Mark Cooper’s Retired Life of Service

Navy Captain and Professor Now Volunteers for Museum of Natural History and SEE International

Ellie and Mark Cooper | Credit: Paul Wellman

After a long career as a U.S. Navy captain and professor of industrial manufacturing at Cal Poly, Mark Cooper, who is 73, returned to his native Santa Barbara and started the next phase of his life as a fundraiser for nonprofits. He and his wife, Ellie, a retired nurse, are now focused on raising money for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and also volunteer for SEE International, which performs thousands surgeries to restore vision around the world. Cooper answered a few questions about his work.

What prompted you to start volunteering?  Mahatma Gandhi’s reminder, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Also, the realization that the best retirements are a balance between hedonism and giving back to our community. So, we travel, ski, trek in mountains on every continent in the world, and generally “party down” with the best of them. But we also love to give back without any expectation or desire for compensation.

Why should others consider volunteering?  Given selflessly, you will be rewarded way beyond anything you are being paid, or ever were paid financially in the world of work. Not only are you statistically likely to live longer, you will live better, you will live happier.

What makes a great volunteer?  A sincere hope to pay it forward.

How should people get involved?  There are hundreds of organizations in our community that can benefit from your time and talents. Our advice is to think about your own interest areas, and what turns you on. When you approach an organization, go in the door quietly. Learn all you can. See whether the philosophical approach is a fit for your values and interests and ways of doing things. Be willing to fail, bump around a bit, and try different things. Don’t be afraid to sweep the floor and empty the trash.

How has being a volunteer supported your personal growth and relationships?  We are intellectually, spiritually, and physically stretched by our volunteer experiences. In retirement, the couch is a great magnet ​— ​and perhaps our worst enemy. So, if you can’t beat it, why not at least keep it at bay? Get off your duff, get out of the house, and make it happen! Our community needs you!


See sbnature.org and seeintl.org.

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