The Cambrian

Chamber carves out spot for Burbank as Citizen of the Year

Jay Burbank, Cambria’s 2016 Citizen of the Year, carved this wooden bench near the Veterans’ Memorial Building flag stand to honor a friend killed in a workplace shooting.
Jay Burbank, Cambria’s 2016 Citizen of the Year, carved this wooden bench near the Veterans’ Memorial Building flag stand to honor a friend killed in a workplace shooting.

Mid-December was quite a time for Jay Burbank of Cambria.

Not only did he learn then that his “Ghost of the MIA” memorial sculpture on the Veterans Memorial Building’s flag stand is listed on the National War Memorial Registry, but a few days later, Burbank was told that he’d been selected as Cambria’s 2016 Citizen of the Year.

“Isn’t that amazing?” the ever-humble artist-photographer-donor-volunteer marveled about the news during a Dec. 26 phone interview. “Talk about getting my socks knocked off!”

His selection will be celebrated at the annual Cambria Chamber of Commerce Installation Dinner, being held this year on Tuesday, Jan. 17, at San Simeon Beach Bar and Grill. Dinner is at 7 p.m., with a no-host bar at 6. Members of the public are welcome to attend, but reservations are required by Jan. 12. Get tickets, priced at $50 apiece, and details at 805-937-3624.

At the event, new board member Marcela Ponce of Soto’s True Earth Market will be installed, as will re-elected incumbents Gayle Jenkins of A Matter of Taste, chamber board secretary-treasurer George Marschall of Cambria Nursery and Florist, Fidel Figueroa of San Simeon Lodge/San Simeon Beach Bar and Grill and chamber board vice president Sue Robinson. They’ll join continuing members Steve Kniffen of Sea Chest Oyster Bar, Mel McColloch, Miguel Sandoval of La Terrazza Mexican Grill and Jennifer Perryman of The Cambrian.

Citizen of the Year

Each year, a panel of previous winners selects Citizen of the Year candidates, with the final decision made by the chamber board. For the past couple of years, the selection panel has included McColloch, the 2014 honoree, who told this year’s recipient about the award he was about to receive.

Near Halloween, Burbank had gotten an obscure hint that something was afoot, he said, but “I didn’t put two and two together,” so the announcement came as a total surprise.

The clue? Burbank noticed that his busy wife, Pat Burbank, was concentrating hard and busily keying data into her computer. He recalled that, when he paused to look at the monitor, she got uncharacteristically upset, telling him emphatically, “Don’t read over my shoulder!”

Fast forward to mid-December. The phone rang, and she handed it to her husband, saying McColloch wanted to speak to him. Jay Burbank asked what the chamber prez wanted, and she replied, “I don’t want to talk about it!”

“Ooooh, that’s a pretty bad thing for a husband to hear from his wife,” the honoree recalled with a booming laugh.


Jay Burbank may be astonished by his selection for the Citizen of the Year honor, but few who know about his accomplishments would be.

For instance:

▪  He created the “Ghost of the MIA” sculpture, an Iwo Jima “raising the flag” sculpture, the steel patriotic words wrapped around the star-shaped flag stand and the “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree” memorial bench. The skillfully carved wood bench located near the flag stand honors a friend who was killed in a workplace shooting. The back of the bench is dominated by the image of an intricate oak tree, and the tree’s trunk is subtly, symbolically wrapped in a ribbon of yellow wood.

▪  At the age of 70, Burbank raised funds for American Legion Post No.<TH>432 by riding his recumbent tricycle in the Yudovin Memorial 100 ride between Cambria and Carmel.

▪  Burbank helps local schools in many ways, from providing and driving a band trailer for the high school Homecoming parade to creating elaborate props for high school musicals.

▪  He has also created props for various Pinedorado Follies productions, crafted wood, glass and/or metal sculptures for other local fundraisers, and contributes to the Christmas tree auctions.

▪  He was a self-funded “guardian” companion for World War II veterans on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. Not content to just give his time, effort and funds to the cause, he also donated hand-crafted wooden tables, which were auctioned off to raise funds for the vets’ flight expenses.

▪  Years ago, to help raise funds toward buying what was then East West Ranch (now Fiscalini Ranch Preserve), Burbank took on a variety of volunteer assignments, from taking aerial photos of Cambria to creating and donating wooden cows that were sold to donors. His donations to the ranch continue: On a ranch site with a sweeping view, there’s another Burbank bench, the back of which is embellished with elaborately sculpted leaping dolphins.

With typical Burbank modesty, the honoree describes his myriad accomplishments as “simply giving back to the town I love,” the community that first enchanted him during his initial visit in 1992. He and his wife returned to Cambria the very next day, and within two weeks, they’d bought their house by the sea here.

After she retired five years later, they became full-time residents and immediately began volunteering. She was active in school and music activities, and he signed on as a reserve firefighter and reserve ambulance driver.

Isn’t that amazing? Talk about getting my socks knocked off!

Jay Burbank, on learning he had been chosen as Cambria’s Citizen of the Year

A back injury eventually took him off the active list, but the Vietnam veteran has found other ways to give back to the town he loves passionately, permanently and now publicly.

His metal ghost-image “missing in action” (MIA) sculpture is so haunting, it stops people in their tracks and brings some to tears when they see the outline of a missing military member, frozen in time in a perpetual salute toward a separate bugler who plays silent “taps” until all those servicemen and women come home.

The National War Memorial Registry describes the MIA sculpture as “a tribute to those who are missing but not forgotten. The ghost is the memory of MIAs which are in our hearts and minds. The MIA’s shadow is the impression MIAs have left in our everyday lives. The bugler will always play ‘taps’ for those who have not yet come home.”

Burbank acknowledges that having his MIA sculpture on a national list of military memorials makes him emotional, in part because it makes him feel closer to his late artist mother, Gladys Burbank. Her “draped ceramic doll” creations were so precisely beautiful, he said, they not only won top awards, some of them are included in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution museum.

One senses that, even though Gladys Burbank’s artistic and philanthropically generous son is still flummoxed by his recent and upcoming honors, his mom would have expected them and been very proud of Jay Burbank.

Installation Dinner

  • What: Cambria Chamber of Commerce Installation Dinner.
  • When: 7 p.m. Jan. 17, with no-host bar at 6 p.m.
  • Where: San Simeon Beach Bar and Grill.
  • Tickets: $50 each (reservations required by Jan. 12).
  • Details: 805-937-3624.