“I had to find something that was important to Santa Barbara and to Fiesta, but that I could also speak about from the heart,” explains Denise Sanford about this year’s Old Spanish Days’ theme, “Celebrate Traditions.”
As this year’s La Presidenta, Denise is the leader of the 94th edition of Santa Barbara’s most enduring cultural festival, commonly just called Fiesta. She acknowledges the importance of this year’s event after the recent tragedies, and felt that the theme needed to be hopeful. “Fiesta shows the resilience of our community,” she shares. “We need to have something to look forward to.”
After 16 years on the Old Spanish Days board, Denise was tapped for the top role. “I don’t like to be in the limelight, but at a certain point, it’s about the organization,” she says. “It’s an honor to do it, and this year is more important than ever.”
Denise is a VP and community banking manager for Community West Bank and is active in several nonprofit boards around Santa Barbara. “I pick nonprofits that mean a lot to me,” she says. For instance, Denise volunteers for the American Cancer Society because she’s lost too many friends to the disease and is part of the American Heart Association’s Circle of Red because her dad suffered a heart attack.
Becoming the president of Fiesta is a three-year process. The first step is becoming the second vice president, which puts you in charge of fundraising, and then comes being the first vice president, in charge of operations. “We all mentor each other,” she says.
For many years, Denise was heavily involved with the dancers, watching their rehearsals closely. But this year, the dances will be a complete surprise for La Presidenta. She’s also be atop a horse in the parade this year, explaining, “I’ve been seriously learning how to ride.”
Denise emphasizes how visitors from around the world plan their vacations to attend Old Spanish Days. Coincidentally, as we finish our lunch, Anne Rizzoli, the owner of Louie’s, tells us that her family is flying in from Italy for the festivities. Viva La Fiesta, indeed!
Denise Sanford answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your greatest extravagance?
That would be the dresses I have made each year for Fiesta. I have grown obsessed in recent years of looking at photos and having my dressmaker try to re-create them from a photo.
What is your current state of mind?
At this moment, as we get closer to the week of Fiesta, I’m amazed at how fast time has gone and in a few short weeks Fiesta will be over. I’ve had so much fun and have met so many new people and made so many new friends.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
That is easy: my two boys, Connor, 25, and Kirby, 23. There is nothing I’ve done or could do to top the achievement of being a mother and raising two incredible men.
What do you like most about your job?
Being able to meet and help a variety of people in our community. I am blessed to work for an employer who allows me to fulfill my passions in our communities as well as supporting them.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Knowing that my children and family are healthy and happy. And a spa day.
What is your greatest fear?
Losing one of my children.
Who do you most admire?
I don’t have a particular person I admire. I admire people who are strong, caring, and will make sure they lift people up at all times.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Honesty. I would rather be told the truth and deal with what that looks like, good or bad, rather than wonder what’s behind a lie.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Dishonesty and lack of integrity.
What do you most value in friends?
Loyalty. The people who are the closest to me are the most loyal and the ones I know I can trust 100%. A very small circle.
What is your most marked characteristic?
That I look like Candice Bergen.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Probably ones that can’t be printed.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I could sing well. I say “well” as a friend once told me when I told her I couldn’t sing, “Denise, you can sing you just don’t sing well.”
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Being afraid of failing. I suppose I would have tried to be a bigger risk taker in certain aspects of my life and been more assertive.
Where would you most like to live?
That is a tough question as I could live anywhere. I love the beach, I love the mountains, I love big cities. They all have something different to offer. I wouldn’t want to live too far from where family is.
What is your most treasured possession?
I actually have four. My grandmother gave me a diamond cross necklace along with a strand of pearls with a letter she wrote about how she came to get them before I got married. They were special gifts given to her by my grandfather, who passed away when I was a baby so I never got to meet him.
Another treasured possession is my other grandmother’s sterling silverware, and, lastly, my most recent treasured possession is a diamond necklace my late father had designed and made for my mother one Christmas as a surprise. She knew how much I loved what my father had done for her and how beautiful the necklace was she gifted it to me recently at Christmas.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My brother, who has the driest sense of humor of anyone I’ve ever met, and my older son, Connor, who has made me laugh his whole life.
What is your motto?
Unfortunately, it’s not one I would want published.
On what occasion do you lie?
I will always lie not to hurt someone’s feelings unless the truth would add value. I once heard if what you have to say doesn’t bring value to someone, you shouldn’t tell them the truth about whatever it is.