The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

Beloved ‘surrogate grandmother’ of Beach City residents dead at 96

Desiree Erdmann
Jean Nell, right, smiles while being serenaded by the barbershop quartet ‘Modern Nostalgia’ at her 96th birthday party on Friday Feb. 14 2020 at Beach City in Santa Barbara, Calif. Nell lived at her apartment with an ocean view at Beach City for nearly 30 years. She originally moved into the apartments before they were converted into student housing.

Jean Nell, longtime resident of Beach City, died just days shy of her 97th birthday on Feb. 8.

Nell chose to live out the past nearly three decades of her life alongside hundreds of college students, becoming somewhat of a surrogate grandmother to both tenants and employees.

She moved to Santa Barbara from Chicago with her husband over 30 years ago, and settled into the apartment complex nestled between City College’s Main and West campus shortly after that—before local developer Ed St. George purchased and renamed the property Beach City in 2014.

The couple never had children, but Nell found a home and a family at Beach City, staying there after her husband died years ago.

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She even refused to move to an apartment on the first floor, unwilling to give up the view from her balcony, where she would often sit and watch the sunset.

“This place is paradise,” Nell told The Channels during an interview at her birthday party last year.

Described as “forever young,” Nell had become a prominent figure on the property in recent years, delivering homemade cookies to staff, or strolling the grounds to nurse plants back to life.

“Whether it was tending to the flowers, baking treats for the office or enjoying her view from her balcony, she was a staple in our family,” said Natty Bhumnugkij, an employee at Beach City.

Tenants described Nell as a “teenage grandma,” and they would regularly help her with groceries, laundry or cleaning.

“It was very nice to see how her and the students would interact,” said Ava Feiz, property manager at Beach City. “She brought kindness out in people and every year her neighbors would help her with anything she needed.”

On her last birthday, Beach City threw her a party where hundreds of tenants, friends and even Congressman Salud Carbajal celebrated her life with hot dogs, photo booths and music.

A memorial dedicated to Nell was held at Beach City last Thursday, where friends and neighbors shared stories and celebrated her life one more time.

“She will be dearly missed,” Bhumnugkij said. “But someone as special as her will not be forgotten.”

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