Beloved Foundation Benefactor Remains Young at Heart

While Lorna Hedges’ many friends and admirers will readily tell you she is a true community treasure, Lorna herself is hardly convinced. “I don’t think I’m anything special,” she insisted with characteristic directness on a recent sunny afternoon. It’s a rare point of disagreement about one of the local nonprofit world’s most popular mainstays.

One thing not in dispute is Lorna’s generous support of the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara. Since 2002, she has donated annually to the organization, mostly to the Lorna Hedges Art Scholarship Fund, which she established in 2010 to recognize standout student photography. She has also generously supported the memorial scholarship fund established by Foundation Board member Kathy O’Leary in honor of her late husband, local youth sports icon Scott O’Leary.

Prior to her involvement with the Scholarship Foundation, Lorna poured her energy and passion into the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, becoming a member and volunteer in 1969 and going on to serve as a docent and help found the Ridley-Tree Education Center at McCormick House among much else. A former secretary and vice president of the museum’s Board of Trustees, she was elected a Life Honorary Trustee in 1997.

We recently sat down with the spry 97-year-old for a chat in her tidy cottage on Valle Verde’s sprawling, manicured campus.

Tell us about your early years.

I was a Californian born in Kansas. My father was a native Californian as was his mother. When I was 17, I came to California to go to Stanford. That was in 1944. My dad had told me that some California universities, because they were short on students, would consider applicants who hadn’t graduated from high school, provided they could pass the boards and had the grades. And I jumped at the chance. I wrote both to Cal [Berkeley] and to Stanford because my family was from the Bay Area. Cal said I had to graduate first, but Stanford said, “Well, if you can pass the boards…” I found them to be quite easy, not because I was so bright, but because four of the five parts were vocabulary, and I had had so much Latin. So out I came. I didn’t graduate. I married in the middle of my junior year. I wanted to get into what would be called human resources today.

Tell us about your husband.

His name was Ellis Walton Hedges, but he went by Walt. He initially made his living in the livestock industry. We lived in the Bay Area first and then we were in Stockton for 10 years. We wanted to live in Santa Barbara, so we just picked up and moved here in 1959. We never wanted to live anywhere else. We traveled extensively, and we’d always be so glad to come home. Walt came home one day and said he was going to sell cars. I kind of looked askance at that, but he ended up making a lot of money! He was a hard worker. Walt was going to retire at 50, but his company didn’t want him to because by that time he was exporting cars to Japan. At 55 he was worn out. He later died of Lewy body dementia. His was one of the first cases diagnosed; it gradually just took away his energy. He’s been gone now 22 years.

Why are you such a booster of the Art Scholarship Program?

I think it’s wonderful in that it encourages students creatively and otherwise. The process teaches discipline and boosts confidence. Regardless of whether they plan to pursue an art career or not, students must learn how to position themselves, how to produce creative work and how to get it out there. It takes courage to be a senior in high school and take an art piece that you’ve made and love, and put it out there to be juried and have the rest of the community come look at it. Of course, you want everyone to like it! The participating students must be willing, once they have the piece and believe in it, to go through what it takes to put it out there and have other people assess it.

Why support the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara?

I really admire the Scholarship Foundation because it’s homegrown and people continue to put their money and time into it. Success breeds success. Some friends of mine gave the Scholarship Foundation a hefty gift one time in my honor just because they knew how involved I was with the organization. But most of all, they were impressed with the Scholarship Foundation’s level of expertise in helping young people go on with their education. If you spend any time at all with the organization, you know it’s well run. And then there are the students. I used to interview them, and it was always so interesting!

Any concluding thoughts?

I just had my birthday, and I am amazed to be alive at 97!