Helen Pedotti, best known for donating millions to Santa Barbara City College and her long work as president of that school’s foundation, died this Monday at age 93. At a time when few women ran businesses, Pedotti owned and operated a TV station in Santa Maria, a radio station in San Francisco, and a 2,500-acre ranch in Santa Barbara. She was also a Democratic Party leader with national and statewide connections, the first woman to be elected head of the Santa Barbara Democratic Party Central Committee back in the late 1950s. She was on first-name relations with California governors Pat and Jerry Brown.
Pedotti was active with the Trust for Historic Preservation and strongly supported its efforts to preserve Santa Barbara’s original Presidio, now part of a statewide park foundation. Pedotti was born Helen Schott, and the first two letters of the names of her and her sisters (Alice, Helen, Catherine, and Mary) are the basis of the Alhecama Theater’s name. Her father, Max Schott, was a German Jew who during World War II helped get Jews out of Germany. Late in life, Pedotti donated the funds necessary for Sheriff Bill Brown to open the Helen Pedotti Inmate Learning Center at the County Jail. In lieu of flowers, Pedotti left a request that donations be made to that learning center.