“If I’m privileged to live in this town, I need to give back,” says Michele Schneider, the director of business development for the Goleta Chamber of Commerce. We are talking over drinks at the entirely occasion-appropriate Goodbar at The Goodland. Michele is one of the most effervescent people I’ve ever met — and particularly so about anything having to do with Goleta. “Goleta is a hidden gem,” she tells me. “For the longest time, people would come to Santa Barbara and then stumble upon Goleta.” If I weren’t already a property owner in Goleta, I would want to become one after spending time with the ultimate ambassador of this community.
Born and raised in Santa Barbara, Schneider attended San Marcos, and she’s still close with all of her high school friends. Michele had been volunteering for the Lemon Festival and the Chamber for seven years before being hired as a full-time member of the staff. Three years ago, she won Goleta’s Finest Volunteer of the Year Award. The Goleta Lemon Festival — which takes place on September 16-17 at Girsh Park — is one of the largest events in our area where nonprofits can have booths and raise funds. “My father — Richard Schneider — was in charge of fundraising for the Edelweiss Choir,” Michele recalls, “and one of their biggest fundraisers was the Goleta Lemon Festival.” As a youngster, Michele would help her father sell German sausages at the fest. Not many people know that the Goleta Chamber puts on the Lemon Festival. Michele notes that the very few chambers of commerce put on their own festivals because they’re such huge undertakings. Ever mindful of the people who support her work, Michele declares, “we couldn’t do it without our volunteers!”
Michele is one of the most interesting people I’ve met doing this column. She’s a single mom by choice, and after five years — and six attempts at in-vitro fertilization — she gave birth to Hunter, who is now 2 and a half years old. Serendipitously, this year Hunter’s been deemed the “Lemon Prince” of the Festival. “I’ve now become a person that people come to for advice if they want to have a child on their own,” she shares with me. “I’ve become a support to anyone who is a single parent.”
Michele answers the Proust Questionnaire.
Who do you most admire?
My parents, Richard and Anneliese Schneider. They came to America from Germany at a very young age with very little money and managed to land in beautiful Santa Barbara and make a great living for themselves and a great legacy for their kids to follow. My father was actively involved in the community and giving back, and I always admired him for all that he did.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Don’t Go Left … Don’t Go Right … GOOOOOOOOOLETA!!!” I keep hoping it will stick and someone will use it besides me. Right now, it is only me, but it still gets a little chuckle from someone who hears it!
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I am not sure this applies, but I would say Xena the Warrior Princess. She is tall and always fights for the greater good. As a single mother, I feel empowered that I can do this all alone and empowered to help other single mothers do the same. This is a huge and rewarding task, but we are also up against a society where 7 out of 10 people think that a single woman having children is bad. But we ROCK, no matter what society says!
What is your most marked characteristic?
My outgoing personality and strong involvement in the community. When Helene Schneider was running for mayor, people thought it was me running when they saw the signs for “Mayor Schneider.”
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Raising my son, Hunter, on my own by choice. It is the hardest but most rewarding thing I have ever done. I wanted to be a mom so badly, and after five very long years of trying, I achieved my goal. BEST thing I ever did and continue to do.
What do you like most about your job?
I LOVE my JOB! I could not be more blessed to work for such an amazing organization and with the most amazing people. I love volunteering and giving back to the community. With this job I not only get to do all that, but I have an amazing life/work balance so that I can spend time with my 2-year-old son, Hunter, aka “The Lemon Prince”.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
My life right now! But honestly, a glass of wine (or two) with friends/my son at the beach during sunset. Utter beauty.
What is your greatest fear?
Something bad happening to my son. It took me five very long years to have him, and the thought of losing him terrifies me to my very core.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Living in Santa Barbara. In addition, my happy place is at the Bacara Resort & Spa. I try and take time to de-stress periodically so that I can be a better person and mother.
What is your current state of mind?
Pure exhaustion — being a single mom by choice takes its toll! But besides the Lemon Festival in Goleta, which is coming up in September, my most favorite time is Fiesta. I spent a few weeks back VIVA LA-ing with my friends and a 2-year-old in tow! Viva La!
What is the quality you most like in people?
Being able to communicate honestly. There will always be good and bad times, and you may agree or disagree, but having an open communication dialogue always makes things better and creates more solid friendships/relationships.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
I try to be as positive as possible and see the good in people, but when people are negative or find fault in everything or simply run away from difficult conversations, it’s very hard for me to respect them.
What do you most value in friends?
Loyalty. I am very lucky and beyond blessed to still be very close to my San Marcos High School girlfriends as well as some other long-term friends. I value the honesty and open communication we all have, and that no matter what they have my back. Even if I don’t speak frequently to some of them, there is not one that I could not call who wouldn’t help me out at a moment’s notice if I needed it.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would love to be able to sing because right now I cannot even sing in church without someone’s ears getting hurt.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Learning to say NO. I tend to do too much for others sometimes and forget that I need to take care of my own health and physical well-being. That is one thing I have been trying to change for a while, but for some reason, so far it hasn’t worked so well.
Where would you most like to live?
I am a born-and-raised local to Santa Barbara and have lived in and traveled to different places. Even though I worked for Club Med in exotic locations, Santa Barbara is and always will be the BEST place around. I am blessed to come back to my home in Goleta, and do not plan on leaving anytime soon.
What is your most treasured possession?
I have approximately 60 photo albums that I have carefully put together with all my memories. I even have them indexed so that I can easily find a memory when needed. My friends joke that one day I may need a separate room in my house just to store all the albums.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My friends! Since we have all known each other for so long there are many stories to reflect back on and help me remember to not take things too seriously and enjoy the journey.
What is your motto?
Live, love, and laugh at yourself as much as possible.
On what occasion do you lie?
Being a mom, I tend to have to do what I call “false truths” sometimes with my son. Nothing dramatic or anything, but it helps me to get him to do what I need him to do. Plus, I am a horrible liar and anyone can see right through me, unless they are 2 years old, of course.