2023 Celebration of Philanthropy Honors Martha Karstens
(Scroll down for event slideshow)
Each year the Community Foundation for Monterey County (CFMC) presents the Distinguished Trustee Award to an individual or couple who has demonstrated philanthropic leadership in our region. The 2023 award was presented to retired Big Sur Fire Chief, Martha Karstens, for her decades of service to the Big Sur Community. The CFMC recognized her accomplishments at the annual Celebration of Philanthropy on Wednesday, October 11, 2023 at The Club at Pasadera in Monterey, with more than 250 donors and partners of the CFMC in attendance.
President/CEO Dan Baldwin spoke about highlights from the foundation’s work including the $31 million granted in 2022, the Salinas Inclusive Economic Development Initiative and the $1.7 million awarded in scholarships.
Victor Alvara Carmona Vargas, recipient of both the CASA Monterey County Scholarship and the Drezner Family Scholarship, shared his inspiring story. He attended Hartnell and is a now student at UC Santa Cruz, hoping to pursue a career in law or social work.
(Thanks to the scholarships), all I have to worry about is being a student and giving it all I have to be successful in achieving my dreams.”- Victor Alvara Carmona Vargas
Distinguished Trustee Award – Martha Karstens
CFMC Board Chair, Kirk Gafill, a Big Sur resident himself who is President & CEO of Nepenthe, presented the award to Martha.
Martha’s philanthropy has been demonstrated by her selfless, tireless dedication to helping others in her community.” – Kirk Gafill
Martha, originally from Carmel Valley, has been a Big Sur resident for more than 50 years. In 1976 she trained as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) with the American Red Cross Big Sur Ambulance, later drove the ambulance, became a Red Cross CPR instructor and later President of the organization.
She joined the Big Sur Fire Brigade as Medical Battalion Chief and expanded its services to include EMT and First Responder services. In 2000 she became a California State Marchall Certified Firefighter and rose to Chief in 2009.
Her complete dedication and leadership were on display when she lost her own home during the Pfeiffer Fire in 2013, but continued as Incident Commander until a Unified Command was established. She was Voted Volunteer Firefighter of the Year (for the second time).
After “retiring” in 2018, she took a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) class and became Captain for the Big Sur CERT. She joined the Forest Fire Lookout Association and volunteers in Carmel Valley She volunteers at the Sea Star Horse Sanctuary, is Board Secretary of the Big Sur Historical Society, Membership Chair on the Big Sur Grange Board, and a founder and board member of the Big Sur River Run.
Martha’s leadership brought critical services to Big Sur that previously hadn’t existed, and she has continued to grow and maintain this leadership for more than 50 years. Her impact has been profound. Her years of dedicated service have saved lives and built community.” – Kirk Gafill
As award recipient, Martha was able to designate $10,000 in grants from the CFMC to the nonprofits of her choosing. She presented checks to: Sharon Regan from Sea Star Horse Sanctuary; David Wood from the Big Sur Historical Society, Sarah Blackstone, representing Big Sur CERT; Nancy Baker from Monterey Chapter Forest Fire Lookout Association and Kendra Morgenrath of the Big Sur Grange.
Kirk presented her with an original painting of Andrew Molera State Park from renowned Big Sur artist (his sister) Erin Gafill.
Please sit back and enjoy the slideshow below, or view the album on Facebook.
Full Remarks About Martha
Martha grew up in Carmel Valley, where she was active in riding and showing her beloved horses. She has lived in Big Sur for more than fifty years now. In 1976 she took the first Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) class offered in Big Sur. The American Red Cross volunteer ambulance needed more volunteers, and this was the first time EMT training was made available there.
She worked on the Big Sur ambulance as an EMT responder, got her ambulance drivers license and started responding to calls that summer.
In 1979 she took a Red Cross CPR instructor course and began teaching CPR classes to the ambulance crew and the community. She became President of the American Red Cross Big Sur Ambulance coordinating all fundraising, training and logistics until 1991 when the County provided paid paramedic ambulance service for Big Sur. Personally, I served with Martha as an EMT for 6 years in this period and learned first-hand in often extreme circumstances the quality and measure of her dedication and skills to support the Big Sur community.
She received the Monterey County Community Service Award in 1988 for recognition of her service during disasters in the Big Sur area.
After local ambulance services disbanded, Martha joined the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade in 1991. She was voted in as its first Medical Battalion Chief. Now, 80% or more of all fire department responses support emergency medical situations, but at that time the Brigade did not respond to medical calls. Her presence expanded the role and mission of the Brigade from fire response to include medical First Responder and EMT services.
She became an active Board member and later Administrator and Duty Officer. In 1997, Martha took the Volunteer Firefighter course, and got her Class B driver’s license so she could drive the Brigade’s apparatus.
Always driven to learn more and grow her skills, in 2000 Martha attended the MPC Fire Academy, becoming a California State Fire Marshal Certified Firefighter.
She became Assistant Chief in 2002 and was recognized by the Monterey County Fire Chiefs Association as Volunteer Firefighter of the Year the next year. She became Chief in 2009, representing Big Sur in all incidents.
Her complete dedication and leadership were on display when she lost her own home during the Pfeiffer Fire in 2013, but continued as Incident Commander until a Unified Command was established. She was again Voted Volunteer Firefighter of the Year by her peers.
Her drive and desire to give back continued. After retiring from the Fire Brigade in 2018, she took a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) class and became Captain for the Big Sur CERT. She continues to teach CPR for the CERT members.
A few years ago, she took the training to become a fire lookout, joining the Forest Fire Lookout Association, doing shifts up at the Chews Ridge lookout in Carmel Valley.
And that’s not all! Her service goes beyond emergency response and firefighting. She volunteers at the Sea Star Horse Sanctuary, helping groom the rescue horses, is Board Secretary of the Big Sur Historical Society and the Membership Chair on the Big Sur Grange Board.
She was a founding member of the Big Sur River Run in 1981 and now serves on the Board to help raise funds for Big Sur emergency service organizations.
Martha’s leadership brought critical services to Big Sur that previously hadn’t existed, and she has continued to grow and maintain this leadership for more than 50 years. Her impact has been profound. Her years of dedicated service have saved lives and built community.
Past Distinguished Trustee Recipients
- Bruce and Linda Taylor (2022)
- Mel and Regina Mason (2021)
- CFMC 75th Year/No Award (2020)
- Judge Lydia M. Villarreal (2019)
- Leon and Sylvia Panetta (2018)
- Susan and David Gill (2017)
- William H. Tyler (2016)
- Nancy Ausonio (2015)
- Bob Nunes (2014)
- Warren Wayland (2013)
- David and Laurie Benjamin (2012)
- Mike and Mary Orradre (2011)
- Bob and Sue Antle (2010)
- Julie Packard (2009)
- Sherrie McCullough (2008)
- Maggie Downer (2007)
- Clint and Dina Eastwood (2006)
- Ed and Terry Haber (2005)
- Michael McMahan, Neal McMahan, and Marsha McMahan Zelus (2004)
- Davis Factor, Jr. (2003)
- Joanne Taylor-Johnson (2002)
- Hilton and Roberta Bialek (2001)
- William and Nancy Doolittle (2000)
- Jim and Jeri Gattis (1999)
- Patricia Tynan Chapman (1998)
- Margaret Owings (1997)
- Basil Mills (1996)
- David Packard (1995)
- Harriet Thurmond and Sarah Hermann (1994)
- Francis Cislini (1993)
- Marshall Steel, Jr. (1992)
- Virginia Stanton and Gordon Paul Smith (1991)
- Ruth Fenton (1990)
- John McCone (1989)