Community gathers at mission to honor life of former mayor
A man on a mission.
That was the recurring phrase used to describe Hal Conklin, a beloved former Santa Barbara City councilman and mayor, during his memorial service Wednesday night.
Hundreds of community members, former colleagues and friends of Mr. Conklin’s gathered Wednesday at the Santa Barbara Mission to honor the life and legacy of the man who left a lasting mark on the city during his many years in public service. Mr. Conklin died May 21 at the age of 75 after a battle with brain cancer.
The evening of the memorial was filled with songs, multiple readings from the Bible and reflections on Mr. Conklin’s contributions to the city, the environment and his spiritual community.
Speakers during Wednesday’s memorial noted that Mr. Conklin had outlined specific plans for the service, right down to the songs and scripture read at the memorial.
The Rev. Dennis Wayman, a longtime friend of Mr. Conklin’s and a retired pastor from Free Methodist Church Santa Barbara, reflected on Mr. Conklin’s life during the service, pointing out high points in the former mayor’s career and spiritual life.
Mr. Conklin served as a member of the Santa Barbara City Council from 1977 to 1993 and as mayor for just over a year in 1993.
During his time as a politician in Santa Barbara, Mr. Conklin championed early efforts to institute a community recycling program, worked to restore (and redefine) Stearns Wharf and led the effort to establish Paseo Nuevo.
As a lover of the arts, Mr. Conklin also helped to establish Santa Barbara’s vibrant theater district and championed the restoration of The Granada.
“If you look back on the history of Santa Barbara, you will find Hal’s hand in virtually every area of our shared lives,” Mr. Wayman said during the service. “From the arts, to the parades, to the Fiestas … to the civics and opera, to the redevelopment, to business and even providing the Christmas tree on State Street.”
Mr. Wayman also talked about his personal relationship with Mr. Conklin, reflecting on their many travels and shared memories. He spoke with great admiration for Mr. Conklin, who he said “accepted others and their differences” and chose to lead with acceptance and love.
“I know of no one who mentored more people (with) thoughtful, wise leadership,” Mr. Wayman said. “For him, there was neither East nor West, male nor female, rich or poor, but they were all one in this pilgrimage of life.”
As an involved community member with a multifaceted set of interests, Mr. Conklin served on 19 different boards across the community, Mr. Wayman told the memorial attendees. One of these boards was the national denominational board for the Free Methodist Church, where he sat as a member before taking over as chair.
Bishop Matt Whitehead, a friend of Mr. Conklin’s and a pastor at Free Methodist Church, joked on Wednesday that he believes there’s a “special place in Heaven for anyone who has the tenacity to serve on 19 boards.” During his speech, he reflected on Mr. Conklin’s contributions in his faith community and his ability to form relationships and encourage others.
“It seemed like Hal would always start with a story to disarm the conversation — something in his own journey, and then bring back the people around the table where there was some kind of contentious issue or something that was challenging or difficult,” Bishop Whitehead said. “What a gift to bring a calming presence in the situation, circumstance and conversations where there is tension.”
He added, “I can’t think of anyone who has had a greater impact, any lay person, in our movement over 160 years who has had the impact that Hal had in his own local church here in Santa Barbara, regionally in the Free Methodist Church in Southern California, and nationally in our denomination.”
Mr. Conklin’s environmental contributions were highlighted by Mr. Conklin’s friend and colleague Gary Peterson, who told memorial attendees that he and Mr. Conklin worked together to form the first national recycling coalition and led the charge to pass the first recycling legislation in the nation.
“I can’t tell you how important he was for what we were doing for the environment,” Mr. Peterson said.
As friends of Mr. Conklin reflected on his contributions to the city, his faith community and the environment, Laura Capps, a friend of Mr. Conklin’s and daughter of former congresswoman Lois Capps, told the News-Press she could feel Mr. Conklin’s presence at the memorial service,
During her reflection, Ms. Capps told community members that Mr. Conklin’s spirit is “synonymous with the spirit of Santa Barbara” and that his legacy is grounded in the city he devoted his life to protecting for generations to come.
“I just feel Hal’s spirit here,” Ms. Capps told the News-Press. “This is a wonderful and fitting way to not only remember him, but be inspired by the life he lived. I hope I can only be so lucky to have such a full and meaningful life as he had, and being here with so many friends, especially after what we’ve all gone through this year, is incredibly profound and inspiring.”
Members of Mr. Conklin’s family, including his wife, Haley Conklin, and three sons were in attendance at Wednesday night’s service.
Nate Conklin, Mr. Conklin’s eldest son, told the News-Press on Thursday that the family found the service very “rich with meaning,” adding that it was powerful to be in the presence of friends and family to celebrate the life of his father.
Growing up as the son of a politician, Nate reflected on the ways his father moved throughout the world, noting that as a grownup, he can remember fond memories with his father, such as attending the Tall Ships Festival, attending theater performances and even meeting the Dalai Lama of Tibet.
Looking back on these memories, Nate said he recognized his father’s ability to transcend politics while making lasting change for the community.
“Dad just planted seeds,” Nate said. “He saw local government as just as foundational for all forms of healthy government really, and (believed) this is where we should be involved because it’s about being a community together and trying to find the common ground that kind of just goes beyond the party stuff.”