Have you ever walked or biked the Obern Trail or enjoyed a trail in the local hills? Or perhaps you toured the Historic Thomas Hope House? Or even more, you learned about some of the history of the De la Guerra Wedding party from the Fiesta Parade. Perhaps you viewed or participated in an event at the Santa Barbara Presidio put on by the Trust for Historic Preservation? These all have been possible due to the dedication of Vivian Obern.
Vivian and George Obern moved to Santa Barbara in 1947 with their young son, Vaughn, when George was hired by UCSB as public information manager. As they became active in community affairs, Vie participated in many youth organizations. She taught Sunday school and led Cub Scouts for Vaughn and Girl Scouts at Vieja Valley School for her daughter, Dale. She served on the Santa Barbara Area Council of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA). One of her major achievements was initiating a project to build a seven-mile bikeway in Goleta and helping to raise the millions of dollars needed to construct it. The bike path was named the Obern Trail in their honor.
Vie’s interest in California history was inspired by Pearl Chase, and she became known as one of Pearl’s Girls. When the house Thomas Hope had built in 1875 was condemned, George and Vivian’s interest in history inspired them to purchase the house for their 25th wedding anniversary in 1965. They restored Hope House, and it is now a county historical landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Their daughter and her husband, Greg Hoeffliger, eventually moved in and raised four daughters there.
Vivian served on many historical and trails committees as a dedicated volunteer. She was appointed by governor Ronald Reagan to the State Recreational Trails Committee, and she also served on the Board of Directors of the National Trails Council, as a member of the County Riding and Hiking Advisory Committee, president of the Therapeutic Riding Academy, secretary of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee of La Purísima Mission State Historic Park, and chair of the County American Revolution Bicentennial Committee. During 1976, she and George participated in the reenactment of the De Anza expedition of 1776 by riding their horses almost 400 miles from Santa Barbara to San Francisco. In 2001, George and Vie rode in a carriage in the Rose Parade with a group representing the Spanish period of California. She was also a Courthouse docent as well as president of the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War (DUV).
The family was also involved with Old Spanish Days Fiesta. Vie supported George in his numerous activities with Fiesta and the Carriage Museum. When George was El Presidente in 1977, the whole family rode in Fiesta’s famous Friday afternoon parade, El Desfile Histórico. Vie continued actively with the parade, supervising floats for the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation as well as organizing the De la Guerra Wedding Party group. She and George represented De la Guerra parents of the bride until 2005. Vivian continued this tradition through 2013, when she was also named Honorary Grand Marshall. Dale and her daughter Natalie’s family, Kevin, Ashlin, and Westin, continue the tradition of the De la Guerra Wedding Party. Look for five of Vie’s great-grandchildren riding in the carriage for the De la Guerra Wedding Party this year!
Vivian’s love for horses and riding the trails inspired her to become a founding member and executive secretary of the Santa Barbara Trails Council. She and George wrote five newsletters per year, sending out news of local trails as well as state and national trails for about 20 years. The Trails Council has continued to grow and preserve trails.
She became a member of Santa Barbara’s Sage Hens in 1967. This women’s trail-riding group explores area ranches, complete with campouts. Vie’s creative costumes and songs added to the nightly festivities. She became known for her “necklace” of yearly badges, her bear costume, dressing up as Cleopatra when her granddaughter Aimee attended and dyed her “gram’s” hair jet black, the macaw feather hat, and rousing song lyrics for member celebrations, as well as her watercolor scenes from the many ranches they visited. Her spirit of fun and love of trails has passed to Dale, who continues her tradition of riding with the Sage Hens.
Vie’s passion for history led to her involvement with the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. She served on the Board of Directors, as secretary as well as two terms as president. She and George donated countless hours to the Trust, making adobe bricks, painting inside the chapel, organizing Presidio Day, gathering donations of items and funds, building floats, and loving every minute. In 1998, the S.B. Trust presented George and Vie with the Pearl Chase Historic Preservation and Conservation Award. The Trust for Historic Preservation also created the George and Vivian Obern Preservation Stewardship Award in their honor.
Among Vie’s many recognitions are two PTA Honorary Life Service Awards (1968 and 1976), Santa Barbara County Women of Achievement (1981), and Soroptimist Women of Distinction (1989). In 1989, she was chosen as Santa Barbara’s Woman of the Year. The Santa Barbara National Horse Show honored the Oberns for their commitment to Santa Barbara’s horse community (1996), and they also received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Principia College (1996) and the Lifetime Volunteer Achievement Award from the California Trails and Greenways Conference (1997).
Vie is survived by her children Vaughn Obern, Dale Obern Hoeffliger (Greg), and Reade Obern (Nancy), as well as her four granddaughters Aimee Hoeffliger Pier (Stacy), Natalie Hoeffliger Goodwin (Kevin), Allison Hoeffliger, and Megan Hoeffliger. She has six great-grandchildren, Thatcher and Porter Pier, Ashlin and Westin Goodwin, and Addison and Levi Hoeffliger, as well as many nieces and nephews.
A celebration of Vivian’s life will be held on Saturday, August 1, 2-4 p.m., at the Unitarian Society Church at 1535 Santa Barbara Street. Parking is available at the First Church of Christ Scientist, 120 East Valerio Street. In lieu of flowers, please make donations in Vivian’s name to the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (123 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101), Santa Barbara Trails Council (PO Box 22352, Santa Barbara, CA 93121 or at sbtrails.org), The Principia (Annual Fund Office, 13201 Clayton Rd., St. Louis, MO 63131 or principiagiving.org), or the Care Committee of the First Church of Christ Scientist (120 E. Valerio St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101). Vivian loved to dress in costumes, so guests are invited to wear attire suitable to their affiliation with Vie in such organizations as Fiesta, Trails, de Anza, DUV, Sage Hens, and so on.