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, which formally opened 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 contribute to solving, a specified entrenched problem and to build stronger collaborative partnerships within the philanthropic and advocate communities. The selected project, advancing renewable energy in the U.S. Midwest, evolved into the RE-AMP Network, now a coalition of 130 organizations collaborating to drastically reduce global warming pollution. Jennie continues to advise the RE-AMP Network.

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. Garfield supports a second collaborative network, the Cancer Free Economy Network, which includes environmental justice, health, labor, and academic partners collaborating to eliminate cancer-causing toxins from the environment. In 2017, Garfield Foundation also launched integrated advisory services to help build the field of systems informed collaboration.

While in the philanthropic sector for nearly two decades, her prior career was spent abroad managing humanitarian response programs (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Thailand, Bosnia-Herzegovina). She is also a return Peace Corps Volunteer (Thailand). Jennie graduated from Western Michigan University and holds a Master’s degree from the School for International Training. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast enjoying hiking and camping. Jennie lives in the mountains near Boulder, Colorado.

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, Partnerships & Training Officer

Jennifer serves as Partnership & Training Officer 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.

Eleni Sotos, Senior 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 volunteers her free time with a local nonprofit that offers community access to low-cost spay/neuter and emergency veterinary surgery. She spends much of her free time volunteering, traveling and appreciating the joys of living in the Bay Area.

Motaz Attalla, Program Officer & Technical Advisor

Motaz is Program Officer and Technical Advisor at the Garfield Foundation. A generalist with a background in education policy and group facilitation, his work has come to focus on the intersections of systems, organizational, and personal transformation. Motaz has also had the rare privilege of getting paid to make people laugh. Formerly based in Cairo, Egypt, he now lives with his wife and two children in Oakland, California.

Jessica Conrad, Strategic Communications Manager

Jessica is the Strategic Communications Manager at the Garfield Foundation and works to document and share the story of the foundation’s grantmaking. She also contributes to the foundation’s learning, evaluation and capacity building practices. Inspired by a strong belief that another future is possible, Jessica brings experience with both systems change theory and practice. Prior to joining the Garfield Foundation, Jessica served as a program facilitator at the Blekinge Institute of Technology, where she delivered graduate-level courses on leadership and sustainable development, and as a community manager at the RE-AMP Network, where she supported member organizations in accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. She holds an M.Sc. in Strategic Leadership toward Sustainability from the Blekinge Institute of Technology and a B.A. in Environmental Humanities from Whitman College. Jessica loves exploring the Pacific Northwest on her bicycle and dabbling with paints. She is based in Seattle, Washington.

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. Outside of work, Mollie loves to dance, travel and enjoy adventures small and large with her family. 

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