History of the Garfield Family

And the Emergence of the Garfield Foundation

Isaac – it started with fizz:

Born near Kiev in the late 1850s, Isaac received a degree in apothecary medicine from Moscow University. A chemist and pharmacist, he brought with him the formula for a Russian folk remedy, the forerunner of American seltzer medicines that he produced as Garfield’s Seidlitz Powders.

By the turn of the century Isaac owned a small chain of pharmacies in New York and a factory in the Bronx that manufactured the product for distribution under house brands. The ingeniously elaborate machinery he designed for his factory, a precursor of the automated assembly line, is now in the Smithsonian Institution.

As a sideline, the factory made soda chargers, small metal cylinders of compressed CO2 that turned bottled water into bubbling carbonated soda. The small business thrived with the rising demand from speakeasies during Prohibition. “If you drank whisky-and-soda during Prohibition,” states Brian, “you were probably drinking Garfield’s soda.”

Enter George: “a marvelous character of many talents”

Isaac and his wife Frances lived in Manhattan, became citizens, and produced four sons. The youngest, George—Brian’s father—came along in 1900. Brian recalls his multi-talented father “was at various times a writer, painter, concert pianist, traveler, movie distributor, lawyer, Wall Street specialist, architect, builder, and self-appointed gentleman farmer.”

Brian grew up hearing his father tell of playing four-hand piano with George Gershwin during parties in the 1920s. And he recollects the story of how Georgia O’Keeffe introduced his father to his future bride: Frances O’Brien, a young painter who was O’Keeffe’s protegé.

In 1939, Brian was born to George and Frances Garfield.

Of Lester and lanolin:

In the right place at the right time Brian vividly recalls, as a youngster, visiting the New Jersey laboratory of his cousin-in-law, biochemist Lester Conrad. The money to start the lab and support Lester’s research and development had come from his father and his Uncle Julius. It was in that lab that Lester developed his patented process for extracting lanolin-cholesterol from sheep’s wool without harming the sheep.

In the 1950s virtually every major cosmetics company jumped on the lanolin bandwagon using it in shampoos, cleansers, creams and make-up. The money from the licensing of Lester’s patents to those companies funded the Garfield Foundation.

In the 1970s, Brian’s father George and his Uncle Julius directed the Foundation’s support towards medical, scientific, and legislative research. After George passed away in 1996, Brian and the other two trustees, Ronald Berman and Michael Baldwin, developed new grant guidelines that meet the changing environmental challenges of the times.


Jennie Curtis, Executive Director

Jennie Curtis is the founding executive director of the Garfield Foundation. Opening its doors in 2001, she worked with the trustees to define areas of interest then helped to further refine its grant making program over the ensuing years. In 2003, Jennie proposed that Garfield Foundation apply a systems thinking approach to at least one sector to better understand, and solve, a specified entrenched problem and to build stronger collaborative partnerships within the philanthropic and advocate communities. The selected project, advancing renewable energy in the United State’s Midwest evolved into the RE-AMP Network now a coalition of 170 organizations collaborating to drastically reduce global warming pollution. To replicate RE-AMP’s successful systems framework and network approach for solving complex problems, in 2012 the Garfield Foundation established its Collaborative Networks Program. While Jennie was an elected member of RE-AMP’s steering and executive committees for more than a decade, she has graduated to an on-going advisory role. In addition, she serves on the board of The Story of Stuff Project and is an advisor to the PowerShift Network.

Before joining the Garfield Foundation, Jennie coordinated a donor advised fund at the Marion Foundation. Prior to that, Jennie spent ten years managing humanitarian refugee relief programs for International Rescue Committee in Pakistan, Thailand, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. From 1985-1987 she served as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand.

Jennie graduated from Western Michigan University and holds a Master’s degree from the School for International Training with a concentration in organizational development and management. Jennie is passionate about environmental issues and keenly interested in systemic approaches to solving entrenched social and environmental dilemmas. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast enjoying hiking, camping and meandering explorations with her Labrador, Lucy. Jennie lives in Colorado.

Eleni Sotos, Program Officer

Eleni joined the Garfield Foundation in December 2014. Prior to joining the Foundation, Eleni was director of the New Economy Funders Network (formerly the Sustainability Funders), a philanthropy affinity group focused on transitioning our economy into one that is just, sustainable and equitable. Prior to NEFN, Eleni served as the California Coordinator of the Health and Environmental Funders Network and for five years was the Program Director of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE) at Commonweal, where she managed an international network of over 3,000 health professionals, health-affected and community-based groups, scientists and grant makers. Before CHE, Eleni worked at the Jenifer Altman Foundation and Tides Foundation in San Francisco, and at Replication and Program Strategies in Philadelphia.

Eleni holds a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communication from West Chester University and a Master of Arts in Communication from the University of Delaware. With a deep love for animals and nature, she co-founded a nonprofit organization to raise funds for the Berkeley, CA municipal animal shelter. She spends much of her free time volunteering, traveling and appreciating the joys of living in the Bay Area.

Ruth Rominger, Collaborative Networks Program Director

Ruth joined the Foundation’s Collaborative Network team to assist in the design and development of collaborative projects between the Foundation, grantees and other funders. Ruth specializes in organizational design and systems change strategies. She has a life-long passion for working in small groups to catalyze large-scale social change. She has held positions of co-founder, executive, manager and advisor in the nonprofit sector, educational publishing and multimedia industries. A designer and systems thinker by nature and study, Ruth has focused on applying systems and network theories to the design and operation of cooperatives, action networks, and learning communities in the education, food, health, and sustainability sectors.

Ruth has advised the Garfield Foundation on Collaborative Networks initiatives since 2004. She lent her hand in the RE-AMP Network at each stage of its evolution, including its guiding principles, network structure, online communications platform, membership engagement, assessment, and steering committee facilitation.

Ruth’s interest in systems thinking is rooted in her family’s California farm, where she learned about the connections between nature and human culture, and that life is about continuous creativity and problem-solving with whoever and whatever are on hand.

Jennifer Berman, Program Advisor—Collaborative Networks

Jennifer is an independent consultant who serves as a Program Advisor to the Foundation’s Collaborative Networks Program. She brings expertise in collaborative networks, systems change, program development and implementation, and a deep passion for helping people and organizations step into their fullest potential. Jennifer has worked in a variety of social change settings as a community organizer, program officer, foundation director, and personal development coach. She holds a B.A. from Oberlin College and a Master’s in Public Policy and Administration from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. When she’s not working, Jennifer can be found entertaining her two young children, playing in the great outdoors or reading a good book.

Motaz Attalla, Program Coordinator—Collaborative Networks

Motaz is a writer, facilitator and researcher. Most of his work has been in the field of education, in Egypt, India, and the US. With a background in both education policy and group facilitation, he has come to focus on the intersections of systemic, organizational, and personal transformation. He has worked with numerous activists, human rights campaigners, reformers, government leaders, innovators and visionaries. His interest in systems thinking has been a direct result of having worked across such a broad spectrum of change-makers. He is a strong believer in nurturing whole ecologies of transformation, and that such work is fundamentally relational and affective. Motaz has also had the rare privilege of getting paid to make people laugh. Formerly based in Cairo, he now lives with his wife and two children in Oakland.

Mollie Speiglman, Operations Manager

Mollie enjoys utilizing creative problem solving and relationship building in order to support organizations working for social change. She has pursued this interest on three continents and with a wide range of organizations, in fields ranging from the arts to finance. Mollie joined the Garfield Foundation as Executive Assistant in August 2015

Outside of work, Mollie loves to dance, travel and explore; and she is a volunteer board member for a local organization that focuses on leadership development, social justice and community building for high school aged youth.


Brian Garfield has published 70 books, several nominated for (or winners of) awards, and various shorter works. More than 20 million copies of his books have been published worldwide, and 17 films are based on his writings. His seminal novel, Death Wish, defined a crime-writers’ genre and became the basis for a series of Charles Bronson action movies. Another film based on Garfield’s novel and screenplay, Death Sentence, starring Kevin Bacon, was released in 2007.  He won the Edgar Award for Hopscotch (best novel) upon which the acclaimed movie of the same name (which he wrote and co-produced) was based. In his youth Garfield toured with “The Palisades,” a rock-&-roll band that had a top-40 hit and appeared on “American Bandstand.” He is past president of the Western Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America (the only writer to have served in both offices).

Garfield, who grew up in Arizona, now lives in Pasadena, California.  He is an Army veteran and earned his Master’s degree from the University of Arizona.

Ronald Berman is the founder of R. Berman Development Company, LLC, of Trenton, New Jersey, a developer of major office and retail projects in New Jersey. Of particular interest for the company have been projects located in older industrial cities such as Trenton and New Brunswick that may be a catalyst for other developments.  A prime example is the historic rehabilitation of the Roebling Wire Rope Building complex in Trenton NJ into a 250,000 square foot mixed use use office and retail center.

He has served as Assistant Commissioner of Public Transportation for the State of New Jersey, Urban Renewal Attorney for the City of Trenton, and Special Counsel for Urban Redevelopment in New Brunswick and Jersey City. Berman currently serves as a Trustee of the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Foundation.

Berman holds AB and L.L.B. degrees from Rutgers University. In 1966, he was awarded a Ford Fellowship to pursue graduate law work at Harvard Law School, specializing in Urban Development Law. In 1999, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Rider University.

Michael Baldwin is the founder of Baldwin Brothers, Inc., a private money management firm in Marion, Massachusetts. Prior to that, he worked at Morgan Guaranty Trust Company, H.C. Wainwright & Co., and White Weld & Co. He is the founder and overseer of the Marion Institute, which serves as an incubator of innovative models for positive social change. Baldwin is also the trustee of the Nathaniel Saltonstall Arts Fund and Northeast Investors, serves as president of the Buddhayana Foundation, and is on the boards of directors of Chelsea Green Publishing and PaxIT. He has served on the boards of Skowhegan School and Massachusetts Horticultural Society, and founded the junior committee of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute. Baldwin earned his BA degree from Harvard College in 1962.