Westmont Magazine A Father's Legacy
Donald Whittier learned philanthropy from his father, Mericos. One of the first independent oil producers in California, “Max” grew up on a potato farm in Maine and came west in 1891. He lost his savings in his first drilling venture in Santa Paula, Calif., but wisely invested in land in Kern County and Los Angeles rich with oil and possibilities. He owned one of the largest oil-producing tracts in the country and co-founded Belridge Oil (which sold for $3.6 billion in 1979). The elder Whittier also developed Beverly Hills.
Described as hard-working, thrifty, and ambitious, Max graciously shared his wealth with numerous non-profits, including the Red Cross, the Boy Scouts, and the YMCA and YWCA. He earned respect as a humanitarian and civic leader.
Donald, Max’s oldest son, grew up in Los Angeles and attended Stanford University, so he often traveled through Santa Barbara. For years he spent weekends and summers in a beach house there and retired to a home in Montecito in 1959.
Like his father, Donald became an active benefactor of local organizations. As a board member of the Santa Barbara Boys Club, he helped develop Camp Whittier in Ojai Valley and spent time there during the summer teaching boys to fish. He also raised money for new facilities and served as the first chair of the board of the Boys Clubs of Santa Barbara, now the United Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County.
He joined the board of the Santa Barbara Foundation in 1968 where he chaired the appropriations committee and worked to meet the needs of children and young people.
A love for trains led Donald to provide the first train engine for the Santa Barbara Zoo, and he also supported Midland School, the Santa Barbara Historical Society, the Music Academy of the West, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Laguna Cottages for Seniors, the Rehabilitation Institute of Santa Barbara, the Lobero Theatre, UCSB, and the Santa Barbara Visiting Nurses Association.
In 1980, Donald created the Mericos Foundation, which makes gifts primarily in Santa Barbara. His daughter, Joanne Andrews Whittier Blokker, continues his philanthropic legacy as president of the foundation.
Donald first visited Westmont when a friend invited him to a meeting with President David Winter in the early 1980s. At the time, the College was seeking funds to build a new science building, and President Winter gave the two men a tour of the proposed site.
“We didn’t even have Donald Whittier on our mailing list,” President Winter remembers. “He called me several days after the visit and pledged $1 million for the building. It turns out his friend had challenged him to make the gift, and he accepted because he had been so impressed with our students over the years. It’s a clear example of the influence that Westmont students have in the local community.”
Donald told Glen Adams, then the chief development officer, that Westmont brought the kind of people to Santa Barbara that made it a better community. He was particularly impressed when students helped neighbors clean up the rubble of their burned homes after the 1977 Sycamore Canyon fire.
Unfortunately, Donald died in 1983 before the science building, named in honor of his father, was finished. It is only one of many memorials throughout Southern California that testify to the generosity of the Whittiers.