By Steve Jacobsen | Published on 12.03.2012 4:57 p.m.
Last weekend, Hospice of Santa Barbara celebrated our 29th annual Light Up A Life memorial ceremonies. As Mayor Helene Schneider addressed the gathering Sunday night at the Lobero Theatre, she paused to eloquently eulogize architect Barry Berkus.
For all of us, the setting was most appropriate and poignant for remembering and honoring this extraordinary visionary who brought our beautiful offices on the Riviera into existence. Barry and his family were very much on our minds and in our hearts as we hung stars and illuminated our tree of remembrance; and on behalf of the more than 600 people currently being served by Hospice of Santa Barbara, I want to add one more tribute to his extraordinary legacy.
Hospice of Santa Barbara had the privilege of serving the Berkus family for some time up to the death of Barry’s wife, Gail, in 2000. In appreciation, Barry had told HSB’s then director, Gail Rink, that he wanted to do something in the future to express his gratitude.
The opportunity came in 2006, when we obtained rights to build offices on a site within the Riviera Research Park. Gail told Barry her dream of creating a beautiful home for our unique work. Barry offered to design the new building pro bono as a gift to HSB and the community; his daughter-in-law Dana Berkus further offered to donate her interior design services.
Over the next few months, Barry and Dana met with Gail and members of our board. The vision was to create a healing space in which people who are facing a life-threatening illness or grieving the loss of a loved one could come and feel embraced, protected and nurtured.
Through the genius and generosity of Barry and Dana, that vision was realized. We are now in our sixth year of being in the exceptional space they created. People of all ages and backgrounds come and immediately feel welcome, honored and secure. Natural light enters through numerous windows as clients journey through challenges placed in their lives. At the center of HSB is a “Sacred Space,” a room shaped like a nautilus spiral, into which clients and staff can retreat for moments of quiet reflection.
Several years after we moved in, I encountered Barry in town and had the opportunity to tell him a story that captures what he had accomplished. A family with two children had come to us for support in the months leading up to the mother’s death. The children would often come on these visits, spending time in our waiting room and in the building. Some time after she died, the father showed up at our office with the children. He told us they had asked to come back to visit the space once again, because they had felt something special here during their mom’s journey. They spent some time in the building until they told their dad they were ready to go. He thanked us and they left.
What a tribute to an architect — to create a building in which children going through a difficult time sensed this was a place in which they were welcome, safe and supported.
Week after week, more and more people find their way to our door. Time after time, they tell us that somehow the building has become an important element in their journey towards healing and hope.
Thank you, Barry, for what your extraordinary vision means to the many people we serve today and to all those we will one day welcome into the serene sanctuary on the hill that you created for our community.
— Steve Jacobsen is executive director of Hospice of Santa Barbara. Call Hospice of Santa Barbara at 805.563.8820 for a schedule of adult and children’s groups, or to make a donation. Connect with Hospice of Santa Barbara on Facebook.