At Home With Jon & Kathliene Sundt
Posted on August 15, 2014
As a young man, Jon Sundt used to drive around La Jolla, looking at houses he might one day be able to buy. A dozen years later, when he pulled into the driveway of what would become his home high above La Jolla Shores, it was déjà vu. Sundt quickly realized it was one of the houses he’d dreamed of buying. Now a successful investment manager, he could afford it.
Named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012, Sundt is the president and CEO of Altegris Investments. He is also the founder of Natural High, the drug abuse prevention organization that celebrates its 20th anniversary on September 20 with a fundraising gala at the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines. So far, the nonprofit has reached 7 million youth, encouraging them to discover and pursue their passions in life — a “natural high” — instead of drugs.
Sitting with his wife Kathliene in their living room overlooking the La Jolla shoreline, Jon is nearly overcome with emotion when he talks about the very personal and painful reasons he founded Natural High — losing his two younger brothers, Steven and Eric, to drug abuse. Steven Sundt died of a cocaine overdose; Eric later committed suicide after a long battle with addiction. “After I buried Eric, I just realized there’s more to do to influence kids than what’s being done,” says Jon. “And I realized there’s a lot of really cool people I looked up to that didn’t do drugs. The kids weren’t hearing their stories.”
So for the past two decades, Jon has been sharing the stories of drug-free role models — from pro-surfers like Kelly Slater and Bethany Hamilton to skateboarders Tony Hawk and Terry Kennedy. Natural High provides its acclaimed DVD series and curricula, free of charge, to 17,000 educators around the country. “I was just using what Madison Avenue and every marketing firm in America knows, that kids are influenced by their peers,” says Jon. “Let’s give them a positive peer, a positive story.”
Jon and his wife, a stay-at-home mom and artist, have two children of their own, Ariel, 14, and Van, 7. They live a family-centered life filled with beach walks, music, and surfing, one of Jon’s natural highs. (Jon’s “secret Black’s Beach cam,” mounted on a neighbor’s roof, enables him to check surf conditions via his cell phone.) When they dine out, the couple prefers George’s at the Cove. Barbarella in La Jolla Shores is a favorite for family take out.
The Sundts’ comfortable home reflects their casual, indoor-outdoor lifestyle. A large tank filled with colorful fish greets visitors at the entrance; a piano and guitars fill a corner of the living room (Jon, it’s said, plays a mean blues harp.) Kathliene’s paintings, most of them bold and expressive, are everywhere. As a whimsical touch, she glue-gunned paper butterflies to the kitchen ceiling. “Why?” Jon asked. “Just because,” was her answer. Children’s artwork adorns the refrigerator, including one showing Van and his mom riding a whale.
Even as the Sundts prepare for Natural High’s 20th anniversary, Jon is looking ahead to the next 20 years, with hopes of reaching 25 million youth. “My goal is that when a kid goes to a party and he’s offered drugs, he’ll say, ‘No, I’m good. I’m on a natural high.’ Everybody knows what that means — and it’s cool.” 858.551.7006, naturalhigh.org Andrea Naversen
Photography by Vincent Knakal