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1986 El Presidente Bill Redding Reflects on Year Santa Barbara’s Fiesta Was Almost Canceled

Hit with a spike in insurance premiums that threatened to shut down the festivities, Old Spanish Days’ leader saved the day by changing the way it was funded

Former El Presidente Bill Redding is flanked by fellow El Presidentes, the late Dennis Rickard, at left, and Cas Stimson at a 2014 Old Spanish Days event in Santa Barbara.
Former El Presidente Bill Redding is flanked by fellow El Presidentes, the late Dennis Rickard, at left, and Cas Stimson at a 2014 Old Spanish Days event in Santa Barbara. (Fritz Olenberger / Old Spanish Days file photo)

This year’s Old Spanish Days celebration marks 30 years since Bill Redding served as El Presidente during one of the most tumultuous terms in Santa Barbara’s Fiesta history. That year, 1986, his leadership skills and ingenuity were sorely tested when unexpectedly high insurance costs threatened to shut down the annual festivities.

Redding and his wife, Sylvia, moved to Santa Barbara from Syracuse, N.Y., in the 1960s. A former Marine and lead technician for General Electric, his involvement in the community began when a colleague asked him to join his financial services brokerage, and his range of area activities only grew from there.

“I wasn’t interested in the ordinary pastimes,” Redding, now 81, told Noozhawk. “There were other things that needed me to dedicate some time away from ordinary work activities.

“I got invited to organizations and after a couple meetings, when I began to understand how it worked, I’d make a suggestion.”

True to his word, Redding has been very involved with many South Coast organizations over the decades, including the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Museum & Library, the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce.

He is best known, however, for his involvement with the Lions Club. The international service organization aims to help communities with programs focusing on sight and hearing, students’ public speaking and more.

Several members of the Lions Club were also on the board of Old Spanish Days, which jump-started Redding’s participation. He served as an Old Spanish Days board member for five years before becoming a candidate for El Presidente.

“One of my hallmarks is that leadership has always come naturally to me, ever since high school,” remarked Redding, a trait that he credits for his success with Old Spanish Days as well as with other organizations.

Now 81, Bill Redding served as El Presidente of Old Spanish Days in 1986. If given the chance, he says, he would still “go to every Fiesta meeting.” Click to view larger
Now 81, Bill Redding served as El Presidente of Old Spanish Days in 1986. If given the chance, he says, he would still “go to every Fiesta meeting.” (Old Spanish Days file photo)

Redding was elected El Presidente in 1986, but his time in the “oficina” wouldn’t be easy. Six months before Fiesta, Old Spanish Days board members were attempting to purchase liability insurance when they discovered the rates had skyrocketed as the result of a car accident during the festival the previous year.

The Fiesta budget was not equipped to handle the unexpected spike, forcing many to question whether the celebration would even be possible.

“The new quote we heard for liability insurance premium was $100,000,” Redding recalled in a recent interview at his home near San Marcos High School. “Our usual budget for liability insurance was below $5,000 and there were all kinds of opinions throughout the community.

“At this time, all my leadership instincts were telling me ‘no.’ There’s a thing to be done and it’s going to be done. I’m not just going to walk away.”

But Old Spanish Days needed quick cash, and a lot of it. Determined not to let Fiesta be canceled, Redding took charge and suggested the organization pursue sponsorships.

Other “leaders of the community were shy about advertising and I wasn’t at all,” he laughed.

The change of plans heralded a new era for Old Spanish Days. That year marked the first time Fiesta had relied on corporate sponsors, and the tradition has continued ever since.

Bill Redding, who served as El Presidente in 1986, poses with “Saint Barbara” Rene Longo at a 2014 Old Spanish Days event. Click to view larger
Bill Redding, who served as El Presidente in 1986, poses with “Saint Barbara” Rene Longo at a 2014 Old Spanish Days event. (Fritz Olenberger / Old Spanish Days file photo)

Once word got out, sponsors and donations flooded in to aid the beloved celebration. The biggest contribution came from David Nancarrow, owner of Carrows Restaurants.

Old friends of Redding’s, Nancarrow and then-City Administrator Richard Thomas were having lunch when the conversation shifted to Fiesta and the budget struggles. A few hours later, Redding received a call from Nancarrow’s office, saying the company wanted to help.

With the money raised and cancellation averted, 1986 was an exceptionally good year for Old Spanish Days, Redding recalled. As a result of the publicity Fiesta received, more spectators than usual flocked to watch and participate in the events.

Redding doesn’t get out as much these days. Nearly 10 years ago he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis — a family of debilitating lung diseases that scar the lungs and make it difficult to breathe.

Although he spends most of his days at home, he reflects fondly on his time with Fiesta.

Given the chance, Redding says, he would “go to every Fiesta meeting. I’m not in shape to participate in any of the Fiesta activities anymore, which I did wholeheartedly.”

Old Spanish Days Fiesta begins Wednesday and festivities continue through Aug. 7. Click here for more information.

Noozhawk intern Sarah Scarminach can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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