Donald Wilkie, director of the Birch Aquarium for 30 years, decided to make his relationship with the aquarium permanent when he became a member of the York Society through a charitable gift annuity to benefit the aquarium's endowment fund.
When Don was given a lifetime pass to the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, some considered it overdue: Don was the director of the aquariums at Scripps from 1965 to 1993, during which time he oversaw the transformation of what started as a few marine exhibits down near the beach into a world-class facility that brings the public together with lionfish, chambered nautilus, giant clams, and the always-popular octopus, along with the important research and teaching going on at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Even in retirement, Don can't keep away from the aquarium he helped to build and shape. "When possible, I'm there. It feels very much like home," he says, "and I like the direction it has taken, especially in the educational department and their programs that teach people about the environment, conservation and the institution."
Don helps with the aquarium's fundraising efforts and his expertise is also tapped by other staff. An ichthyologist, educated at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Don says, "I'm always interested in helping the aquarists in the care of marine specimens. I'm especially interested in looking at disease prevention, diagnosis and the treatment of fish diseases."
Understandably, Don is very interested in ensuring the future sustainability of the aquarium, so when a $1 million campaign to endow the facility was launched, he established a charitable gift annuity in support of the Ellen's Circle Birch Aquarium Endowment Fund at UC San Diego. Don was one of the first to step up, and the very first to make a legacy gift.
But that's his style.
"My goal from the beginning in 1965 was to develop an aquarium-museum that was worthy of Scripps, and one that would highlight its research. I would say we were pioneers in the field of marine public education, an important step along the way. The opening of the Birch Aquarium in 1992 saw the realization of that dream."