Virgil Elings donated $4 million toward the new Cancer Center facility.
Paul Wellman (file)

Dr. Virgil Elings, former UCSB physics professor, nanotech pioneer, and high-profile philanthropist, donated $4 million to the fundraising campaign for Sansum Clinic’s new consolidated Cancer Center, now under construction. Sansum set a fundraising goal of $38 million for the $53 million project, and with Elings’s donation, that goal has been met. The donation secured naming rights to the new building — located at 540 West Pueblo Street. The actual cancer center — with operations in Santa Barbara, Lompoc, and Solvang, will be named after Leslie Ridley-Tree, who donated $10.73 million.

Elings and the Cancer Center go back about six years when he underwrote the cost of free colonoscopies for 400 uninsured individuals to the tune of $200,000. At age 67, Elings had been diagnosed with colon cancer and thought he should have gotten the test much sooner. He worried that private insurance companies “didn’t want you to know about your colon” until Medicare kicked in at age 65, so he decided to underwrite the colon screenings.

The former physics professor started Digital Instruments in 1987, which created high-powered state-of-the-art scanning microscopes. When he sold the company in 1998, Elings became exceptionally rich and exceptionally generous, donating $2.5 million to the park that bears his name, $12.5 million to UCSB, $3.5 million to MIT, $1 million for a field at Girsh Park in Goleta. Elings has also opened a museum in Solvang highlighting his collection of vintage motorcycles.

For years, the Santa Barbara Cancer Center operated out of three downtown locations. The new building — slated to ready for occupancy next summer — will allow the center, which has recently joined forces with Sansum Health, to fuse all operations into one location. “If you look at Santa Barbara without Virgil Elings, it looks like a much different community,” said Sansum CEO Kurt Ransohoff.


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