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Work, play are one for those who throw the party


Old Spanish Days Fiesta runs just five days each August. But year-round, 35 board members set aside work, hobbies and personal pursuits in order to host Santa Barbara's biggest annual party. They are aided in part by a single paid secretary. But the lion's share of the work and fund-raising rests squarely on the shoulders of the all-volunteer board.

The Old Spanish Days board of directors, front row from left, are: George Thurlow, Michael Mendoza, Fr. Virgil Cordano, Wendy Ayala, Michael Danley, Christina Cavallero, Susan Goodale, Christine Gallagher and Angeles Perez; back row, from left: Nick Katzenstein, Marti Correa de Garcia, Chris Gutierrez, Clay Dickens, Miguel Avila, Josiah F. Jenkins, David Peri, Ann Avila, Steve Engles and Christopher Story.

Many of these board members hold full-time jobs. They have families. They have outside interests. They maintain ties with other local nonprofit organizations. And they regularly schedule their vacations to coincide with Fiesta in order to maximize their time giving.

So why do they do it?

Some of the volunteers were born into Fiesta. Others came to it as adults, eager to create traditions for their children or to revive the community spirit they remember from their own childhoods. Others still were drawn in by their children's participation, or the desire to perpetuate certain community traditions.
These are the stories of half a dozen dedicated volunteers.

Wendy Ayala

Fiesta's a way of life for Wendy Ayala; newcomer
Clay Dickens enjoys "trying to make a small town
out of a big town."

Photo credit: Stephanie Diani

Wendy Ayala is a ninth-generation Santa Barbaran, born and raised in a family that has participated in Fiesta since the outset and still holds private fiestas every year.

"My grandmother, Mary Cota, danced in the very first Fiesta parade in 1924,"Ayala said."Our family does the De la Guerra wedding float. That was our tradition of Fiesta."

As a youngster, Ayala was a flower girl as well. As an adult, she has helped organize the flower girls for the past decade. She's now in her first year on the Old Spanish Days executive board and hopes to become La Presidenta some day.

Meanwhile, Ayala's daughter, Cassie, 13, is following in her mother's footsteps. A 10-year flower girl veteran, she and her brother, Matthew, 10, have grown up helping load and unload Fiesta flowers. Every year in the children's parade, Matthew precedes the 100-strong corps of flower girls, bearing the group's entry number.

"Fiesta has become part of our daily routine. They kids are used to it, it's something they know Mom's doing," Ayala said." They're actually big helpers, too, especially with the flower girls."

Ayala, 41, works full time as owner of Play Care Home Preschool. For recreation, she and her children skate on inline hockey teams.

"Let me tell you something important about being a director. You've got to love Fiesta. If you don't love Fiesta and watching it unfold like a flower for the community, it's not going to be fun," Ayala said. "It's part of my heritage. I'll take on a lot just because that's something I've always loved to do."

Clay Dickens

Clay Dickens grew up in a small town in Illinois.

"From my parents, I learned not to say 'No,' " said Dickens, a loan consultant with Goleta National Bank. "I like walking down the street and knowing people and being able to say 'Hi' to them. I hope whenever the day comes, they'll help me."

Dickens is helping others in the meantime.

He volunteered to work at the Fiesta pancake breakfast at Alameda Park seven years ago and is now in his second year on the Old Spanish Days board.

Dickens is also on the board of Work, Inc., president of Dalmatian Dreams, former president of the Downtown Kiwanis Club and co-founder of The Living Room. He raises money for cerebral palsy and the Miracle Network Telethon every year, helped mount a major campaign for the YMCA and just retired from the Lobero Theatre board.

"My wife (Sally) is my partner in all this stuff," Dickens said." Her boss, Jim Knell, supports both my wife's and my endeavors 100 percent ... (and) I'm lucky to have a boss, Diana Crockett, who understands this volunteerism."

Asked about any hobbies, Dickens paused, then replied, "I used to. I have a couple of cats. These organizations are my hobbies. When I see people I've helped, it makes me feel good. I love trying to make a small town out of a big town."

Chris Gutierrez

Chris Gutierrez, left, juggles Fiesta P.R.,
Las Noches de Ronda and his job as principal
of Aliso School in Carpinteria.
Photo credit: Stephanie Diani

Fiesta has been a part of Chris Gutierrez's life for more than 40 years.

His family moved from Laredo, Texas, to Oxnard in 1954, and every year his family drove up to Santa Barbara for Fiesta.

"It was a fun outing. Fiesta became something very special,"Gutierrez recalled.

Gutierrez moved to Santa Barbara as an adult, and was asked to serve as master of ceremonies of Noches de Ronda five years ago. He joined the board and is now in his third year of handling public relations. He is the organization's resident computer wizard and was instrumental in putting Old Spanish Days online and computerizing the office's mailings and volunteer lists.

Away from Fiesta, Gutierrez is principal of Aliso School in Carpinteria and president of the Association of California School Administrators, Region 13. While he works on Fiesta year-round, the academic schedule dovetails well with Fiesta's August run.

"In the thick of things, I'm putting in anywhere from 20 to 25 hours a week,"Gutierrez said."There for a week or two, it's full time."

Gutierrez and his wife, Ritva, now co-chair Noches de Ronda. She's the backstage director; he brings in the emcees.

"We believe Fiesta is a community event, "Gutierrez said." It is to enrich this strength and beauty of the tradition of Santa Barbara. ... We want to enjoy and enrich our lives in the present, so we take a view of the past."

Mike Mendoza

Mike Mendoza, right, with Old Spanish Days secretary
Diana Vandervoort, wants to pass the Fiesta tradition
on to his kids.

Photo credit: Steve Malone

Mike Mendoza was born and raised in Santa Barbara. For him, Fiesta is a family affair.

"I've been involved with Fiesta as long as I can remember. My parents would have me involved in the parade. The music was very important, the dancing was always something special. My uncle, Poncho Osuno, used to throw one of the biggest parties at his home, with a couple hundred people."

Mendoza served as grand marshall of the parade in 1990, then joined the Old Spanish Days board the following year. His cousin, Christine Gallagher, is also on the board. As Senior Vice Presidente, Mendoza is in line to become El Presidente next year. But first, he's chief fund-raiser for this year's Fiesta.

"I've run and overseen many of the events. I think this year is the most demanding of my time, "Mendoza said.

Mendoza juggles Fiesta fund-raising with his job as vice president of Craviotta Electric, where he has worked for 15 years. His children, Michael, Jr., 8, Kasey, 12, and Kelly, 14, play on local sports teams.

"My spare time, we're running back and forth to practices or games. My wife, Doodie, is probably my backbone to get through all this,"Mendoza said.

"I think it's very important that we maintain the traditions here in Santa Barbara, especially for families. I've loved it. It was passed down to me by my family. I hope to preserve it for my children."

Ken Pettit

His devotion to his daughter and to public
service drew Ken Pettit into Fiesta.

Photo credit: Stephanie Diani

Ken Pettit came to Old Spanish Days by way of his daughter Elizabeth, who danced in Fiesta in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"As a parent, you tote dresses and makeup kits and drive them here and there,"Pettit said."You get involved not only with your child, but with her colleagues and dancers in other studios."

Pettit is now on the executive board of Old Spanish Days. He's also been County Clerk-Recorder since 1986 and has worked in the County Clerk-Recorder's office since 1965. He is statewide president of the County Clerks Association, on the board of the Lions Club, a booster of the Downtown Boys and Girls Club and active with the Hispanic Achievement Council and the League of Women Voters. He often lectures high school and college classes about government and democracy. And he loves to go flyfishing.

"I'm big on public service. I've been doing it professionally in my role,"Pettit said."We practice citizenship in many ways. I urge people to vote. Others urge people to pay their taxes. Others volunteer in the community."

He added, "I think all of us are careful not to bastardize Fiesta. You can get into some sensitive issues of ethnicity. I think it's important for a community to recognize its roots. There's a lot of immigration bashing going on today. There seems to be insensitivity toward minorities. But those are the wonderful people who created the community. We should honor those on a daily basis. Fiesta recognizes those community roots, brings it out to the fore. I like that."

Mike Danley

Mike Danley

Mike Danley makes lists.

With three active elementary school children living at home, starting a new company and serving as this year's El Presidente, Danley credits his lists with keeping himself afloat.

"It's really a frame of mind for me. Each day, I have a number of balls up in the air that have to be moved along ... I get up, get the things done on the list that I can do. And then, that's pretty much all I can get done with moving the process along, "Danley said, adding, "Then I take a mental shift to, 'Now, okay, it's time for fun with the kids.' Or 'It's time to work on Fiesta.' "

Danley enlists his whole family in stuffing envelopes, rolling posters and carrying out Fiesta duties. His wife, Steinunn, also volunteers with Las Aletas Auxiliary, which is part of the National Assistance League.

"One of the nicest things about Santa Barbara is that if you want to get involved ... if you want to know your community and know people, it really welcomes to that,"Danley said."There are so many different organizations to be involved in."

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