Elisabeth Fowler learned to appreciate the outdoors from a young age, growing up in Seattle and spending time in the San Juan Islands, summers fishing in Alaska, and regular visits to her grandparents’ ranch in eastern Washington.
These formative years amid rural landscapes, lakes and mountains gave her a love of nature that would later inspire much of her volunteer work in Santa Barbara County.
Another defining influence of Fowler’s early life was her mother, whose actions demonstrated that in order to make a difference, one needs to be engaged.
Teaching yoga to seniors and recycling before it was fashionable, Fowler’s mother also took her kids in tow as she peacefully demonstrated for any number of causes.
Those early influences, combined with an undergraduate political science degree and a professional career in public policy, representing the private sector in Washington, D.C., and the public sector as a policy analyst for the State of Washington, collectively inform Fowler’s advocacy and board service in our community.
“Those experiences allowed me to put my worlds together — my love of the outdoors through the lens of how public policy functions and intersects with daily life, impacting infrastructures and communities,” said Fowler, whose board service has reflected these interests.
Fowler has lived in Santa Barbara with her husband, Greg, and four children for the past 18 years. In that time, she has been an active supporter of many nonprofit organizations focused on health care, conservation and education.
It’s due to her decades of service on nonprofit boards in Santa Barbara County that Fowler is being awarded the 80th Person of the Year by the Santa Barbara Foundation.
“I’m surprised and shocked by this honor,” Fowler told Noozhawk. “I feel like many of the projects I work on don’t always have a high degree of visibility.”
Yet, she is perhaps best known for a highly visible position on the board of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, where she served as chairwoman for two of her 10 years there.
During her decade at the museum, Fowler chaired four galas, raising $1.3 million for school programs, and the Centennial Campaign Cabinet that raised more than $18 million for the museum.
Her expertise in fundraising has benefitted many other local organizations, including Laguna Blanca School, where her four children attended and she served on the board, and the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics.
“I enjoy working on campaigns because I’m able to make an impact,” Fowler said. “It’s rewarding to see the money raised being used to implement programming that directly impacts lives.”
Fowler’s interests are eclectic. She worked on the Santa Barbara Resiliency Project, a collaborative effort studying the impact and treatment of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on children in our community.
And she was involved in The Project for Resilient Communities, which received a prestigious national award for the private-public project that installed protective ring nets in Montecito creeks after the deadly 2018 flash flooding and debris flows.
She currently serves on the advisory boards of Freedom 4 Youth, the White Buffalo Land Trust and the Lompoc Teen Center.
In addition to her local work, she serves as a trustee for Siempre Unidos, a Honduras-based HIV/AIDS health-care program. In 2021, Fowler was named the Santa Barbara County Philanthropist of the Year.
Fowler’s desire to make a difference and connect more deeply with her community has followed her throughout her life.
“For me, I find that being present is such a gift,” she said. “It requires you to really focus, and connects you profoundly to community, and that attentiveness feels good.”
Fowler will be honored alongside Joe Howell at the Santa Barbara Foundation Person of the Year Luncheon on Wednesday at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort.
The sold-out luncheon is co-sponsored by the foundation; Montecito Bank & Trust; Noozhawk; Cox; Cindy and Steve Lyons; Bartlett, Pringle & Wolf LLP; Katina Zaninovich; American Riviera Bank; and U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management.