping to create and expand academies, including Health Careers and Entrepreneurship, and funding campus beautification projects, renovated athletic facilities, new sand volleyball courts, performing arts and other special programs.

Some 400 people attended this year’s gala. More than $150,000 was raised to support such diverse programs as a computer science pathway; the Café Royale culinary program; alumni mentoring; counseling support; AVID (support for first generation college-bound students); and the Academy for Success, connecting students to counselors and the community for long term achievement.  

“We want every student to find their calling at San Marcos and to build the best high school in the country,” said Behrens. “Based on the outpouring of support, it would seem the school is well on its way."

Success depends significantly on the strong community partnerships that San Marcos has formed with local leaders, four of whom were honored at the gala.

Katina Etsell, former San Marcos parent and founding chair of the RPF, received the Citizenship Award for her commitment to the school and the greater Santa Barbara community.

A board veteran, Etsell has served on Cottage Health, Cancer Center, Casa Dorinda, Alzheimer’s Association and Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care Boards, while volunteering for nine years at San Marcos High, serving lunch, selling prom tickets and working as president for Athletic Boosters.

“I’m really proud that the money we’ve raised has help fund so many specialized programs for students, allowing them to further explore their passions,” Etsell said.

Sal Rodriguez —who was honored with the Community Leadership Award — is a former San Marcos student who discovered his passion for basketball at a young age and was able to pursue it through high school, earning the honors of first team All Channel League, First Team All-County and winning all CIF tournaments.

Rodriguez graduated San Marcos as the career scoring leader. As executive director of the Boys & Girls Club, Rodriguez combines his sports knowledge, experience and love for youth to benefit young athletes in the community.

John and Mardi Warkentin — standout athletes and dedicated parent volunteers — received the Philanthropy Award for their generous contributions to the Field of Champions project, which restored the San Marcos track and field.

A 1970 national decathlon champion, John, and his tennis-star wife Mardi raised three accomplished athletes: Kara and Paul were leaders on San Marcos’ tennis courts while brother Mark was an Olympic swimmer.

In accepting the award, John joked, “We had to ask our kids’ permission to give their inheritance away to fund the field. All three said go for it!”

The gala was co-chaired by Lauri Hamer, Pauline Lowe and Melinda Werner. Key committee chairs: Romina Banan, Kristi Bittner, Bronwen Brindley, Susan Cole, Sheri Fay, Matt Laband, Cindy Oas, Ted Pallad, Ann Pieramici, Christie Phreaner, Robin Fell, Lily Marx, Brooke Tiller, Marcy Wimbish and Sandra Wood.

Top sponsors: Etsell, Bronwen Brindley and John Warren, Drew and Vicki Dusebout, Sharmilia Gunasekare and Asiri De Silva, Cottage Health, Lauri and Mike Hamer, Heinze/Hopkins/Ingram/Sofro/Tasca families, Christy Kelso, Stina Hans, Joel Kreiner, Lisa Less and Peter Chen, Dr. Marc and Pauline Lowe, Matt and Ann Marquis, Pacifica Hotels, Montecito Bank & Trust, Villa Elegante – Werner Family and Jami and Eric Voulgaris.

— Ann Pieramici for San Marcos High School.


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