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Santa Barbara Philanthropist Clifford Sponsel Dead at 104

Honored as 2010 Man of Year, he donated millions of dollars and much of his time to local organizations

Clifford W. Sponsel, who gave millions of dollars and much of his time to support Santa Barbara-area charities over some 60 years, died this week at the age of 104.

He passed away in Los Angeles, where he had been living the last few months, according to Ron Gallo, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Foundation.

Sponsel's charitable donations and dedication to service earned him many accolades, including Man of the Year honors from the foundation in 2010.

Sponsel served for 10 years on the foundation's board of trustees, and also chaired the organization's Finance, Nominating, Personnel, and Salary and Building committees.

Born in Cambria, New York, Sponsel was raised on a fruit farm where he developed an early affinity for automobiles. He learned to drive as a child, and quickly developed a love for working on machinery.

"These early skills have stood him in good stead both in his career as an executive in major manufacturing firms, and in his hobby as a collector, restorer, and driver of antique autos," according to his biography on the foundation's website.

Sponsel attended Northeastern University in Boston and earned his bachelor's degree at Tri-State College in Angola, Indiana, in 1931.

After college, Sponsel worked for General Motors Corp., the Glenn L. Martin Company, Bell Aircraft Corp., and the Ryan Aeronautics Corp. He later started an electronics firm called Spectral Dynamics.

Sponsel moved to Santa Barbara in 1954, and almost immediately became a philanthropic leader in the community, serving on the boards and benefiting dozens of local nonprofit organizations.

Sponsel was a "first citizen" of Santa Barbara, Gallo said in an email announcing his passing.

"He was quite an amazing man, with a long list of accomplishments in industry and philanthropy," Gallo wrote.

The foundation's board room is named after Sponsel and his wife, Juliette.

There is a large mural of hand-painted tiles depicting Sponsel's life that was designed by Juliette and dedicated in April 2012.

It's 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.

No details were available Wednesday regarding funeral or memorial services.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton 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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