Helene Beaver: 1939-2021

Helene Beaver was one of the most involved Santa Barbara community leaders of her time. Though her years on the Santa Barbara City Council from 1993-1997 were the most visible in her civic participation, her work in our community far exceeded her time in elective office.

Helene was born in 1939 in Yugoslavia and came to the United States in 1951 as a refugee after World War II. The love of her life was Jerry Beaver, and they had three sons — David, Philip, and John. The Beaver household was a center of social life for generations of Roosevelt Elementary, Santa Barbara Junior High, and Santa Barbara High School students who were friends of one or more of the “Beaver boys.” Their rambling house set back from Mission Canyon Road was always open, friendly, and accommodating, especially at holidays.

The Beavers were among the early and enthusiastic proponents of tennis in Santa Barbara. Soon after acquiring their home in the 1960s, they built a tennis court on it. Helene and Jerry helped to create the Tennis Club of Santa Barbara, and they were founders of the Santa Barbara Tennis Patrons Association.

Although Republican and conservative politically, the Beavers were strictly secular and moderate in their personal philosophy and approach. They were, to this extent, utilitarians — the purpose of this life is to have as much happiness, learn as much, and perform as much service as possible in it. Helene, as well as the rest of the Beavers, exemplified these traits.

In the 1970s and ’80s, she was among the most active members of the community, serving in a bevy of positions for a host of civic organizations. In addition to groups with which her children were involved, including the PTA, she was president or chair of the following organizations: Santa Barbara Symphony, Santa Barbara Cancer Center, Downtown Organization, Friends of the Public Library, Santa Barbara County Red Cross, Junior League, Mission Canyon Fire District, and Mission Canyon Association. She was also foreman of the County Grand Jury. In total, she served on more than 30 boards and commissions. Jerry liked to joke that he was “Mr. Helene Beaver!”

Helene participated in local government initially as a citizen-activist. At school board and city council meetings, when Helene Beaver talked, people listened. Her brilliant mind and straight-spoken manner compelled attention to, and respect for, what she said. She was frequently quoted in local media.

After living in Mission Canyon for 20 years, the opportunity emerged for the Beavers to have a residence in the city. Jerry was redeveloping a property on Santa Barbara Street, and it was feasible to add a fourth-floor residence. Although they had deep roots at their former home, they decided to move downtown.

When the Beavers were leaving Mission Canyon, they did something that was characteristic of them and their way of looking at the world — they had a garage sale! They hardly needed to do so, but they were always down to earth and fundamentally egalitarian in perspective. They didn’t think they were intrinsically any better than anyone else. What they had, they had achieved through hard work and perseverance. Anyone could. They didn’t ask for special favors.

But they gave them. Helene and Jerry gave much of themselves. On both a commercial and civic basis, they really made a difference. When I was a grad student in England, they put me up when I returned to the United States between school terms, and they visited me on one occasion when they were vacationing in England. As I recall, we saw a Shakespeare play in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The service and generosity that Helene practiced led to her successful candidacy for the Santa Barbara City Council. She belonged to a different generation of Santa Barbara politics than now characterizes the city. It was a time in which every councilmember was for “planned growth,” with some members slightly emphasizing the adjective and some slightly emphasizing the noun. Everyone was a moderate and got along with and respected each other.

Helene likely could have been elected to a second term on the City Council, but she instead chose to run for mayor, hoping to pull city government more to the center. Alas, she was not successful in this campaign.

After Helene had served on the City Council — and she and Jerry had moved into Santa Barbara, with their sons grown up and moved away — the couple were a constant presence in the community, taking walks everywhere and attending local events, while continuing their lifetime of service. Helene Beaver enjoyed Santa Barbara greatly as she and her husband exemplified and helped to create it.


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