by Joyce Johnson, with Dona Haber and Marsha Elleston
One of Santa Barbara’s great treasures, Patricia A. Wandler, passed away at age 78 on April 28, 2006 after a valiant battle with cancer. Patricia was known to many as a Rolfer, healer, and friend. She had a larger-than-life existence that changed the lives of others forever. Her ability to heal the body and see through to the soul was a gift to all who knew her. She had a keen sense of self, encouraged the personal growth of others, and delighted in hearing their accomplishments and triumphs.
Patricia was born in Aberdeen, South Dakota on September 25, 1927, and was the oldest of seven children. Even as a child, she was influential and strong. When Patricia was 11, her mother died unexpectedly and her father proved unable to care for the children. Patricia did everything an 11-year-old girl could do to take care of her siblings and keep together her family, but ultimately she and a majority of the children were placed in an orphanage until relatives stepped in to care for them.
Patricia completed high school and went on to graduate as an RN from Holy Rosary Nursing School in Miles City, Montana. She was a nurse for 15 years. She worked in hospitals in Montana, before moving to Santa Barbara in the late 1950s. She worked at the Lompoc Hospital as a nurse and hospital administrator.
In her thirties, Patricia attended UCSB. Her favorite subject was art history, which became one of her lifelong interests. She was a bookkeeper and executive assistant, and her management skills were honed during this time and served her well. She became a successful and self-reliant businesswoman.
In the 1970s, when Patricia was in her forties, she met Ida Rolf, the founder of the Rolf Technique, a healing system of soft tissue manipulation and alignment. Ida became Patricia’s mentor and lifelong inspiration. Patricia went to Colorado to train under Ida, and then returned to Santa Barbara to establish a Rolfing practice, in which she thrived for 30 years until her death.
Though she would never admit to it, Patricia was a gifted healer. People said she could “unhook” pain as if by magic. She mastered the technique of Rolfing and brought to it her understanding of mind and spirit. The way Patricia treated her clients was part of the healing process. She saw people for who they were — and she most always appreciated what she saw. So much laughter came out of her Rolfing room. The camaraderie she established with her clients and the delight she took in them fostered their healing. In her later life, she operated as a Rolfer from a deep level of intuitive knowing. She was truly a master Rolfer.
Patricia never stopped learning. She studied scientology, and when she was in her sixties, earned a BA in liberal arts, and an MA in clinical psychology in 1993 from Antioch University. In 1994, while doing counseling internships at the Family Therapy Institute and Jewish Family Services, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Reviewing her life, Patricia chose to end her internships and focus on her cancer recovery and Rolfing career. As she recovered from cancer, she became more active as a stock market enthusiast and joined Paradise Portfolios, her beloved investment club. On Friday nights, she was glued to her TV as she watched the weekly stock market commentaries.
Patricia regained her strong health until 1998, when she suffered a major stroke. She lost the ability to speak, read, and move her right arm. But Patricia would not allow her life to be interrupted. With incredible determination and vitality of spirit, she worked day after day, month after month, and year after year to recover her full capabilities. When rehabilitation and speech therapy ended, Patricia continued with acupuncture, physical therapy, and hyperbaric oxygen treatments. After eight years of steady work and her last round of hyperbaric oxygen treatments, she triumphantly announced, “I have my mind back!”
Throughout her life, Patricia was devoted to the arts. In her sixties, she took up the piano with great enthusiasm. Sensitive and artistic at the keyboard, she played her favorite pieces by Chopin, Satie, Mozart, and Beethoven with heartfelt tenderness, and performed in a piano club and at small recitals for friends. In her seventies, she studied Ikebana — the Japanese art of flower arranging — and she designed her magnum opus: a new patio and extraordinary small garden including a bamboo forest and her favorite roses.
During the last three years of her life, Patricia fell in love with a lively Palomino mare named Goldie at the Hearts Adaptive Riding Program, where she rode every week. At home, she enjoyed the companionship of her Chinese Crested dog, Ivy, whom she fondly called her “Dr. Seuss dog.”
Patricia loved the Santa Barbara landscape — the mountains, ocean, sunsets, trees, flowers, and architecture. She loved the symphony, the chamber orchestra, theater, art shows, and the activities of Fiesta. But most of all, Patricia Wandler loved people, and she dedicated her life to helping them. In February 2006, Patricia was diagnosed with metastasized cancer. In typical Patricia fashion, she fought with a determined spirit, sense of humor, and belief in her recovery. When recovery was clearly impossible, she decided, with characteristic grace and courage, that the fight was over. Hours before her passing, she said to me, “Honey, I really loved my life.” I said, “You were a caregiver your entire life.” She replied with a smile, “I know, and I really liked it a lot!”
Donations can be made in Patricia’s name to Hearts Adaptive Riding Program, PO Box 30662, Santa Barbara, CA 93130. A celebration of Patricia’s life will be held from 1-4pm on Thursday, May 25 at Skofield Park, Area A.