Janie DeCelles was raised with the principles of philanthropy woven into her foundation.

“From an early age, my mother and Aunt instilled in me a strong sense of integrity and a desire to make wise choices when it came to spending money,” explained DeCelles. “My aunt helped raise me. We became very close. She was one of my dearest friends.”

While she didn’t know it early on, her closeness with her aunt, Hattie Ettinger, would later lead to one of the most formative relationships in her life.

Janie and Hattie

Ettinger worked for the St. Louis Zoo for nearly four decades. As DeCelles explains, her aunt held a long list of responsibilities at the Zoo, most of which related to public education and sharing information about the Zoo’s many exhibits and animals. Through her work, Ettinger valued the importance of a greater appreciation and understanding of nature.

When it came time for her to retire, Ettinger moved to Maryland to be close to DeSelles and her mom. Years later, at the urging of her niece, Ettinger swapped the colder temperatures of Maryland with a more moderate climate and moved to San Diego.

Now living in the same region, Ettinger and DeCelles became even closer. They would spend almost every weekend exploring the far corners of San Diego accompanied by Janie’s dog, Max.

“We would go from one end of the county to another, and when she saw the biological diversity that exists here – it intrigued her, and she wanted to preserve it so people could enjoy it in the future,” DeCelles said.

Through these regular outdoor experiences, the two grew to love San Diego’s natural landscape.

Hattie Ettinger

The pair also shared a strong passion for helping the community. They regularly talked about regional initiatives, public spending and what everyday San Diegans could do to support the community.

“This was in the 1990s, and Hattie and I were both very concerned about the use of government funding and the impact of its services,” recalled Janie. “After many conversations, I recommended to Hattie that she consider giving more of her money to the nonprofit community – rather than paying estate taxes – so she could have a say in where her dollars went.”

Ettinger agreed with the idea and asked her niece to research San Diego’s philanthropic options.

So began their partnership with San Diego Foundation.

“By having this fund at the Foundation, it’s allowed me to get involved with my community and feel like I’m really a part of it,” said DeCelles. “It allows me to keep talking about my aunt 25 years after she passed away.”

Environmental Legacy

Upon her passing, Ettinger established the Hattie Ettinger Conservation Fund at San Diego Foundation with DeCelles named as the fund’s advisor. And thanks to DeCelles’ continued involvement, the legacy fund has supported organizations working to protect, connect and increase access to San Diego’s outdoor space for nearly two decades.

“As the advisor of the fund, I still remember one of the first grants I made to the Chula Vista Nature Center, which is now the Living Coast Discovery Center,” shared DeCelles. “Their Executive Director, Dan Beintema, and his staff used their free time to build raptor cages and then launched a campaign to sell the naming rights to these cages. I was the first to sign up because I was so impressed with their creativity.”

DeCelles is truly a philanthropist in every sense of the word. Years after its inaugural grantmaking, the Hattie Ettinger Conservation Fund hit a major milestone – a grantmaking total of more than $1 million, with more to come.

“It’s pretty remarkable. All these grants – none of them are really huge – and they’ve all added up to that amount. It’s something I’m proud of, and I know she would be, too,” DeCelles said. “It’s been a life changer for me to be able to carry out her vision. I’m very proud of that.”

Carrying on her aunt’s legacy, DeCelles grants money to San Diego nonprofits and is a core volunteer and leader in the San Diego region. She served as a board member for Living Coast Discovery Center for six years and worked as a volunteer on the San Diego Foundation Regional Disaster Fund Board for 12 years. She gives her time to support many environmental initiatives at SDF, including the Opening the Outdoors program.

Just as Aunt Hattie emphasized environmental education during her career in St. Louis, DeCelles does the same by committing her time and expertise to nonprofits with programs closest to her heart.

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