Staff Report


The Solvang Theaterfest board has elected Chris Nielsen as its new chairman.

A financial advisor and certified financial planner with Edward Jones, Nielsen joined the board in 2013.

The Solvang native’s local ancestry goes back 100 years. His grandfather C.V. Nielsen founded Nielsen Building Materials in 1948.

Chris Nielsen graduated from Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in 1980 and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1985.

His domestic assignments included California, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.  Internationally, he saw active duty in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, and in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia.

He met wife Diane while stationed at Camp Pendleton in the mid-1990s. They have three children, twin sons Kyle and Ben and daughter Gillian. With his children of pre-school age as he approached his 20th anniversary in the military, and wanting them to grow up in the Santa Ynez Valley, Nielsen retired in 2006 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Nielsen’s professional transition was almost serendipitous. After settling back in the valley with his family, he met with a financial advisor who suggested that this could be the ideal second career for the retired Marine.

“I’d always been interested as a personal investor, and I had a lot of management and budget experience from the military,” Nielsen said.

In addition to Solvang Theaterfest, he serves on the boards of the Vikings of Solvang, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Benevolent Posse, Solvang Lutheran Home Endowment Fund, and Solvang Lutheran Home Inc.

Knowing the impact the theater has add on his community for the last four decades, Nielsen called his board “energized” about the future.  “We’re taking steps to insure we have another 40 years,” he said.

Solvang Theaterfest is a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) corporation that owns, operates and maintains Solvang Festival Theater.

For more information, contact Executive Director Mary Ann Norbom at 805-686-1789 or