Janice Forbes was a founding member of several key Placer County organizations.

Obituary: Janice Forbes, Placer County philanthropist, shaped Sierra identity

Published: Friday, Jun. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 4B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 18, 2013 - 8:30 am

Janice Forbes, a visionary Placer County businesswoman who championed the Sierra Nevada as a distinct California place and identity, died June 4 of leukemia complications, her husband said. She was 75.

Ms. Forbes was influential as a business leader, environmentalist and philanthropist. She founded and published Sierra Heritage Magazine, a regional publication, for 30 years. She also owned the weekly Placer Sentinel newspaper for 18 years, until 2010.

A third-generation Auburn native, she was a driving force in restoring historic Auburn School Park Preserve near City Hall. She was a founding member of the Auburn Symphony and Auburn-Placer Performing Arts Center.

She donated to community programs and supported efforts to create a local tradition of philanthropy. In 2005, she was founding chairwoman of the Placer Community Foundation, a nonprofit group that awards local grants.

"When she set her mind to something, she moved forward with all the power that she had, notwithstanding criticism," foundation board member Keith Sparks said. "We went from an endowment of $3 million to $10 million."

Ms. Forbes advocated protection of the environment as essential to community prosperity and a strong economy. She was active in the California League of Conservation Voters, Republicans for Environmental Responsibility and the Sierra Club.

"She had a very strong environmental interest in everything she did," said Bob Gilliom, who worked with her on the Auburn School park project. "She grew up in the Sierra Nevada and had a lifelong interest in protecting it."

Ms. Forbes was a founder of the Sierra Business Council, a regional advocacy group for business and environmental interests. She championed the mountain country of California and Nevada as a defined region of people and communities with a shared geography, heritage and outlook.

"Most people in the Sierra Nevada identify themselves by their local community or … 'near Sacramento' or 'near Fresno,' " said Steve Frisch of the Sierra Business Council. "Janice helped define our region and residents of the region as Sierra Nevadans."

The daughter of a former Placer County supervisor, Janice Lorraine Waddle was born March 15, 1938. Her parents, Wesley and Elizabeth, owned a grocery store and a prominent cattle ranch.

She grew up outdoors in the Sierra Nevada, hiking in American River canyons and riding horses at a cattle range in the Martis Valley. She attended Mills College and earned a political science degree from UC Davis.

She married James Forbes, a Marine who became a manager for Pacific Bell. They had a son and lived in several areas of California before their marriage ended in divorce. She returned to Auburn in 1982 and was married for the last 27 years to Ken Geil, a civil engineer.

"She had a lot of friends, but she wasn't somebody who wanted to be in the limelight," her husband said. "She was a private person."

Ms. Forbes was predeceased by her son, James, who was a radiologist. Besides her husband, she is survived by a sister, Joyce Armitage of Auburn, and two grandchildren.

No public service is planned. Donations in memory of Ms. Forbes may be made to the Placer Community Foundation.

Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @bob_davila.

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