Paul Lommen is the can-do guy at Breast Cancer Resource Center
Every Monday and Thursday afternoon, Dr. Paul Lommen makes sure that free bouquets of fresh flowers are available to brighten up clients’ days at the Breast Cancer Resource Center on Hitchcock Way.
It’s one of the numerous ways that the retired aerospace engineer has helped the BCRC as a dedicated volunteer since 2009. For his service, the center has presented him with its highest honor: the Dorothy Shea Volunteer of the Year Award.
“In 1997, Ms. Shea gave the BCRC its running start to become a vital community asset by providing a lovely cottage rent free for several years,” Executive Director Silvana Kelly said. “She believed in the BCRC mission and understood the significant difference the programs would make for clients and their families. Dorothy Shea Award recipients are volunteers who exemplify Dorothy’s spirit of generosity, compassion and contribution to the community and BCRC.
“We are incredibly grateful for Paul’s dedicated volunteer support. He is multi-talented and has a can-do happy attitude.”
The mission of the center is to empower women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer to advocate for themselves and make informed decisions regarding breast health.
Dr. Lommen, who began picking up the donated flowers from Trader Joe’s on Milpas Street about seven years ago, became involved with the organization when his wife, Chris Emanuel, was partially retired in 2009 and signed up to volunteer.
“She asked me to help with the annual fall fundraiser, and I have been a volunteer ever since,” Dr. Lommen told the News-Press. “I’m averaging about five hours a week. It’s hard to estimate because of the tremendous variety, from low-tech — schlepping a bunch of boxes off a truck — to high tech — preparing and burning DVDs and dealing with iPads whose operating systems seem determined to exasperate their owners. I like the variety.”
As examples of what he does and has done in the past, Dr. Lommen cites the following:
— “Putting my long arms to good use (I’m 6 feet, 3 inches tall), you know, getting that box off that high shelf over there.
— “Organized and stocked outdoor shed and caulked the roof.
— “Attend and record special BCRC lectures, mostly by breast cancer health care professionals and then burning DVD discs available for checkout.
— “Worked out cost projections for an upcoming project, including several scenarios for spending grant money most effectively.
— “House calls to help BCRC clients with computer issues.
— “Hang around and be useful at fundraising events — fix something, get something — created a graphic computer layout to the scale of our parking lot and prepared a layout of tents, booths, tables for the event.
— “Decorating the center for Christmas and then before I knew it, Halloween and Valentine’s Day and . . . still shake my head about it because I don’t do it at home.”
Dr. Lommen took on another project in 2014 when he realized he might be useful leading BCRC clients through some of the mysteries of their iPads, so he started a class.
“I didn’t exactly consider myself an expert, but I was confident a Google search would be happy to help me out. It was. The class stopped in March as the pandemic closed us down,” he said.
“I’ve fielded two or three emergency phone calls about issues that have rendered the caller’s iPad useless. My favorite was the case where the smallest character in a word was about an inch tall. A Google search revealed that to recover, you start by double tapping anywhere on the screen with three fingers.”
A native of Milwaukee, who grew up in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota, Dr. Lommen, 79, earned his bachelor’s degree in physics at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and his doctorate in physics at the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y.
For nine years, he held positions in physics and biophysics work at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, Department of Botany at the University of MIchigan in Ann Arbor and Utah State University in Logan.
“I ultimately decided academic life probably was not the best fit for me,”
Dr. Lommen said.
In 1977, he came to Santa Barbara to work with an environmental consulting firm as one of 50 people writing the environmental impact report on a huge, proposed Air Force project involving the deployment of the MX intercontinental ballistic missile.
“Life was exciting in my first five years in Santa Barbara, not always in a good way — laid off from three companies, divorce, economic recession,” he said.
There was a bright spot, however.
“My two daughters’ ballet classes at the Goleta School of Ballet did not add stress to my life. In the fall of 1978, while picking up one of them from her class, I was asked by the director if I’d like to join the cast of ‘The Nutcracker’ and perform with the Santa Barbara Symphony on the stage of the Arlington Theatre. My girls were also cast members. I said yes on the spot,” said Dr. Lommen.
Four years later, he married Chris Emanuel, another adult member of the ballet cast, whose daughter was in the cast along with her mother.
“The first two years we were married, there were six of us in three generations of our blended family in the cast of ‘The Nutcracker.’ I had two roles in the production — the absent-minded professor in the party scene and the Mouse King, who dies in an onstage fight to the death with the Nutcracker. I always lost the sword fight, but I loved the part,” said Dr. Lommen, who began working at Santa Barbara Research Center as an aerospace engineer in 1982 and retired 24 years later.
He finds his volunteer work with the BCRC particularly gratifying because “I don’t have to calculate anything or figure something out to realize the utility of what I’ve contributed — I can simply tell.
“The appreciation given me from all corners of the organization has been terrific. You can’t beat it!”