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Ron and Mary Nanning are being honored for their philanthropic efforts at a Nov. 3 luncheon hosted by the Santa Barbara Foundation and sponsored by the Santa Maria Times.

Heidi Jensen Gruetzemacher, Contributed

The quiet front garden, where deer often graze, belies the energy and focus of the people inside the house. Both retired from distinguished careers in the Air Force, Ron and Mary Nanning have assiduously and enthusiastically shared their time and talents with dozens of nonprofits and civic organizations in the Santa Maria community.

The Nannings met over 30 years ago in Tuscon, Arizona while in the Air Force. They are a well-balanced couple: as a Colonel, Ron outranks Mary, a Lieutenant Colonel, but she has a Doctorate of Public Administration outshining his B.S. “We have a beautiful life: we are soul mates, we travel and are living the life we want. We enjoy working with others.” Mary adds, “I can only buy so many pairs of shoes.”

While in the Air Force, neither Mary or Ron had time to volunteer. She retired after two years at the Pentagon, working for the Secretary of Defense in the Directorate for Freedom of Information and Security Review. Back in Santa Maria, a friend asked if she would like to tutor kids.

She hesitated, knowing she would prefer dealing with adults. Could she tutor adults? Oh yes, was the response. Mary joined the Central Coast Literacy Council and began to tutor students one-on-one. Over several years, she tutored Hispanic ladies, Korean ladies and a Chinese gentleman who fled the Communist takeover.

She says that while her students disagree, she got more out of their lessons than they did. She soon joined the board of directors and served as President and Vice President. Mary was later recruited for the Visiting Nurse Service Board, where she served as Secretary for several years, believing strongly in organizations that help seniors stay in their own homes.

She joined the Women’s Fund of Northern Santa Barbara County where she chaired the Research Committee for three years. Mary shares her organizational gifts with the Minerva Club, which holds fundraisers for local charities and awards scholarships to deserving high school seniors.

Ron was also too busy while on active duty to do anything except his job. In the early 1980s when it looked likely that Vandenberg AFB would become the West Coast Space Shuttle launch and landing site, Ron was sent by a general to soothe the worries of the local community alarmed at possible unprecedented change.

In the course of his mission, Ron joined a variety of local community groups (56 of them!) such as the Chambers of Commerce in Solvang, Santa Maria, and Lompoc. He developed a huge list of contacts.

When Vandenberg was dropped from the Shuttle program, and he retired, Ron established a consulting business to help offshore oil development companies, which sought out his diplomatic skills. He immersed himself in the community and found that he relished being involved.

Ron planned his approach to volunteering carefully and honed his interests to four avenues of service: the arts, history, humanitarian pursuits, and politics.

It did not take long for the locals to realize they had a very talented leader in their midst. Ron has served on Santa Barbara County’s Civil Service Commission for over 22 years. At first, nonprofits were suspicious of including someone with a military background, fearing a cultural clash. Once again, Ron’s diplomatic skills came to the fore.

Rotary, United Way, the Santa Maria Museum of Flight, the Museum Art Center (MAC), Santa Maria Historical Society, the Santa Maria Philharmonic Society, and the PCPA Foundation jostled for his time. Ron says he had very little artistic background and was anxious to learn.

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“I’m like a sponge,” he laughs. He took pleasure in the smallest details – like small arrow notations on sheet music indicating the direction of the musicians’ bows. Ron has since run several successful fundraising campaigns. He helped United Way raise $1 million for three consecutive years and as President of the PCPA Foundation raised significant funds for them.

Both Ron and Mary experienced learning curves as they learned the differences between directing staff and volunteering. The latter requires a lot more finessing and judicial use of listening skills.

Mary says that they both found this to be challenging and exciting. Ron and Mary each follow their own paths but give each other advice and support. This generally happens at the dinner table where they discuss parts of their day.

Mary smiles as she explains that she looks forward to sharing ideas with “her best friend.” She rolls her eyes as she tells the family joke: Ron is the big policy man and Mary, the pick and shovel person. “Volunteering keeps us off the streets,” she adds.

The couple has an endowed Donor Advised Fund at the Santa Barbara Foundation, which makes yearly grants to senior citizen organizations in the Santa Maria Valley. It bears the name of Nanning and Mary’s maiden name, Brasch. Ron has four grown children from a previous marriage, and they decided to create a fifth child – the Brasch and Nanning Family Fund.

Ron was 50 when they married 32 years ago. Mary insists on having a 50th wedding anniversary. They are healthy and happy and well on their way.