In Memoriam:
Joan Easton Lentz

It is with sadness that we mark the death of Joan Easton Lentz: author, teacher, naturalist. Joan died at home on July 26, 2023, after a long illness.

Nobody ever rested on a vacation with Joan. There was always a bird to be found, a flower to be identified, a trail to be hiked.

She had always wanted to see a warbler that is found at the top of a 13-mile loop trail in the mountains on the border between Texas and Mexico. Early one morning, we found ourselves in Big Bend National Park at the start of that trail. After a few hours of strenuous hiking, we heard the call of this bird, but that was not good enough for Joan. We continued on toward the crest, where Joan got two or three good views of this Colima warbler. Down the loop, we continued our long hike. Although it was late afternoon, this was not all the birding for the day. Joan had read about a broken windmill that was still drawing water on an abandoned homestead on the flat. On we drove to a bit of greenery in a dry Texas landscape, where she continued to search for birds. Finally, it was getting late and time to go. We wound up in a faded roadhouse in Terlingua, Texas, where we enjoyed a steak and a beer and listened to a surprisingly good country singer.

Joan’s twin passions, a love of nature and a love of writing, were deeply rooted in her family history. Her paternal great-grandfather, Warren Olney, was one of the founding members of the Sierra Club. Her father, Robert O. Easton, cofounded a group that evolved into Santa Barbara’s Environmental Defense Center and the Community Environmental Council. He also authored Black Tide, a history of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. Joan’s father and grandfather were instrumental in establishing the San Rafael Wilderness and the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary in Los Padres National Forest. Her maternal grandfather, Frederick Faust, writing as Max Brand, authored Dr. Kildare and Destry Rides Again; he was a prolific writer of Westerns.

A fifth-generation Californian and third-generation Santa Barbaran, Joan attended Jefferson School and graduated from Santa Barbara High School in 1960. After college at the University of Colorado, she was pursuing graduate studies at UC Berkeley, where she met and married her husband, Gib, a third-year law student.

Joan’s love of the natural world began at an early age. Equipped with her father’s World War II binoculars, she spent her childhood exploring the wild spaces of the Riviera and Mission Canyon. As a young girl, she rode her bicycle to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, spending hours among the exhibits in the original Bird Hall. Thus began her lifelong association with the museum, where she served as a docent, a board member, and research assistant.

As a teacher, Joan had a gift for making nature accessible. Her popular adult education classes introduced generations to the joys of birding. At ease with beginners and experts alike, Joan was always ready with a friendly smile, encouraging words, and a joyful enthusiasm that led to many close friendships. She constantly received messages and calls from those wanting to share their bird sightings, and she responded to all of them with warmth and interest. “Her impact on the birding community — near and far — was deep and lasting, and many of us will forever remember her insights, and her great enthusiasm for nature, and the people who cherish it,” remembers her friend Rebecca Coulter.

Although she birded wherever she went, Joan’s primary interests were the birds and habitats of the Central Coast. She had identified and knew the distributions of well over 400 species that resided in or migrated through our county. Her wide knowledge was valuable in conducting surveys for the county of area bird populations and their locales.

For many years, Joan organized and led the Santa Barbara Christmas Bird Count, one of the largest and most successful Audubon bird counts in the nation. “She grew the Santa Barbara CBC into a truly major event, all the while maintaining high standards of accuracy,” remembers longtime birding friend Paul Lehman. With Joan at the helm, what began as a small affair for birding elites evolved into large, inclusive, and welcoming event for Santa Barbara’s growing birding community.

Joan never gave up birding or writing. During her last illness, she wrote and published two books: Story of a Santa Barbara Birder in 2021 and Birding Against All Odds in 2022. In 2013 she completed A Naturalist’s Guide to the Santa Barbara Region, a well-received, definitive resource of the rich and diverse local environment.

Her passion for teaching never waned; her wonderful caregivers, especially Wanda, became part of her birding adventures, taking her to local habitats and sharing in the joy of identifying the variety of birds that came to her backyard.

Joan is survived by her husband of 58 years, Gib; loving daughter, Jennifer; son-in-law, Kevin Gerson; beloved grandchildren, Alex and Annabel; sisters, Ellen and Jane Easton; and many cousins, nieces, and nephews. A son, Jonathan, predeceased her.

At her request, there will be no service. Friends may remember Joan through the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (2559 Puesta del Sol, Santa Barbara, CA 93105).


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