From the time Maxi Decker was a little girl, the lovable Mickey Mouse character has played an important role in her life.
“Mickey was born in 1928, the year after I was,” said the 92-year-old Ms. Decker. “I was given a stuffed Mickey Mouse toy as a child, and I still have it. At the age of 6, I named my first horse Mickey Mouse.”
This past summer, the longtime Montecito resident revived her passion for the Disney character by painting his likeness on rocks and leaving them in locations around town where they can be found and taken home to keep.
On the back of each rock are the words, “Take me home.”
“I want them to be taken, especially by children,” she said. “I saw a little boy who picked one up and took it to his parents. He had the biggest smile on his face. It made my day.”
With the help of her good friend, Steve Hosey, Ms. Decker leaves her Mickey Mouse Trail Markers along the Hot Spring, Cold Spring, Rattlesnake and San Ysidro trails; on Butterfly Lane and Santa Clara Lane; and at Miramar Beach, both ends of the Biltmore Hotel, Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden, the Bird Refuge, Ortega Ridge and North and South Jameson Lanes.
“Some are placed on the ground, and others are placed in branches of trees or near shrubs,” said Ms. Decker, who starts with rocks she finds on her walks on the beach or near her home on Hot Springs Road in Montecito. “I look for ones that are about 6 to 8 inches. I can carry about three or four in my knapsack. I take them home and wash them off. Then I paint them with acrylic paint. Depending on the shape of the rock, there will be a picture of Mickey Mouse’s face or him standing up, running or trotting.”
So far she has painted about 75 of the likenesses in her garage studio and made many replacements.
“I want people to take them home. Jose Silva, one of the gardeners at the Biltmore, put one in the cactus garden at his home,” said Ms. Decker, adding that she has been “an artist forever. I did portraits of horses and other portraits along with sculptures of horses and family members.”
She was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, in a family with a father who was an Arabian horse breeder.
“He imported horses from all over the world. His business, Travelers Rest, was one of the largest in the country,” said Ms. Decker, the daughter of the late McGavock and Margaret Dickinson. “When I was 19, our family moved to Rancho Oso in Santa Ynez Valley. After a year, my dad moved back to Tennessee, but my mom stayed here with the family.”
Ms. Decker recalled in a 2009 letter to the News-Press that while married to Dr. Al Heimlich and living in Hope Ranch, she and her husband “rode out the back of Hope Ranch, ambled across the freeway … all the way to Camino Cielo, down the Old San Marcos Pass and back to Hope Ranch.”
She also remembered a men’s team and women’s team competing against each other in the main arena at Earl Warren Showgrounds in “an exciting sport known as Scoop Polo with basketball hoops and lacrosse-like scoops instead of goal posts and mallets.”
She rode in many horse shows and won dozens of ribbons.
After her divorce in 1960, Ms. Decker moved to her present home, and while married to Burton Decker, a well-known antique dealer in town, became the owner of four miniature horses who were a familiar sight around Montecito.
“I frequently took them to Casa Dorinda to visit the residents, and to Friendship Center and Transition House. Blackie, one of the ponies, would pull us in a basket cart to church on Sunday at All Saints. We tied him to a tree during the service,” said Ms. Decker, whose daughter Whitney Heimlich is admissions director at Santa Barbara Middle School.
A woman of many talents, Ms. Decker, who has two grandsons, also had a 30-year career as Maxi Maxwell, a country singer, and written six books “about my former lives.”
“One of the books is titled ‘Country Diva.’ I had wanted to be an opera singer. I was a music student at New York University and studied at the Music Academy of the West. I had a band, called California Express, and traveled across the country. I played guitar at the Coral Casino and San Ysidro Ranch,” said Ms. Decker. “Before Burt died, he was very helpful with my music career.”
Now, her focus is on making people smile, especially children, with her Mickey Mouse Trail Markers.
“I was born busy,” said the indefatigable nonagenarian who is 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighs around 100 pounds. “I love doing things. I’m not much of a sitter.”