By Katie Terou

SYV Star Intern

A longtime local resident ran a farm, traveled the world and raised three children before moving about four months ago to Atterdag Village in retirement.

Gretchen Kieding, 83, found her transition to be slow at first as she spent only two days a week there before eventually moving in full time. Leaving her home was difficult, but she knew it was time to make the move.

“I looked at this sea of old people and thought, ‘I don’t belong here,’” she said. “It’s hard for everybody to accept how old we are, but there comes a time when you have to move on … and make room for younger people to do their thing.”

She was born in Santa Ana but was raised in Santa Barbara County. She lived on a farm as a child, where she raised many animals for 4-H, including goats, rabbits and chickens. She continued to raise animals into her adult life.  

“We always had baby chicks and ducklings, so that was probably one of the best times, when we had all those baby animals,” she said.

She met her husband, Dick Kieding, at UCSB. They were in high school together but did not meet until both were at the same fraternity party in college.

“The guy that I was with was not being very nice to me, so Dick kind of took me under his wing, which was not good for his date — but it was good for me,” she recalled.

The pair traveled around the world for a while after they got married in 1956. Her husband was a financial advisor who visited international nonprofit organizations to determine if they were worth investing in for his job. She traveled to many different countries with her husband, including Nepal, Kenya and Mexico.

“I never went anywhere until I married him. Then we started traveling and we had a lot of great adventures,” Kieding said. “It opens up the world to you to have that.”

They eventually moved to the Santa Ynez Valley, where they bought a walnut orchard. The couple had three kids and raised them on the farm. She wanted to have several animals on the farm for the children to play with. 

“Where we lived … we had great big rocks, so the children and the goats would play king of the mountain on the rocks,” she recalled.

The move to Atterdag Village was sparked by her husband moving to Solvang Friendship House so he could get proper care for his Alzheimer’s disease. She said she wasn’t able to keep up with the farm anymore, and she wanted to give the farm to her children.

“I wanted them to have it, while they’re still young enough to be able to work the farm,” she explained.

Kieding has adjusted well since moving to the retirement home. She keeps busy with the various activities the center offers, including bocce, quiz games and a new pottery class. The supportive community of Atterdag Village has also eased her transition.

“It’s like we left our family behind and now we have a new family with more people,” she said.

She also brought several of her hobbies with her. She has always enjoyed making art, working with a variety of mediums such as sculpture and painting. There is even an easel in her bedroom so she can paint whenever she wants.

“I probably brought more hobbies with me than most people do,” she said. “I’ve always done a lot, so I can’t stand to not do it. At home, I still have a ceramic studio and I do stained glass, too.”

Kieding’s children come to visit her often, and once a week she gets to visit her husband. She also goes back home every now and then to work in the garden.

But she knows she has found a new home at Atterdag Village.

“It’s just so hard for people to make that transition. But, if I have to not be at home, this is a good place to be,” she said. “I’ve never been part of a community that’s as supportive as this is.”