Don Bushnell was born Jan. 7, 1927, as an identical twin. Both he and his twin brother David were radio Quiz Kids, and both were awarded scholarships to the University of Chicago at age 16. Their adult lives followed very similar educational and professional paths.
Don was devoted to social issues his entire life, starting at an early age. He worked in political campaigns and was deeply engaged in early two-way computer exchanges, the forerunners of today’s social media platforms and tools. His early focus on arts and computers was featured in The Saturday Review of Literature.
He wrote papers, secured grants, and worked on the federal level with programs evaluating the use of computers in education. One of his favorite early projects was founding Mafundi Institute in South-Central Los Angeles, a community project offering introspection and life-evaluation for gang-members engaged in violent confrontations.
An acquaintance once asked how he got started in social justice projects and the academic work to support them. He said, “I was working with a group of colleagues. We were pulling folks out of the rivers of social problems. We decided to hike upstream and find out who was throwing them in — and why.”
Throughout his more than 50 years in the field, many nonprofits in Santa Barbara and Prague benefited from his huge social conscience. He was a one-man band. He would design a consulting program, invite organizations to apply, raise the funds from his loyal donor pool, hire a team of consultants, select the recipient, head up the team, execute meaningful work, evaluate, and eventually present the successes as fodder for his next project. In his late 80’s he formed Bushnell Consulting Group, which continued to inspire positive change in Santa Barbara nonprofits.
Don was a collector of delightful peculiarities. He had a garden full of brilliant, technicolor neon signs which sometimes challenged the household electrical capacity. The stairway walls to his office were home to his extensive egg collection ranging from the mundane to the exquisite – and then there were his favorite unanimated friends – Advertising Food dolls: The Pillsbury Dough Boy, Campbell Soup Girl, Ronald McDonald, Mr. Peanut, and many others.
Don was especially proud of his role in the early founding of Fielding Graduate University, then known as The Fielding Institute which was designed to support adult students who were furthering their degrees while working full time. At age 40 while founding the Human and (HOD) Organizational Development program of study and working full time he earned his own PhD. As chair of the emerging HOD department he recruited and hired some of Fielding’s most outstanding and significant academic contributors.
Everyone loved Don. He was the quintessential PLAY- Mate! He didn’t need expensive equipment, and his games were of universal appeal to young and old alike. He was the “bubble man,” croquet King, flyer of exotic kites, and MC of The No Talent Show.
Don was a devoted atheist, agnostic, humanist member of the Unitarian Society. He was responsible for the Covenant of Good Relations, which is still practiced. Years before the current environmental crisis he initiated solarizing the building – and paying it forward to other faith-based organizations. He ran the Ecology Club, sang in the choir, enjoyed several men’s clubs, served on multiple committees multiple times, and in his decades of membership created dozens of fund-raising projects.
Don’s charm and playful nature often overshadowed his keen intellect. He was an intellectual in the broadest sense. He understood complex abstract concepts. His playing of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata will be remembered by many. He had classical piano training and knew both the music and life stories of the composers.
Don is survived by son David (Annette), son Jeff, granddaughter Corinna (Stephan), great grandsons Louis and Flynn, stepdaughters Claire and Nora, and his life partner, Julie, her daughter Jennifer, son Nick (Stacey), and her grandchildren, Ronan, Mila and Jesse.
A friend and colleague wrote: “I will always be profoundly grateful to Don for his mentorship, wisdom, intellect, music, humor, Renaissance vision and intuition, generosity, commitment to social justice and education. I can’t imagine a world without Don Bushnell.”
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