Celebrating National Make-A-Will Month: Mark Stephens' Legacy of Love for California State Parks | Cal Parks
Published: August 7, 2023
Mark Stephens at Jackson Hole in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Mark Stephens at Jackson Hole in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

August is National Make-A-Will Month, a time to reflect on the importance of estate planning and leaving a lasting legacy for the causes and organizations close to our hearts. At California State Parks Foundation, we are honored to share the story of one of our William Penn Mott, Jr. Legacy Society members, Mark Stephens, whose passion for parks and the environment has inspired us all. Mark has been a valued member of the California State Parks Foundation since 1996. 

The Power of Personal Stories: Influences and Experiences Guiding Legacy Decisions for California State Parks Foundation

Can you share with us what motivated you to include California State Parks Foundation in your will or estate plans? 

Since an early age, I’ve always had a strong affinity for parks, from some of my earliest memories when my mom’s parents often took me as a toddler to parklands around Lake Merritt in Oakland, California, to family visits frequently made to the redwoods in Humboldt County (where my dad grew up and my grandmother on his side of the family lived), to annual summer vacation visits to Rio del Mar and Seacliff State Beach areas in Aptos and other beaches in Santa Cruz County, as well as traveling through scenic Big Basin Redwoods State Park. When I was 10, we moved to Walnut Creek, and Mount Diablo (located in Mount Diablo State Park) is one of the most prominent geographic features in the Bay Area and was frequently in view (as well as offering world class views from the summit). In joining Boy Scouts, my appreciation for the outdoors and hiking and camping opportunities only increased, and trips included several destinations involving state parks and national forest wilderness areas. These experiences formed the basis for the desire to make a positive contribution toward enabling others to share enjoyment of these special places into the future. 

How did you first learn about our organization and what inspired you to make a lasting impact through legacy giving?

I attended the University of California, Davis as an undergraduate, and had the honor and pleasure of meeting William Penn Mott, Jr., who was a guest speaker at an upper division seminar course during my senior year there. This took place only a few years after he founded California State Parks Foundation. He was truly a visionary and inspirational person whose tremendous legacy lives on today, and the opportunity to augment this in a small way is personally gratifying.  

Could you tell us about any personal experiences or stories that influenced your decision to include California State Parks Foundation in your will or estate plans? 

While at U.C. Davis, I also met William Penn Mott, Jr.’s son John Mott, who was a few years behind me. It was enjoyable to learn many years later of his involvement and accomplishments with State Parks and the California State Parks Foundation. On a more somber note, my mom died in 2020 at over 90 years of age. Working with the Mount Diablo State Park staff and the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association, I obtained a permit to spread her ashes there at a scenic location with a small gathering of family and friends. This further strengthened my bond with State Parks and this particular park and location. 

What values or aspects of our organization's mission resonate with you and make you feel connected to our cause? 

I have especially valued protection, preservation, and enhancement of California’s varied natural resources, including, forests, streams, lakes, mountains, beaches and other coastal resources, wildlife and habitats, as well as historic and cultural resources. High priorities also include hiking, educational, and interpretive opportunities.  

Empowering the Future: The Transformative Potential of Legacy Giving and Bequest Commitments 

How do you envision your legacy gift making a difference in the future of our organization, state parks, and the communities we serve? 

It’s a relatively small contribution, but hopefully added to others will make a meaningful impact. In addition to this legacy gift, I remain committed to providing modest annual support. Over many years, it adds up to a fairly significant amount. The overall level of support will hopefully benefit the organization, parks and related facilities and resources, and the varied communities involved. 

How do you hope your bequest commitment will inspire others to support our organization and create a ripple effect of giving? 

By furnishing a real-life example of how someone of modest means can—by careful saving and regular giving—contribute to a lasting legacy benefiting our environment and the general public.  

What advice would you give to others who are considering making a bequest commitment or including a nonprofit organization in their estate plans? 

If you can, please do so! Plan ahead, as the passage of time seems to accelerate as one ages, and making advance arrangements while still living can help assure your wishes are realized as intended. 

In your opinion, what makes legacy giving and bequest commitments such powerful and impactful ways to support a charitable cause? 

They provide a means of leaving behind tangible and beneficial contributions enabling others to share in enjoying and otherwise benefiting from California’s exceptional natural resources into the future. 

Legacy giving requires careful thought and planning. How did you go about the decision-making process and what factors did you consider when making the commitment? 

I belong to and support a number of charitable nonprofit organizations. In choosing those to be included in legacy gifts, I communicated with representatives of these organizations, checked organizational evaluations through Charity Navigator, and consulted with family members and my financial advisor, as well as with the attorney preparing my estate documents. I also devoted focused attention to how closely organizational values and priorities coincided with my own. 

Is there anything else you would like to share about your decision to include California State Parks Foundation in your will or estate plans, or any message you would like to convey to future beneficiaries of your generosity? 

Again, sincere thanks to the California State Parks Foundation for its vital work and this valued opportunity! To beneficiaries, please continue to protect and enjoy our unique and diverse park and related resources! 

Preserving Your Legacy: How to Include California State Parks Foundation in Your Estate Plans during National Make-A-Will Month 

In the spirit of National Make-A-Will Month, we celebrate individuals like Mark, who have embraced the opportunity to make a lasting impact through legacy giving. Their love for the environment and dedication to preserving California's natural wonders inspire us to continue our mission of safeguarding these treasures for generations to come. 

If you have included California State Parks Foundation in your estate plans or would like more information about legacy giving, we would be honored to hear from you. Please provide your information using the form below to inform us about your legacy gift or to request additional details. Together, we can build a brighter future for our beloved parks and the communities they serve.