Montecito Moms… in Motion

Raising Kids and Keeping a Full Calendar Are Each Full Time Jobs. Meet Five Montecito Women Who Do Both.

“Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels,” Ambassador Faith Whittlesey once said.

In Montecito, you may find more women wearing designer sweats than high heels, but don’t get the impression that there is anything laidback about the average mom. After all, this community that attracts über A-list women, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Montecito Mom is an overachiever as well. These women wear many hats in their lives – wife, mother, chauffeur, cook, tutor, coach, volunteer – and yet still find time to do ultra-marathons, play golf or at least squeeze a kickboxing class in their crammed calendar.

The skills used to organize staff meetings and manage employees at work are now being used to organize PTA meetings and manage sports teams. Some are full-time moms, while others continue to work while raising their children.

Kathi King, Laura Wyatt, Michelle Greer, Lucia Engel and Melinda Werner cover the broad spectrum of what it’s like to be a Montecito Mom.

Kathi King

Her story is filled with irony. Kathi King went from being associate producer for the TV sitcom “Full House” to having a full house of her own.

She started out with a degree in telecommunications and film with an emphasis in television production from San Diego State University in 1985. In 1988, she got a job in production management at Lorimar Productions and was production administrator on such legendary shows as “Dallas,” “Knots Landing” and “Falcon Crest.” She trained new production staff and oversaw written reports from coordinators and assistant directors. In 1989, she was promoted to associate producer on “Full House,” another Lorimar show. For three seasons, she oversaw the post-production process, from the end of taping to network delivery. Managing a staff of more than 20 people, she was responsible for staying within the $250,000 per episode budget on 24 episodes per season. She left the show in 1993 when her daughter, Miranda, was born.

“It was constant motion, multitasking and eighty-hour work weeks,” Kathi says of “Full House.” “It was exciting, exhausting and basically excellent training for parenting.”

Kathi has been on Montecito Union School’s PTA board since 2002 and is currently finishing a two-year term as president. In her time, she’s been involved with several programs and fundraisers, co-chairing the “That’s Amore” evening benefit in 2006. She’s also on Montecito Union’s GATE Committee, Wellness Committee and is the PTA Board representative to the Montecito Educational Foundation.

“My fast-paced job (in TV) has proven a very good background for my volunteering,” Kathi explains. “I've had to call on my management, budgeting and people skills in various combinations for all the different volunteer positions I've held. It has been fulfilling to use my background, work with like-minded parents and help my children's schools achieve their fundraising goals.”

These “volunteer hats,” as she calls them, have also prepared Kathi as she’s transitioning back into work mode. Now that her children are older – 14 and 10 – she’s been taking environmental studies courses at Santa Barbara City College and just finished a sustainability workshop in which her class project was to propose to the Santa Barbara City Council a ban on polystyrene (Styrofoam) containers. After she and her team gave a PowerPoint presentation on May 15, the council voted unanimously to move the proposal to committee and bring it back in coming months.

“As a parent, I'm passionate about working to save the environment,” says Kathi, “and help create a more sustainable world for future generations.”

Laura Wyatt

Her plan to show her son Spenser how good he had it in Montecito almost backfired. When Laura Wyatt’s son turned 9, she and her husband, Geof, took Spenser to Israel, South Africa, Guatemala and Mexico to gain global perspective, a lesson she learned from her parents growing up.

“We tried to emphasize to Spenser that he is a fortunate young man, and that he also has responsibilities to give back to those less fortunate,” Laura remembers. “There is no way to explain to children about the vastness of the world, the differences in people’s lives and how fortunate we are unless they see it for themselves.”

But when the family reached the Dead Sea, Israeli troops began to fill the area. The terrorist group, Hezbollah, had kidnapped some Israeli soldiers and bombings had begun. Rockets hit the city of Tiberias just a day after the Wyatts had placed a visit.

“Warplanes and helicopters flew non-stop above us,” Laura recalls. “We were getting e-mails and phone calls from friends and relatives urging us to get out. The war was all over the news and the topic of everyone’s conversation. We were trying to hide it from Spenser so he wouldn’t be scared, but he asked me directly one day: ‘Is there a war going on?’”

Life in Montecito may be less dangerous for Laura, but it keeps her busy. She has worked for several companies and in multiple fields: music (Capitol, IRS and Virgin Records); software (Time Warner Interactive, Meta Tools); and public relations (Davies Communications and QAD). When she had Spenser, Laura gradually put her professional life in the backseat, a decision she recalls didn’t come without hesitation.

“I had worked all my life starting at age fourteen,” she says. “When I decided to stop working, I found it very difficult. I didn't know what to say when people asked what I did. Homemaker and housewife all get greeted with the same condescending answer, ‘Oh that is the toughest job in the world.’”

She overcame this problem by continuing to fill up her calendar. She serves as vice president of the Cold Spring School Board and will be running the school’s lunch program next year. She is on the school’s master plan committee, was on the bond committee last year and will again serve on the committee next year. That’s in addition to helping out on the annual jog-a-thon, the spring fundraiser, doing slideshows for the school and coaching Spenser’s baseball team for the past five years.

“I am busier now than when I worked,” says Laura. “The only difference is I don't get paid for the various things I do.”

Michelle Greer

She learned very early on in her life about courage and determination. Michelle Greer’s mother, Maria Segal, is a Holocaust survivor who left home when she was 7, when her own mother told her, “You are the only one who will survive – we will all die.”

These lessons about perseverance were of help when Michelle recently completed Santa Barbara’s Nine Trails race – 35 miles of running and 10,150 feet of climbing – but they were also of service several years prior.

Accomplished in her schooling background (Whitman and Harvard colleges) and her career in human resources, Michelle has cut down her work life to make more time for family and community services. Up until last year, she was still commuting to the Bay Area to work, but is now firmly based in Santa Barbara.

“I have always been involved in multiple things at once,” she says. “It was more challenging when I was working full time, which I did until 2002. When I cut back on my hours, I was able to add more volunteer activities.”

In addition to raising two children, Isabella and Alex, Michelle works with her husband, Scott, in their venture capital firm, Numenor Ventures. They invest in various companies in Santa Barbara and the Bay Area. She also serves on the boards of two local companies, TESS and Nutricate, and does private consulting.

“I tend to become the most involved in human resource issues as that is my background,” she says. “I also specialize in executive coaching and management training.”

Michelle’s community service involvement includes board membership for Santa Barbara Symphony, where she serves on the governance and administrative/human resource committees and does harassment prevention training for the symphony board and staff. This fall, she’ll be co-chairing the Laguna Blanca Jog-a-thon and will also help with a variety of other parent club activities at Laguna. She is also a founding member of the Community Angels Network and KISS (Kids in Social Service).

“One of the most fun things I do is attending my children’s games and meets – they are involved in cross-country, soccer, tennis and lacrosse,” says Michelle. “There’s nothing better than watching them play and compete.”

Lucia Engel

Remember that mom who always had room for one more kid in her car? That’s Lucia Engel.

“My mother was a full-time mom and always had the station wagon full of kids,” says Lucia. “I think I get that from her, always entertaining kids.”

Lucia, who was born and raised in Peru, says she began mowing lawns when she was 10 years old and hasn’t stopped working since. She came to the U.S. to attend college when she was 19 and graduated from the University of Houston with an international business degree.

When she was 24, Lucia got a job as an institutional bond broker with Amherst Securities in Texas. After working there for almost eight years, she and her husband, Doug, moved to California. She went on to work with Cantor Fitzgerald, which gained worldwide attention when it lost two-thirds of its workforce in the 9/11 attacks.

”I was not employed by Cantor at the time of 9/11, but knew of some of the fixed income traders that had passed away,” she said.

For Lucia, working with bonds soon gave way to raising babies, once her children – Francesca (8), Jacob (6) and Joshua (2) – were born.

”When I had Francesca and Jacob, Amherst Securities gave me the flexibility to work from my house so I could have the chance to be with my bambinos,” says Lucia, “and that still is the case with Joshua and Cantor Fitzgerald. Now I just have to wake up a little earlier.”

Lucia also does kickboxing, plays tennis and runs the stadium steps at Santa Barbara City College. She finds time to help out at Montecito Union in her daughter’s class as a math tutor (Lucia’s favorite subject) and her son’s class as a room parent. She also volunteers at Cesar Chavez in the art program, fulfilling her mother’s legacy of mixing fun with social responsibility.

“I don't know if it was the schooling that prepared me to juggle things,” says Lucia. “I think it was my mother always telling me I was capable of doing anything I wanted to do.”

Melinda Werner

Looking unusually fit and well rested after giving birth to her fourth child last year, she is living testimony to those who juggle a large family and outside commitments. Melinda Werner’s initial journey up the corporate ladder prepared her for being a mom who now drives her kids to sports events. A strict and loving upbringing is what gave her the values she treasures most.

“My parents came from the Philippines to further their education,” she explains. “They went to USC and UCLA and were die-hard fans. My upbringing was a typical Asian one, which emphasized education, working hard and, above all, the importance of a close family.”

Before she became a full-time mom, Melinda worked at the insurance corporation CIGNA Companies on the management track and she climbed her way up. She and her husband, Tim, now invest in and develop real estate, building residential apartments and homes in Isla Vista. They continue to own, rent out and manage the properties. About 10 years ago, they bought a piece of property in East Beach and developed it into six condominium units. It became a vacation rental business called Villa Elegante.

“At first, I worked my insurance job and ran our vacation rental business at the same time,” says Melinda. “But after our first daughter was born, I cut back to running the vacation rental business only.” Three more kids later, Tim now does the bulk of the work.

“We’re blessed because being self-employed has really allowed me to be hands-on with our children and our community,” says Melinda.

While her kids have attended Montecito Union, Melinda has been vice president of the PTA, she’s been chair of various fundraisers and last year she worked on the Montecito Union School/YMCA campaign. But most recently, she’s worked harder on saying ‘no’ more often, a word she admits “doesn't suit my personality.”

So, she still helps in her kids’ classrooms as a room mom and is currently a volunteer for two children-based charities, Storyteller and Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation.

“My life hasn't changed very much since I stopped working,” she says. “Only the details and players have changed. Back then, I juggled a schedule of meetings with clients and getting to court on time. Now, my schedule is full of play dates, birthday parties and after-school activities.”

Next up for Melinda is passing on the values she received from her own upbringing.

“The gift I want to pass on to my children is that you need to work hard at whatever you do,” she explains. “You should never take the ‘backseat’ and you should always be the best that you can be.”