Spirit of Fiesta Norma Escárcega, La Presidente Rhonda Ledson Henderson, Junior Spirit Eve Flores, and Robin Hill Cederlof portraying St. Barbara.
Gail Arnold

On June 15, about 1,000 guests gathered at Rancho La Patera & Stow House for the 10th annual Fiesta Ranchera. Co-hosted by Old Spanish Days in Santa Barbara and the Goleta Valley Historical Society, this is always a casual, festive celebration of Old Spanish Days in a lovely historic setting.

The event follows La Primavera last month and precedes the plethora of Old Spanish Days Fiesta events taking place between July 30 and August 6. Now in its 93rd year, Fiesta celebrates the Rancho Period of Santa Barbara’s history, roughly 1824-1864, when Santa Barbara was under Mexican and then American rule. The term “Old Spanish Days” referred to the language spoken during this time, not the governing entity.

Guests, many in Western or fiesta attire, mingled while sampling generous tastings from area food and beverage purveyors. Especially popular was paella prepared on site in a gargantuan pan by SB Paella Catering. Guests enjoyed classic fiesta melodies and contemporary tunes by Tony Ybarra.

During the program, Father Larry Gosselin, associate pastor of St. Barbara Parish at the Santa Barbara Mission, shared his excitement for this year’s theme of Unity Through Community: “We are looking at the beautiful way that we are one. . . We are called to be one in this beautiful community of Santa Barbara,” and encouraged guests to “dance our unity.” These simple words, delivered with Father Larry’s contagious smile, received huge applause and cheers from the crowd.

La Presidente Rhonda Henderson noted that since we are celebrating the Rancho Period of our history, “there is no better setting than this beautiful historic ranch.” She related how “the Rancho Period was a time in our history when we all took care of each other and welcomed each other with open arms. And that is what we are celebrating each and every Fiesta.”

Henderson, a 5th generation Californian, is not only this year’s La Presidente, but also co-chaired the inaugural Fiesta Ranchera and a few subsequent ones as well. Goleta Valley Historical Society Event Coordinator Dacia Harwood has been a Co-chair every year from the start and received many accolades for her work on this event along with Co-chair Alex Castellanos.

Debbie and Roger Aceves shared how they wanted to do something this year to recognize the 50th anniversary year of the Goleta Valley Historical Society. The couple started by making a $1,000 donation to the society and formed a “Circle of Friends,” whom they tapped for donations. This yielded an impressive $20,000 check, which was presented to the society that evening for the protection of Goleta Valley’s historic structures.

The highlights of the evening were stunning dance performances by this year’s Junior Spirit and Spirit of Fiesta. Junior Spirit Eve Flores, who just finished the 5th grade at Hope School and has been dancing since age four, performed a rumba-style flamenco dance, Echale Azucar (put a little sugar on it), which was just as much fun as it sounds. Spirit of Fiesta Norma Escárcega, who just graduated from San Marcos High School, enchanted the audience with a buleria-style flamenco piece, La Primavera. Escarcega will be attending Santa Barbara City College in the fall and plans to become a probation officer.

After the program, Area 51 immediately started the dance tunes and, heeding Father Larry’s call to “dance our unity,” guests leapt to the dance floor.

The Rancho Period that Fiesta celebrates was a period of prosperity under Mexican and American rule during which people resided on ranches with cattle-raising being the main industry. The people are known for their beauty, friendliness, hospitality, civility of manners, and love for fiestas. Music, dance, and song were integral parts of their life.

According to Old Spanish Days Historian Erin Graffy de Garcia, “this Rancho Period was a distinct culture. It was neither Spanish nor Mexican, and in fact the people here did not identify as either Mexican or Spanish, but insisted on being called Californios. They had a whole cultural body of work …unique to just California.” For a fuller description of the Rancho Period that Fiesta celebrates, see Graffy’s recent letter to The Independent:


Old Spanish Days Fiesta has long received broad community support, including from major sponsor the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and from the Native Daughters of the Golden West, Reina Del Mar Parlor 126, an organization dedicated to the preservation of California history. Each year, this parlor selects a member to portray Saint Barbara at various Old Spanish Days Fiesta activities. This year, Robin Hill Cederlof, a 5th generation Goleta resident, was chosen and she warmly greeted the crowd at Fiesta Ranchera.

The Goleta Valley Historical Society’s mission is to collect and promote the Valley’s unique history. It operates Rancho La Patera & Stow House, which was founded in 1873 by William Whitney Stow, legal counsel for the Southern Pacific Railroad and Speaker of the California State Assembly.

The property is located within Lake Los Carneros Preserve, a 156-acre park open to the public with popular walking trails. The house is also open to the public, and guided tours are available. Upcoming events here include a 4th of July Celebration and the Music at the Ranch free concert series on Tuesday nights beginning July 11. For more information, visit stowhouse.com.

For more information about Old Spanish Days, go to oldspanishdays.org.

If viewing the story from a mobile device, click on “Desktop site” in top right to see more photos. Send event invites to Gail at society@Independent.com.

Goleta Valley Historical Society Board President Bob Muller, the society's Executive Director Amanda de Lucia, Debby Aceves, and Goleta City Councilmember Roger Aceves (one of the founders of Fiesta Ranchera and 2001 El Presidente).
Gail Arnold
Spirit of Fiesta Norma Escárcega.
Gail Arnold
Tim Taylor and Michael Dominguez. These two along with Roger Aceves founded FIesta Ranchera.
Gail Arnold
Junior Spirit Eve Flores.
Gail Arnold
1999 El Presidente Scott Burns pours his Windrun Wines for Montecito Bank & Trust CFO Bruce Stevens and Tracy Stevens.
Gail Arnold
Carol and Benjamin Schuster, owners of SB Paella Catering, with Shanna Ramirez.
Gail Arnold
2012 El Presidente Ricardo Castellanos, 1st Vice President Denise Sanford, Paul Uyesaka, and 2nd Vice President Barbara Carroll.
Gail Arnold
Diane Soto Ruiz and Russell Clay Ruiz.
Gail Arnold
Event Co-chair Alex Castellanos and Fiesta Parade Coordinator Gary MacDonald.
Gail Arnold
La Presidente Rhonda Ledson Henderson.
Gail Arnold
Tony Ybarra Music.
Gail Arnold
Area 51.
Gail Arnold
Guests dance to the music of Area 51.


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