Board Chair Brad Willis, left, with 14th Legacy Awards Winners John O'Brien, Renee Grubb, Luke Swetland, Elisabeth Fowler
Board Chair Brad Willis, left, with 14th Legacy Awards Winners John O'Brien, Renee Grubb, Luke Swetland, and Elisabeth Fowler. Credit: Courtesy photo

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History hosted its Leadership Circles of Giving Dinner Jan. 19, honoring Elisabeth and Greg Fowler, Renee Grubb and Village Properties, and John O’Brien for their generosity and dedication to the museum.

The annual event pays tribute to the generosity of Leadership Circles members and key donors who helped sustain the Museum of Natural History and Sea Center’s work over the past year.

The Legacy Awards recognize extraordinary contributions to the museum and the natural world by community supporters, donors and volunteers.

Elisabeth and Greg Fowler joined the museum as members 17 years ago and have never looked back. After moving to Santa Barbara from Seattle with their four children, Greg, who grew up in the area, revisited the museum where he had fond childhood memories.

Elisabeth Fowler joined the board two years later and served on a variety of committees where she excelled at fundraising. She chaired four galas, raising $1.3 million for school programs, and the Centennial Campaign Cabinet that raised $18.4 million for the Centennial Project.

She chaired the board from 2014-16, helping bring the museum into its second century of service. In addition to giving her time to the museum, the Fowlers have been generous philanthropists, both through their support of the museum and the Santa Barbara community.

Renee Grubb founded Village Properties in 1996 with her partner Ed Edick, after more than a decade of real estate experience in Santa Barbara. She immediately began giving back to the community through her award-winning Teachers Fund, which helps local schools acquire needed supplies and books.

Grubb’s commitment to education, and strong interest in the natural world made for an easy yes when she was invited to join the museum’s Board of Trustees in 2010.

Grubb was a key part of the master planning committee where her expertise helped guide several decisions for the board as the organization crafted the Centennial Project.

She also chaired the governance committee helping ensure the board leadership was strong, committed, and represented the best civic leadership in Santa Barbara.

John O’Brien and his wife Marsha have been museum members since 1988, and in the early 2000s, John became a museum docent.

For more than two decades, John led school groups and volunteered in Gladwin Planetarium, where he shared the universe with thousands of school children, as well as summer visitors.

The O’Briens were the first to volunteer at the newly reopened Sea Center in 2006, following its total renovation and expansion under the leadership of former director Karl Hutterer. John O’Brien could often be found on the wet deck sharing specimens from the waters below.

Both John and Marsha have been involved in the Santa Barbara Audubon Society for a number of years.

John served on the board, and through that became an early volunteer with Audubon’s Eyes in the Sky raptor education program. He has been instrumental in stewarding the partnership between Audubon and the museum, especially in the building and operation of the mews.

Recently, the O’Briens joined the Mission Creek Legacy Society, cementing their commitment to the museum and ensuring a lasting legacy.

“This year’s honorees deserve to be recognized and celebrated for the enormous contributions they’ve made to the work of the museum,” said Luke J. Swetland, president/ CEO.

“By donating their time, sharing their talents, and offering their expertise, they build on the outstanding work of our staff to connect people to nature for the betterment of both,” he said.

“Volunteers, donors and members are the heart of our institution and we couldn’t be successful without their support,” he said.

Leadership Circles members play a key role in supporting all facets of the museum and Sea Center’s work, including education, research, exhibits, collections, and accessibility initiatives. Visit for more information.

For more about the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, visit