Stephanie Foster Burkard
Steffie (“Don’t call me Stef!”) was born at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City to Glen Varick Foster and Jeanne Lyons Foster. Not long afterwards, accompanied by Steffie’s sister Wendy, the family left Park Avenue behind and moved to West Palm Beach, Florida. There, with several other socialite couples (including Varick’s older brother Grey and his wife) they shared ownership of Sandy Loam Farm, which was reportedly better known for parties and the comings and goings of the likes of Howard Hughes than for food production.
After the end of WWII the Fosters moved west to Montecito, California, where Varick’s sister Almira and her husband Jim Struthers had been living for several years.
Steffie enjoyed a wonderful Montecito childhood of horseback riding, bicycles, tennis, Miramar beach and the Coral Casino. A move to Mission Canyon followed after her parent’s divorce and mother’s marriage to Italian sculptor Renzo Fenci.
Stephanie attended Crane Country Day School, Montecito Union and Santa Barbara Junior High. In 1956, while Steffie was a sophomore at Santa Barbara High School, she began dating senior Ron Burkard (who fell madly in love with her). She graduated from Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy (where she had been sent to keep her apart from Ron) in 1959.
After a semester at Arizona State University Stephanie and Ron married on March 25, 1961 in the garden of Renzo’s Mission Canyon studio behind Santa Barbara’s Old Mission.
On May 11, 1962 Steffie and Ron’s first child, Eric, became the third generation of Burkards to be born at Santa Barbara’s St. Francis Hospital. He was delivered by Dr. Paul Munch, first cousin of Ron’s grandfather Dr. Adrian F. Burkard (known as “El Doctor Santo” in Santa Barbara’s Hispanic community).
After Ron’s graduation from UCSB in 1962 Ron and Steffie attended the American Institute for Foreign Trade in Glendale, Arizona (now “Thunderbird School of Global Management”). There the couple prepared themselves for a career in Latin America.
A spectacular lifetime of world experiences began weeks after graduation from Thunderbird in 1963 when Ron was hired by the international relief and development organization CARE and assigned to Mexico City. Stephanie and Ron’s dream of living and working in Mexico was realized! Their second child, Karin, was born there a few months later.
The following year Ron and Stephanie were transferred to Guadalajara, a few hours drive from Mazatlan, where Stephanie’s father was living at the time.
A major decision had to be made in 1965 when CARE decided to end its programs in Mexico. Remain in Mexico and look for another source of income, or continue with CARE? When Ron was offered a position supervising American Peace Corps volunteers in Colombia it was “Good-by Mexico!”
By then Ron’s parents had relocated from Santa Barbara to Sarasota, Florida. Stephanie, Ron, Eric and Karin made the first of countless visits through the years to Sarasota and were impressed by it’s tropical beauty and beaches.
Next stop Barranquilla, on Colombia’s tropical north coast. Stephanie once again bravely faced setting up a comfortable home and raising two young children, while Ron’s responsibilities required frequent travel to Peace Corps sites in isolated rural areas and urban slums.
In less than a year there was another move, to colonial Popayan in southwest Colombia, then a promotion for Ron and move to the Colombia’s capital, Bogota.
In 1968 Ron became director of CARE-Nicaragua. During the family’s two years in Managua their third child, Caroline, was born.
On May 31, 1970 a massive earthquake devastated a huge area of Peru, leaving at least 70,000 dead. Ron was asked to lead a disaster response effort and the Burkards moved to Lima, Peru, where they remained for nearly five years.
After twelve years living in seven Latin American cities a dramatic shift took place in 1975 with a move to New Delhi, India. Little did they realize that the following year they would pack up again and move further east, to Dhaka, Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the American International School in Dhaka only went to 8th grade, which Eric had just completed in New Delhi. He enrolled in Kodaikanal School in South India, to be followed there the following year by Karin.
After sixteen years living outside the United States, in 1979 Ron was offered a senior position at CARE’s New York headquarters. During the next four years Stephanie worked as a travel agent in Westchester County, north of New York City.
In late 1983 the opportunity to return to Mexico presented itself and Ron, Stephanie and Caroline moved to Mexico City. (Eric and Karin were in college by then.) Ron promised Stephanie “no more moves after this!” Nevertheless, in January, 1985 Ron agreed to a temporary assignment in Bolivia, expecting to return to Mexico in about four months. It was not to be. That summer Stephanie and Caroline reluctantly joined him in La Paz, Bolivia, where 24,000% annual inflation and political instability made living and working a definite challenge.
In mid-1986 Ron and Stephanie returned to Mexico City “to stay” and Caroline moved to Santa Barbara for her final year of high school. In 1987 she became the third generation of the family to graduate from Santa Barbara High School.
Stephanie said many times “India was great but once was enough.” However, when the opportunity presented itself, in 1987 Ron and Stephanie returned to New Delhi, followed by moves to Quito, Ecuador in 1990, Johannesburg, South Africa in 1993 and Washington, D.C. in 1995.
Ron’s thirty-three year career with CARE ended in 1996. Shortly thereafter a “perfect job opportunity” resulted in yet another move, to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where he became director of World Neighbors and Stephanie continued her supporting role and became involved in various volunteer activities.
Throughout all these moves Stephanie excelled as wife, mother, hostess and volunteer. She was noted for her beauty, style, good taste, cooking and sense of humor. She continually created tasteful, welcoming and comfortable environments for family and friends. It would not be possible to count the number of wonderful meals she hosted or the number of people she warmly welcomed into her homes in the ten countries she lived in. Stephanie was the “go to” person in all those places for information about where to shop for just about everything.
Stephanie was also fully supportive of Ron’s career and encouraged him to accept positions around the world in spite of the inconveniences involved. She enjoyed the challenges of finding new homes, making them welcoming and comfortable and becoming knowledgeable about local cultures, people and foods.
Stephanie earned horseback riding trophies in Bogota, won tennis tournaments in Bangladesh, ran the American Women’s Club’s Servants Registry in New Delhi, prepared school lunches in urban slums in Peru, worked at the American School and the Embassy of Argentina in Bangladesh, was an international election observer at South Africa’s first all-race elections, volunteered at the Smithsonian’s Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., held various positions with the Oklahoma City Orchestra League, volunteered at the Integris Hospital’s gift shop, mentored at-risk children and somehow found time to become both a master gardener and Bridge life master. In New Delhi she made raised beds from old crates so that she could grow her own lettuce on the roof of the apartment. After finally returning home to Santa Barbara at the end of 2011 Stephanie hosted numerous students from around the world in Santa Barbara to learn English, even as her health declined as a result of C.O.P.D.
Truly a remarkable life!
In addition to her husband Ron Burkard of Oklahoma City and sister Wendy Foster (Pierre Lafond) of Santa Barbara, Stephanie is survived by her children Eric (Christel) of New York City, Karin Burkard Watkins (Jim) of Cape Coral, Florida and Caroline Burkard of Oxnard, CA; grandchildren Maya Thomas of Fort Myers, Florida, Jacob and Bailey Watkins of Cape Coral, Florida and Natalie Burkard of New York City; great-granddaughter Valerie Velazquez of Fort Myers, Florida; mother-in-law Betty Burkard of Sarasota, Florida, step-brother Piero Fenci (Liz) of Nacadoches, Texas, and many friends around the world.
It comforts us to believe that she is happily reunited with many loved ones who predeceased her, as well as with her beloved Airedales Corky, Mr. Foster and Miss Lucy. (Her canine Burtie and favorite neighborhood crows Heckle and Jeckle keep hoping for her return!)
The family expresses its gratitude and appreciation to Stephanie’s physician Robert S. Wright, MD, to Stephanie’s long-time friend Loretta Farren and to Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care of Santa Barbara for their compassion and support during Stephanie’s final weeks.
“Don’t count the days; make the days count!”