Santa Barbara has lost one of its most respected and beloved community activists, who immersed herself for nearly 60 years in promoting democratic ideals and values: civil rights, women’s rights, the celebration of diversity in our pluralistic culture, the right to health care and education for all, and international peace. Her motto was always “Think globally, act locally.”
Ghita Dworkin Klein was born in Cleveland, Ohio to Maurice and Deby Lena (Dworkin) Klein.
Her father was a doctor, and Ghita always aspired to follow in his footsteps. Her marriage after the war to Paul Ginberg at age 19, followed within the year by the arrival of her first daughter Deborah and two years later her second, Gail, put an end to college and to that dream aspiration, as it did for many women in those times. So began her wonderful years raising two little girls into productive adulthood. She and Paul valued their children’s opinions throughout all their phases growing up, encouraging them to express those opinions, and always listening.
Ghita’s volunteerism began in the 1960s with the League of Women Voters (LWV), and by 1974 her leadership as the first woman Chair of the Santa Barbara Democratic Central Committee had made it into the New York Times. Her involvement in politics continued as a member of the Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County, where she was a highly valued member of the Elections, Endorsements, and Legislation Comm.
By the late 1970s Ghita was volunteering for and supporting a wide range of community programs that help people, including Planned Parenthood, SB Rape Crisis Center (now known as STESA), Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Pacific Pride, LWV, and Family Service Agency (FSA). At FSA, Ghita helped found the Senior Services Advisory Council in 1979, and as its chair on and off over the last several decades she contributed significantly to the development of the Postal Alert Program; the CareLine; the Homemaker, Senior, and Caregiver Mental Health Programs; and the Senior Case Management Program. She also loved and supported the arts, particularly classical music performances, and gave generously to help provide instruments to local school bands. Ghita and Paul also welcomed a Somali Muslim girl into their home in 1967 for her Senior study abroad year at San Marcos HS; and in the 1970s several Democratic campaign workers to live with them at various times, some becoming lifelong friends. Ghita’s passion for helping others, for human rights, her ever-encouraging attitude, and her tireless service are a model for all of us.
Ghita was committed to the Jewish principle of healing the world or leaving the world better than we found it. She obtained and distributed to all who would wear them the ADL buttons that say “No Place for HATE” As her good friend Marian Shapiro said, “Ghita was a Mensch, and a perfect example of what that Yiddish word means: a person of integrity and honor, who does good for the world, is trusted and compassionate. We LOVED and admired Ghita and for those of us who worked with Ghita, she will never be forgotten.” Ghita was very modest despite the many accolades and awards she received for her work in the community, including from the LWV in 1996 and Senior Citizen of the Year for Santa Barbara County in 2015.
Her last seven years were lived happily at Alexander Gardens Assisted Living, and she loved coming to her families’ homes for fun get-togethers and weekly dinners. Before meals she would toast with the words “Thank you Zeus for the cookies and juice” and often become misty-eyed acknowledging the people not with us. “And a little peace please,” she would add.
In the last few years we had the joy of watching her become Gr-Gr, great-grandmother, to Ben, and recently to Ethan. Around her great-grandchildren she showed that being playful and silly are lifelong joys. She would put on her rainbow fuzzy socks and her string of Mardi Gras beads when she knew Ben was coming for a visit, and they got a real kick out of each other. Granddaughter Jamie best summed up her grandma at the small family service held at Santa Barbara Cemetery Feb. 25th: “One of the first words that has always come to my mind when describing my grandma to those who didn’t know her is ‘feisty.’ She certainly was lively, determined, courageous, ready to speak her mind. She is a model to me of what it can look like to live in service to the causes you believe in and the change you want to see, and to be interested in everything. After I moved away to college and beyond, she regularly sent care packages of her home-grown tangerines and kumquats – rays of California sunshine during Boston winters – and clippings of articles she thought I’d be interested in. These were always accompanied by loving, hand-written letters full of past adventures, her political and nonprofit involvements, commentary about the birds in her garden or events she had gone to, and updates about dear friends.”
After attending dear friend Merle Shore’s memorial in 2006, she wrote in one such letter that “Endings are hard no matter how prepared we think we are.” Definitely true, although the memories of her plucky sense of humor, her constant giving, her unique quirks, and knowing she was ready after a rich life, act as buoys for all of us now.
Ghita’s equally wonderful husband, Paul, passed away almost 25 years to the day of her passing. She is survived by her daughters Deborah Cox (Tom) and Gail Whipple (Ron); grandchildren Jamie File (Jason) and Loren Postma (Tonya); and great-grandchildren Savannah Postma, and Benjamin and Ethan File.
We plan to hold a celebration of her life later in the year with her many friends and family once Covid is no longer a risk.
Donations can be made to Central Coast Home Health and Hospice, Family Service Agency, or any of the other organizations that she gave so much to.