Part of the Family
Soledad and Dennis Morelos met when she was 18 years old and he had just finished a four-year tour of duty with the U.S. Navy during the height of the Vietnam War. Soledad told a friend, ‘I’m going to marry Dennis someday.’ Twenty-nine years later, they reconnected at a baptism. They married in 2001 when Dennis was 52 and Soledad was 47, a first marriage for both. Through the wedding, the Moreloses united Dennis’ 13 siblings and Soledad’s five siblings, along with a large extended family embedded in Santa Barbara. Soledad passed away in 2020, leaving behind a legacy as a caring and committed community leader.
“When we decided to do our estate planning, Soledad wrote a list of what she wanted, I wrote a list of what I wanted, and we were pretty close,” said Dennis.
That was no surprise. Dennis and Soledad shared a love for Santa Barbara, where they were raised and had lived most of their lives — since before highway 101 was built. They supported many local organizations. UC Santa Barbara’s Koegel Autism Center had a special place in their lives, and when designating their charitable beneficiaries, they decided to name the center as the recipient of a generous bequest. Soledad’s great-niece benefitted from the interventions and resources available there.
“It was really wonderful, and I know she’s done really well,” said Dennis. “She’s graduated from high school and she’s now working. The center was a great help for her. With autism, every individual is different, and we were really impressed with how they worked with each person.”
The center is internationally recognized for its innovative autism research and clinical training. Led by Dr. Ty Vernon and Dr. Anna Krasno, it focuses on the development and implementation of strength-based, motivational interventions and support for individuals and families affected by autism spectrum disorders.
“Private philanthropy plays a critical role in advancing the mission of the autism center. Generous pledges like the Morelos family’s estate gift ensure that we remain at the forefront of autism intervention science and are able to develop innovative new therapies that change the lives of children and adults on the autism spectrum,” said Vernon.
Soledad was a nurse at St. Francis Hospital and other medical facilities for over 35 years. Dennis followed his Navy service with a varied career in livestock feed and oil. In their retirement, the Moreloses traveled from California to Dollywood, New York, Graceland, and around the world. There was something special about every new place, but Santa Barbara was their home, and there was nothing like its small town feel.
“The time that we had together was really good,” said Dennis. “To us, what’s better than to give back to the community, especially those who really need the help?”