Champion of Education: Michael Towbes


“The world has changed over the years but a good education is something which remains with you your entire life, and a good education keeps getting more and more expensive.” —MICHAEL TOWBES

Mr. Towbes’ commitment to higher education and long-standing support of the Scholarship Foundation are unparalleled. In 1962, Mr. Towbes joined the Scholarship Foundation’s first board of directors and in the first three years of his tenure, along with legendary board member and first executive director Carolyn Ferguson, he interviewed over 100 local students. He remains an Honorary Board Member to this day and continues to support the Scholarship Foundation through two funds: the Towbes Foundation Honors Scholarship and the Gail Towbes Community Service Award. Gail Towbes, Mr. Towbes’ first wife, who passed away in 1996, joined the board in 1975 and eventually volunteered for the position of the Scholarship Foundation’s first Director of Development in 1983. 

Holding a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering from Princeton and attended graduate school at MIT, Mr. Towbes believes that helping the next generation is a great way to show appreciation for his own educational opportunities. The Towbes Foundation Honors Scholarship supports high-performing students and is one of the Scholarship Foundation’s few multi-year scholarships. Students can apply for renewed support for up to four years, as long as they maintain good grades. When asked why he created a four-year scholarship, Mr. Towbes explained, “It’s important that students don’t feel limited by finances and have a scholarship they can rely on throughout their college career.”

For over 50 years, Mr. Towbes has been a pillar of the Santa Barbara community, both in business and philanthropy. He is the founder and chairman of the board of The Towbes Group and Montecito Bank & Trust. Mr. Towbes and his wife, Anne, are known for their dedication to local nonprofits. They have served on many boards and were named, at different times, Santa Barbara’s Man and Woman of the Year.

Despite his many commitments, Mr. Towbes takes time to meet with his scholarship recipients. Since 1982, Mr. Towbes meets for lunch every year with his current Honors Scholarship recipients. The thank you letters from students reflect how touched they are by Mr. Towbes’ interest in them. As student Connie Wang noted, “A unique part of the Towbes Foundation Honors Scholarship is that you get to build a personal relationship with Mr. Towbes and get to know him as a person, not just a donor.”

While Mr. Towbes encourages the students to keep in contact with him, perhaps over lunch or coffee or through a casual, written update, he makes a point of not infringing on their lives. “I know they’re off doing important things,” Mr. Towbes said. “But I make it clear that I’m available to them.”

So far, the Towbes Foundation Honors Scholarship fund has supported 31 students. He remains in contact with many of those students, including the first person who received the scholarship—she’s currently a teacher at San Marcos High School. Another former recipient he follows is Arthur Swalley, a Scholarship Foundation board member and the current president of the Santa Barbara Symphony’s board of directors.

“I’m so pleased I’ve been able to keep in touch with many of the recipients over the years,” Mr. Towbes commented. “And I’m proud of