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A greenhouse with many sprouting plants.

Taking Root at UC Santa Barbara

Trudi Kerkmeyer ’60 helps students grow

Florence Tradelle “Trudi” Kerkmeyer ’60 arrived at UC Santa Barbara as an orphan and graduated with mentors, dear friends, and a lifelong passion for botany. She made the generous decision to leave her estate to the biological sciences in honor of those who helped her find her place.

Trudi’s father, a hardhat diver for the Navy in Eritrea, was only supposed to be on assignment for nine months when he passed away from an illness, leaving her mother alone with two young children during World War II. When Trudi was 15 years old, her mother died. Trudi’s grandfather became her guardian until she left to study biology at UC Santa Barbara. Freshman year, Trudi received news that her social security had ended. Distraught, Trudi confided in a professor.

Taking Root at UC Santa Barbara Trudi Kerkmeyer ’60 helps students grow “Professor C.H. Muller asked, have you got a bicycle? Well, you can work at the laundromat in Goleta every afternoon,” said Trudi. The laundromat paid Trudi $1.50 an hour for her freshman and sophomore year, but it wasn’t enough. She took a year-long break to work and save money.

“I hope my bequest will allow students to continue to get their degree without having to take a break like I did,” said Trudi. “Once you take that break, it’s very difficult to go back to school.”

Trudi returned to campus to learn and work in the UC Santa Barbara herbarium. After graduation, she worked in the Beaudette Foundation marine biology lab with an algologist and continued her studies with a professor who would lecture students with Trudi’s pet kitten, Ulysses, in his lab coat pocket. Trudi was drawn to education, and with a credential from what would become the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, she would go on to a 30-year career teaching junior high. Now retired and living in Santa Ana with Jerry, her husband of 48 years, she still finds herself teaching in the garden.

“Look at the fruit,” passersby will mistakenly exclaim when passing Trudi’s vibrant plumeria. “Do you get to eat it?” Trudi always stops to explain how the pods are where the seeds grow. She also gives away succulents to curious young children.

Trudi’s legacy gift to the biological sciences will ensure that students keep growing despite hardship. She will take the place of the professors and mentors who helped her as an undergraduate.

“I was able to go home to grandpa, whereas some of the kids that I hear about on campus don’t have anywhere to go,” said Trudi. “Helping them is important to me.”