A true inspiration to the Pasadena community, philanthropist June Banta has been an active volunteer for over 50 years.
BY: Sara Smola
“I tend to substitute the word helping for the word volunteering,” explains June Banta. Today the effects of her 50 years of experience volunteering or “helping” continue to ripple throughout the Pasadena community. Despite the hoary cliché, Banta’s story is proof that it truly only takes one person to make a difference—no matter how big or small the contribution or how much time you give.
Not one to sit still, immediately upon her arrival to town from the east coast, Banta found joy in helping—especially in causes revolving around her passions: music and children. At the time, as a mother of two little ones and juggling earning her master’s degree, Banta was careful not to overextend herself or make commitments she couldn’t keep, saying, “I came here with a one year old and a toddler and so I kept the volunteer work simple. I didn’t belong to any organization, I didn’t have to go to any meetings, I just did the volunteer work but then I went home to be responsible for my home and family. I started out, on purpose, freelancing so that I could not be neglectful of my responsibilities to family.”
Though Banta’s early helping experiences started out simply, they were nevertheless impactful. One of Banta’s earliest experiences gave her a challenge: to teach piano to the Girls Club…with only one piano available. It was a quandary that most would balk at. But Banta eagerly rose to the challenge. Using her creativity, she quickly went about creating little cardboard keyboards—complete with black and white “keys” for the girls to practice on. The cardboard keyboards were a success and the little girls were able to develop their skills, as well as a passion for playing the piano, something Banta was all too glad to share with them. “[Piano] was something that I knew. I taught piano when I was in high school,” explains Banta. “So, we learned some fundamentals of the piano with their cardboard keyboards,” Banta says with a smile.
Today, it’s not entirely far fetched to say that a simple list of Banta’s extensive involvement in various organizations could very well be an article itself— from her early days serving on the PTA, teaching church school classes and being involved in the scouts to today’s focus serving as a Trustee for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, participating in the Pasadena Garden Club, Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO) and Luminaires—just to name a very small few. But despite the long list, each volunteering opportunity held Banta’s attention and she remains committed to many. “It would be easy for someone to say that I was in and out of all these [organizations] but it’s not true. I gave time because [50 years] is a lot of time,” Banta points out.
And Banta’s continuing contributions to the community have truly changed lives for the better. For those who have been to The Huntington recently, the name “Banta” may ring a bell. Banta and her husband Merle have pledged to support education in the community with the new addition of the June and Merle Banta Education Center at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens which includes four classrooms furnished with all the necessary essentials—from top of the line audio equipment to a sink—for hands on learning. “June and Merle are among our most treasured and steadfast volunteers. Their most recent gift to name the June and Merle Banta Education Center was not only a testament to their generous support of The Huntington, but also to their unwavering commitment to education,” says Randy Shulman, vice president for advancement at The Huntington.
For many who visit The Huntington, this is their only opportunity to experience something like this. Banta acknowledges, “The children, the adults, the community, the world is coming [to The Huntington]. There’s so much that you can learn there and of course the school children are coming in on buses and they’re going to the education center and that makes me feel really good”.
Or perhaps you’ve heard of Banta through her work with the other Huntington—Hospital, that is. The Huntington Hospital was the site of Banta’s earliest volunteer commitments. It was through her training at the hospital where she learned a word that would become the foundation for her later volunteer work: empathy. “Putting oneself in another’s situation leads to deep understanding, caring and appropriate service. The needs of others can be met at all levels of time and commitment. Empathy applies in all the experiences,” explains Banta.
Banta’s long-term relationship with the Huntington Hospital comes full circle after all these years as she enjoys her current “gig” as the musical entertainment during lunchtime for the Huntington’s Rehabilitation Unit (Broadway show tunes are her favorite). Her decades of various services and contributions have not gone unnoticed by both patients and the hospital staff. “June is passionate about improving the health and well-being of women and children in our community,” says Jane Haderlein, Huntington Hospital’s senior vice president, philanthropy and public relations. “In addition to providing dedicated volunteer service at the hospital for more than half a century, she and [her husband] Merle are also long-time financial supporters of our work. There’s no doubt that her involvement has had an important impact on programs benefiting women and children here, and we’re extremely grateful.”
It was Banta’s advocacy for women and children that led her to reach out to Pasadena City College when she discovered a need for a program designed to support mothers and the early infancy period. “Pasadena City College has a wonderful parent education program and I took our children there when we first came to Pasadena,” explains Banta. After Banta had her third child, she took him when he was two years old and the director of the department came around to visit one day. According to Banta, she felt she had to take advantage of the opportunity. “I thought ‘Oh, this is my chance to talk to her’ because I had some very strong feelings [about developing a new program]. So, I asked if I could talk to her, just for a minute. And I said, ‘You know this is a wonderful program but it needs to start before the baby is born.’ She kind of listened to me but didn’t make any commitment. And two weeks later she called me and she said, ‘June, I think we should start like you said, before birth, be there after birth to help mothers.’ I was so excited,” Banta recalls.
Banta’s excitement grew when the director asked her if not only would she be willing to teach the program herself, but also be in charge of organizing it. Banta immediately began to prepare for the program, wanting to make sure it emphasized the importance of prenatal education for parents, as well as postpartum education. She researched any material that was available that could help her create curriculum best suited to help satisfy the needs of the mothers and their babies. “It wasn’t a new subject for me,” says Banta of motherhood. “This was my third child and we had been to the program but I definitely felt mothers needed to know something before they came home from the hospital.” Banta’s preparation for motherhood program focused on the needs from birth with the intention of “helping families get off to a good start.” Through the parent education program, Banta worked with nearly 2,000 women. “I was on [a] constant schedule, giving talks to women’s groups on subjects relating to being an individual, wife and mother,” explains Banta.
Banta’s recollection of her volunteering experiences and the heartfelt connections evoke a genuine heartfelt gratitude at the relationships that she formed. With her warm sincerity, kindness and compassion, it’s easy to understand how Banta has formed friendships all over the community, with those of all ages both young and old, that Banta treasures to this day as she expresses her gratitude saying, “If I knew you, I appreciated you. Through volunteer work, I am humbled by the wonderful people I have met. Capable, challenging, dedicated people. I cherish knowing each and every one.”