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A Presidente with a Penchant for History

El Presidente Mike Danley
Photo credit: Steve Malone

News-Press Correspondent

ike Danley started out as a Civil War buff.

But he may now be Santa Barbara’s most prominent booster of another era, in his role as El Presidente of this year’s Old Spanish Days Fiesta.

Danley’s switch dates back eight years, when he and fellow Civil War re-enactors asked J.J. Hollister if they could camp out on his ranch.

"J.J. said, ‘Well, okay, I’ll let you use the ranch. How about you guys volunteering to put up speakers for the parade?’" Danley recalled.

Danley agreed, helped set up parade speakers and stands for several years, then joined the Old Spanish Days board of directors. In just seven years, he has risen from the general board to the executive committee, and on up into the lead position.

"It was really a pretty fast pace to become El Presidente, yes," Danley, 43, acknowledged. "Without sounding egotistical, I think a lot of it had to do with being a reliable worker. Whatever committee I was assigned to, we tried to make sure it lived up to its budget or beat it, and was a successful event."

Danley moved to Santa Barbara in 1977 to attend UCSB, where he earned degrees in economics, anthropology and biology. He bought a local medical lab, Medical Arts, in 1981, sold it in 1991, and is currently starting up another medical lab.

Danley’s three youngest children — Sarah, 7, James, 9, and Stephen, 11 — live at home with Danley and his wife, Steinunn. An older son, 21, lives in Florida.

Danley views Fiesta as a way for residents to pass on or create new traditions. In his own family, he sees participating in Fiesta as a way to put down roots.

"As a young person growing up, my family moved a lot. I missed that community, the part of knowing someone from kindergarten all through high school," Danley said. "So that something I wanted, that my children over time, they will grow up and they’ll never forget these days and what they did with Fiesta."

Danley’s kids have walked and ridden in the children’s parade, munched at many mercados and rolled posters and stuffed countless envelopes around their dining table at home. Sarah will be a Fiesta flower girl for the first time, now that she’s reached age 7. And the whole family will accompany Danley on his official duties as El Presidente.

Commitment to family and youngsters everywhere sparked Danley’s theme for the 1997 Fiesta, "Para los Niños," or "For the Children."

"Fiesta has been such a big part of our family’s life. From when they were basically able to walk, they’ve been going to Fiesta events," Danley said. "There are plenty of children volunteers out there. The dancers ... the Boy Scouts ... the kids setting up the speakers ... If you go down the mercados and look inside the booths, you’re going to see some adults, but you’re going to see some pretty young teen-agers in there working, too."

Danley views those young people as the Old Spanish Days directors of the future. He’s especially proud of how their volunteer efforts help many local nonprofits do good deeds throughout the year, funded by Fiesta receipts.

"The two mercados raise somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000 that go back into the local community," Danley said. "For many of our nonprofits, it’s their major fund-raiser of the year."

Danley also promotes Fiesta as a whole lot of fun. "It’s a living history. Those that choose to participate can dress up, hear the music, eat the food, enjoy the ambiance of our beautiful city during summer evenings, and basically come together to see old friends and meet new ones."

As for Danley’s personal interest in history, he said he no longer has time to participate in Civil War re-enactments. But he does belong to the board of the Carriage Museum, which houses the office of Old Spanish Days.

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