By Robbie Kaye

Anna Wildling
Photo by Robbie Kaye

Anna Widling and her husband raised their family in Orcutt, but always thought about living in the Santa Ynez Valley. Three years ago they followed their hearts and have been living here ever since.

I had the honor of meeting Anna Widling at a luncheon for the Rona Barrett Foundation volunteers. Like a high-powered Lear jet, she “flew” into the luncheon from the Golden Village Inn, where she is the director of programs and wellness services.

Her passion about her work will, I hope, inspire some to join her on the crusade for making the world a better place for our beloved seniors.

LOV: What did you do before working with the Rona Barrett Foundation?

I was a stay-at-home mom to three wonderful children and we also had my parents in our home that I cared for. My daddy suffered from Alzheimer’s and my mom was a medical mess.  We moved them in with us in 1999.

My daddy passed away in November of 2005 and my mom passed away last year … .  Before I began the journey as a stay-at-home mom, I worked as a licensed surgical assistant in oral and maxillofacial plastic surgery and I also taught part-time for Alan Hancock College, teaching CPR and first aid.

When I left my position working in surgery, I decided to begin an in-home business; Creative Consulting Design.  I did event planning … I offered consulting, coordination, floral design, decorating, props, fabric draping, vocals and anything someone could come up with in their imagination they wanted to do. My motto was, “Turning your Dreams into a Reality.”

I soon became a private contractor to several resorts, one of which was The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort in Solvang.  I managed the River Grill for four years (and she eventually became director of guest relations).

I was still running my business on the side and I could see that something needed to give.  My time with the Alisal had to be shortened as my mom’s health was failing. I knew that I needed to be with her full-time. I took an extended leave of absence and once I did, I realized that my heart was not in it any longer.  … I knew that I wanted to redirect my energy to a different place, a place where my heart could do its best work.”

LOV: What attracted you to that position? 

Having taken care of my parents in our home had given me a wealth of knowledge and a passion for low-income seniors. My parents could not care for themselves and only survived on Social Security. Ms. Rona and I were completely in sync in our beliefs and I knew in the depths of my soul that this was truly my life’s calling.

LOV: What is the most rewarding thing about your job?

The most rewarding thing about my job is the joy I see on the faces of our residents. They now live in a beautiful, safe and caring place that they can call home. I receive endless hugs throughout the day. I absolutely love the seniors that I serve.

LOV: What is the most difficult thing about your job?

Knowing that life changes like the tides of the ocean. Most of our residents are here to age in place. We will be building “Harry’s House,” an assisted-living and memory care facility, and we will transition some of our residents to the facility. … It is bittersweet knowing that this is the last destination for this aging-in-place process.

LOV: What personal challenges have you had to overcome?

I think I am my worst critic, and that has been my biggest personal challenge. I always think that I could have done more, been more and given more. At some point I had to stop the negative self-talk and accept that while I am a perfectionist, I will never be perfect.

LOV: What is your favorite thing to do in the valley? 

I enjoy taking long walks with my husband. We walk all over Solvang, taking in the wonderful smells of fudge and fresh bread, and sometimes we make time to stop for a little wine tasting.

LOV: How do you find balance in your life?

I come home after a long day and share a nice dinner with my hubby, Alan. He is always interested in hearing about the goings-on of my day. My balance is my family. They keep me focused and grounded. We have three grown children and two beautiful grandchildren that live close by. They are my “happy place.”

LOV: Can you tell us something about your musical side?

I have been singing as long as I can remember. I began playing the flute in third grade and kept it going all through my school years. … I belonged to choir in school and also in my church. As an adult, I directed children, youth and adult choir and led many musicals.

LOV: Besides work, what are you passionate about?

I am passionate about my family. My grandson, Anthony, has Duchene Muscular Dystrophy and we are very involved with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Our son Michael has neurofibromatosis I, and we are also very involved with the Children’s Tumor Foundation.

LOV: Can you tell us something about you that not many people know?

I was in competitive swimming from a very young age, so swimming is a great joy to me. One of these days I would like to get my groove on again and join up with a masters swim team.

LOV: How can someone learn more about volunteer opportunities at the Golden Inn and Village?

They can contact me directly at 805-697-7605 or We are always looking for artists, musicians and speakers.

Photographer and fine artist Robbie Kaye is the author of “Beauty and Wisdom” and the documentary “Ladies of the Valley.” Her work c