He donated $1 million to the Elings Fields at Girsch Park, $1 million to the Dos Pueblos Aquatics Complex and significant funds to other swimming facility projects and directly to youth organizations. He also encouraged his former wife, Betty Wells, to match most of his donations – creating a tremendous share of the necessary capital to develop these major recreation facilities.
Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Elings began and ended his outstanding athletic career as a Little League pitcher. He went to a technical high school training to be a machinist. Earning his B.S. at Iowa State, Elings went on to complete his PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and came to Santa Barbara as a teacher and researcher at UCSB. Elings left UCSB in 1987 and founded Digital Instruments with a former student Gus Gurley. That company became the world’s leader in Scanning Probe Microscopes, microscopes that “feel” the surface of a sample with molecular resolution.
Elings has two sons, Jeff and Mike. Virgil and Jeff took up vintage motorcycle racing in 1989 and it became clear that a young brain works better than an old one. He retired in 1999 and lives on a ranch in Santa Ynez trying to figure out if he has given too much money away.