Longtime Don Diego Foundation executive director retires


Del Mar resident Chana Mannen retired from her position as executive director of the Don Diego Scholarship Foundation at the end of June, marking the end of her career with both the foundation and the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Chana Mannen with her husband Frank.

Mannen served as deputy general manager for the Del Mar Fairgrounds until stepping down in 2012. She said Tim Fennell, the general manager at the time, offered her the executive director role at the Don Diego Foundation, a nonprofit launched by the fairgrounds.

The Don Diego Foundation provides scholarships to high school graduates throughout San Diego who are involved with the county fair or other activities at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The foundation also provides grants for agricultural education. It has awarded more than $1 million to about 300 students, or about $72,500 each year, in addition to agriculture education grants.

“I had been involved with Don Diego for a long time,” said Mannen, originally from New Mexico before relocating to Del Mar, where her husband Frank is from. “It was time for somebody else to take over and move the organization forward.”

Mannen was a teacher when she relocated to Del Mar as a newlywed, but ended up with a job at the Del Mar Fairgrounds after Frank suggested it. Mannen’s impact on the organization has included programming such as the popular Plant*Grow*Eat, which teaches children about nutrition and agriculture. She added that she planned to retire in 2020, but stayed on a little longer due to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Don Diego Foundation offers scholarships in six categories: Zable Foundation 4-H, FFA, Employee, Exhibitor/Participant, Junior Livestock Auction, and Vocational Education. One recent note from a scholarship recipient underscored the impact the foundation has had for local students.

“She said, ‘Thank you for the $1,000, it paid for two of my biology books. But mostly, thank you for your faith in me, your faith in me gave me the courage to go away to school, walk on campus and know that I can be a college student,’” Mannen said. “I thought that was the most gratifying statement of all.”

The new executive director will be Ashley Colburn McCaughan, who was a top $5,000 Don Diego scholarship recipient in the 4-H category in 2005.

As part of Mannen’s sendoff, she received a surprise personalized bench that will be placed at the Don Diego Legacy Fountain at the fairgrounds.

“Not very many people have the opportunity of being part of an idea and then making that idea a reality, so I’ve been very fortunate for having a job like that,” Mannen said.