A colon cancer diagnosis at age 67 prompted retired UC Santa Barbara Physics Professor Virgil Elings to underwrite the cost of free colonoscopies for residents of the South Coast who cannot afford them or don’t have insurance coverage.
And that spontaneous gift to the community was honored Nov. 14 as Elings was named Philanthropist of the Year for Santa Barbara County. The program is co-managed by Sansum Clinic and Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics. Sansum CEO Kurt Ransohoff said Elings is a “true educator with passion.”
“Giving is fun,” said Elings, who helped save Las Positas park, now Elings Park, with one gift and who spontaneously loaned a waitress $10,000 with zero interest so she could pay off her credit cards and provide a better future for her son. “I never kept track but one day I got a note from her that said she’d paid it off,” he said.
Elings said his only regret was that Sansum rejected his tag line for the free colonoscopy program, the largest of its kind in the nation. “I wanted to call it, ‘Get off your butt and stick something in it,’” he said, “but they rejected that.”
The Livingston Memorial Foundation was Ventura County’s philanthropist of the year. Volunteer awards went to Mary Leavens Schwabauer of Ventura County and Christy Kolva of Santa Barbara County.
The National Charity League was recognized for promoting youth philanthropy, and longtime development executive Rebecca J. Anderson was named fundraiser of the year.