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 Janie.
And 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
Hattie worked for the St. Louis Zoo for nearly four decades. As Janie 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, Hattie valued the importance of a greater appreciation and understanding of nature.
When it came time for her to retire, Hattie moved to Maryland to be close to Janie and her mom. Years later, at the urging of Janie, Hattie swapped the colder temperatures of Maryland with a more moderate climate and moved to San Diego.
Now living in the same region, Janie and Hattie became even closer. They would spend almost every weekend exploring the far corners of San Diego accompanied by Janie’s dog, Max.
Through these regular outdoor experiences, the two grew to love San Diego’s natural landscape.
Janie and Hattie 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.”
Hattie agreed with the idea and asked her niece to research San Diego’s philanthropic options.
So began their partnership with San Diego Foundation.
Upon her passing, Hattie established the Hattie Ettinger Conservation Fund at San Diego Foundation with Janie named as the fund’s advisor. And thanks to Janie’s continued involvement, the 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 Janie. “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.”
Janie is truly a philanthropist in every sense of the word.
Carrying on her aunt’s legacy, Janie 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, worked as a volunteer on the San Diego Foundation Regional Disaster Fund Board for 12 years, and gives her time to support SDF’s many environmental initiatives, including the Opening the Outdoors program.
Just as Aunt Hattie emphasized environmental education during her career in St. Louis, Janie does the same by committing her time and expertise to nonprofits with programs closest to her heart.