BY SAM WATERSTONE
For some folks, giving back is simply in their DNA – just look at the Will family, who has a remarkable track record when it comes to community involvement and philanthropy in northern Santa Barbara County. John F. Will, who will be honored at the 2021 Celebrate Philanthropy Luncheon on November 4, is a fourth-generation resident of the Santa Maria Valley, and he credits his parents with passing down the tradition of philanthropy to him and his siblings.
“Jay and Anne Will – my dad and mom – brought up six kids, born and raised in the Santa Maria Valley, and giving to their community is what they did, so their kids naturally followed in their footsteps,” shared John. “Before I knew it, I was serving on some boards that my dad had served on, and it just become natural to us. In combination with my brothers and my sister, we were able to provide guidance and finances to some of these nonprofits, or serve on their committees and just be a part of what they do to benefit the community.”
Over the last several decades, John has committed his time, talent, and treasure to a number of organizations including People for Leasure and Youth (PLAY), Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department, Santa Maria Police Council, Boys & Girls Club of Mid-Central Coast, Marian Regional Medical Center, and the Santa Maria Valley YMCA.
“John has done so much for the Santa Maria Valley,” said Alex Posada, Director of Recreation and Parks for the City of Santa Maria. “He has used his personal and business wisdom, wealth, and work to assist on projects throughout the Santa Maria Valley in association with nonprofit organizations.”
For 17 years, John served as the volunteer Chairman for PLAY’s annual fundraising dinner for special needs, an event that supports the training and hiring of coaches for Special Olympics Santa Maria. With John’s help, these dinners have raised anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000 a year. Additionally, John has served in various leadership capacities on the Marian Hospital Foundation Board, the Marian Hospital Community Board and the St. Joseph High School Board of Directors.
“I’m 62 now so it’s time to start slowing down,” John half-joked, mentioning it will soon be time for the next generation of Wills to take over the reigns. “I’m watching my kids, who are in their 20s, starting to get involved and give back. I remember following the example of my mom and dad, which led me to become [involved with philanthropy] in my 30s and 40s. It’s a great legacy when you have a strong family tradition – we’re four generations strong in this Valley, and I know there’s a fifth generation around the corner.”
As a business owner, John also uses his company as an avenue to help the community and the causes he is passionate about. There is a famous quote in the Will family saying that “there probably isn’t a playground, football field, baseball field, or park in the Valley that doesn’t have materials donated by Coast Rock Products,” the concrete and asphalt supply company that John’s father and uncle operated. Today, John’s General Engineering business, JF Will Company, operates in much the same way, providing donated materials and services to organizations he is connected to.
“There’s trucking, transporting boulders, doing landscaping or demolition or pouring concrete that I’ll do for these nonprofits, schools, and churches,” John explained. “Because of my company and my financial ability and the way that I was raised by my parents, its just a natural fit for me. And all of my family does this. When I accept the award from the Santa Barbara Foundation for Celebrate Philanthropy, I’m going to accept it on behalf of my entire family for everything they’ve done.”
John was honored for his incredible contributions to his community at the Celebrate Philanthropy Luncheon on November 4 at the Santa Maria Country Club. Celebrate Philanthropy is an annual honor that recognizes the outstanding civic and charitable work of individuals, couples, or families in the Santa Maria Valley.
“What you give to the community comes back to you in so many ways,” said John, reflecting of what the honor means to him. “It always made me feel good to give back to my community. I do what I can, and it serves as an example for others that see what you do, and they, in turn, do the same thing throughout their lives.”