George Cowan, or as his family lovingly calls him, ‘Uncle George’, was a man with a sense of duty and a strong set of values. His niece, Dr. Julie Cowan Novak, describes him as, “self-effacing, quiet – certainly had opinions, but he wasn’t boisterous or outgoing.”
Julie says although being Aunt and Uncle, George and his wife Aunt Carol were more like grandparents to her sons and second parents to her and husband Bob. Julie’s son Andrew says of Uncle George, “He had the capacity to do virtually anything; a consummate outdoorsman and a quiet leader who came up in the Golden Age of San Diego fishing.”
Uncle George, who moved to San Diego at age 10, did it all – he was a World War II veteran, tuna boat captain, head of purchasing at General Dynamics for 30+ years, and an avocado, soybean and corn farmer. He also went to Hoover High School with baseball icon Ted Williams; the two became close and would often fish in the San Diego Bay together. Uncle George passed his love of fishing on to Julie’s sons, Andrew, Chris and Nick.
His family describes him as having always been generous.
One year, the family gave Uncle George an edible arrangement as a birthday gift.
“It’s too big. It’s wasteful,” he declared, drove to a Tijuana orphanage where he had volunteered many times, and gave the arrangement to the children there. The kids loved it so much that he began ordering them himself and bringing them to the orphanage every few months. It was a healthy snack, and Uncle George loved interacting with the kids.
Julie witnessed that generosity and selfless service until Uncle George’s passing. He was still volunteering in a local kindergarten classroom and driving Senior Patrol for the Chula Vista Police Department until he was 98 years old.
Uncle George passed away at 100 years and 3 months, and Julie is grateful that they were able to celebrate his long and prosperous life together. Through the George W. Cowan and Julie Cowan Novak fund at The San Diego Foundation, his legacy will continue to positively impact the San Diego region for years and generations to come.
Multi-Generational Impact & Legacy
Uncle George had 15-20 different charities that he’d supported throughout his life. He realized that he wanted to dial in his impact and focus his philanthropic efforts.
He and Julie both shared a love of Balboa Park – Uncle George rode his bike to the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition and Julie’s sons grew up in the park. They attended classes at the Fleet Science Center and the Natural History Museum, did research at the San Diego History Center, went to San Diego Zoo Camp, rode the 1910 Balboa Park Menagerie Carousel, and explored the Moreton Bay Fig Tree. “These were some of my favorite places in the world when I was little,” Andrew shared.
As President-elect and “Midnight in Paris” Masterpiece Chair of Patrons of the Prado, and as board trustee of San Diego History Center, Julie first learned about The San Diego Foundation through her close friend Laury Graves, who also has a donor-advised fund. Many others in her family and friend network also had funds with The Foundation.
“All roads kept leading to The San Diego Foundation,” she said, adding that trying to start your own foundation can be very costly and overwhelming.
Julie and Uncle George met with Pauline Martinson, Director of Development, launching the George W. Cowan and Julie Cowan Novak Fund as co-trustees to support Balboa Park and to provide scholarships for graduate students in nursing and health sciences.
“Matching worthy applicants, worthy students with funding so that they can achieve their dreams is something that I believe in, as an academic and pediatric nurse practitioner,” Julie shared.
“It was excellent,” Julie said of their meeting with Pauline, adding that, “she’s become a friend…she has great advice and she’s been really good to work with.”
Understanding the importance of having someone to continue managing the fund beyond their lifetimes, Julie and Uncle George designated her son Andrew as a successor. Uncle George and Andrew were extremely close; he was very excited that Andrew had gone to law school and knew that he would be a good advisor and support for Julie when he passed on.
Learning & Teaching Philanthropy through Action
Julie shared the early influence of watching her parents volunteer regularly in their local Illinois community where she was born. Consistently being included in their church, Salvation Army, American Legion, K-12 school projects and sports/coaching volunteer activities laid her earliest foundation for philanthropy and community engagement.
Julie and her husband Bob were recruited to San Diego State University and UC San Diego in 1977, creating wonderful opportunities to spend quality time with Uncle George.
“He called me his ‘healthcare quarterback’, a role I played for 40-plus years,” Julie shared.
Uncle George attended all her sons’ school and sports activities, including Chris’s three years as an SDSU Aztec Soccer Midfielder and Nick’s four years as a San Diego Charger and one year as a Los Angeles Charger.
Andrew has vivid memories of watching and often joining his mom on philanthropic projects throughout San Diego and beyond as peace educators and citizen ambassadors in Russia and Estonia through Joan Kroc’s MEND organization.
“I learned that people everywhere can be united by unselfish acts of loving kindness and generosity,” he shared, having helped his mom with Junior League projects like the Rummage Sale at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Teen Outreach Project (TOP) and the Special Olympics in his youth.
To those looking to get involved, Andrew says start by choosing something you are passionate about. Then reach out to an organization that supports that cause, and get involved through donation of your time and/or resources.
“Working with communities is a dance, and the community leads the dance,” Julie emphasized, adding that sometimes it is the simplest acts of service that can make an impact. “No matter what your interest is, there’s something for you in this community.”
Learn how you can open a donor-advised fund and make a multi-generational impact on your San Diego region today.