On the last day in 2003, Barbara and Jim Thomas finalized a huge generous donation to our community: they gift deeded their commercial property in downtown Ben Lomond to the Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center, a local non-profit arts organization. Their gift came at a time when most local arts organizations were struggling, and it truly helped provide a positive attitude throughout area, encouraging others to do the same.

At the Art Center’s February Board Meeting, Barbara spoke to the Board of Directors and expressed her gratitude for all they have done in those years. She also provided a great history about how this all came about:

She and her husband Jim moved to Ben Lomond in the mid-1980’s and wanted to help revitalize the downtown area. The building/property at 9341 Mill Street came up for sale and they lost no time snapping it up. They started out establishing a coffee house, “A Gathering Place,” to reflect their desire to create a space in Ben Lomond where people could gather and share their artistry on many levels, music, storytelling, children’s activities. It was successful in the community, but not financially prosperous. Java Bob took over the business to create his own coffee house, which he did for 2 years.  

At the time, Barbara was a member of a Life Drawing group which met once-a-week at the Highlands Park Senior Center. The group needed a different space, and Barbara offered them the coffee house space. This coincided with a group of artists who were looking for a space/home to show their work.  The Thomas’s offered their space to the group to affordably rent.  During this same time period, the collective group of artists officially organized to become an “associate organization” with the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County (now the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County), and started their efforts to become a recognized 501 (C) 3 Non-Profit.  After seeing the success of the organization, Barbara and Jim gift-deeded the property to them December 31, 2003. It was with great sadness Jim passed away a month later.

Barbara talked about all the great comments she has heard expressed in our community about the Art Center, one common conversation she related from a local Ben Lomond resident: “I’ve lived in the valley for years, and have only a few acquaintances. I joined the Art Center and in just 2 months made many good friends”. Barbara feels this reflects the ideals she and Jim envisioned: A Gathering Place to convene, meet people, and share. 

Barbara told the Board she feels very blessed to have helped make this become the vibrant arts center it is today.

The Board expressed their gratitude for the Thomas’s generosity, as Board Member Tina Masciocchi noted: “a legacy that is truly a gift that keeps on giving”. The Board presented Barbara with a lovely ceramic vase made by Frank Borovich, an Art Center gifted ceramicist who passed away in 2007.