Lia Parker dies, leaving Santa Barbara her rich history of community service
Lia Parker, the first Spirit of Fiesta, has left Santa Barbara a legacy that inspired future generations.
Ms. Parker, who resided at Garden Court in Santa Barbara in recent years, died last weekend. She was 88.
“She was very special to Old Spanish Days,” La Presidente Maria Cabrera told the News-Press Tuesday. “I am sure we will be looking at how to honor her (at Fiesta).”
Ms. Parker served as the Spirit of Fiesta in 1949, 1950 and 1951,
“At the time, there was no auditions,” Mrs. Cabrera said, noting Ms. Parker accepted the role offered to her and became a role model for the Spirits who followed.
“The Spirits that we have had were based on her and how she conducted herself in the community,” Mrs. Cabrera said. “In the photos from the past, she’s always smiling. She has a beautiful pose. You’re looking at a great, beautiful Spirit.”
She was honored as grand marshal of the Fiesta Parade in 2019 as part of the 70th anniversary of Old Spanish Days.
At the time, Ms. Parker told the News-Press that it was an honor to be chosen grand marshal and noted her mother, an Italian immigrant and enthusiastic lover of Fiesta, would have been thrilled to see her chosen.
“I’m glad for my mother’s sake because it meant so much to her,” Ms. Parker said during the 2019 News-Press interview.
Ms. Parker recalled how she became the first Spirit back in 1949.
“My mom said something like, ‘You’re going to be Spirit of Fiesta.’ It was like three days before the big parade … They sprung it on me, and I didn’t have a dress. I had to borrow a dress that belonged to an adult, and that was a huge deal for a 12-year-old.”
Ms. Parker said dancing in the parade was fun but challenging.
She told the News-Press what she learned from her experience as Spirit of Fiesta.
“You learn not to think of yourself, you learn to think of other people,” she said. “You really are a symbol for something, and it just forces you out of your own little cubby hole, and that’s very important to anybody.”
Mrs. Cabrera talked to the News-Press Tuesday about Ms. Parker’s life as an adult.
“She went to New York and danced and eventually came back to the Santa Barbara area and took care of her parents and continued to be a caregiver. She loved taking care of others. Eventually she moved into Garden Court.”
And it was there, at Garden Court, that Ms. Parker reconnected with Fiestas in 2013 when a woman at the retirement home overheard her say she was the first Spirit of Fiesta. The woman’s daughter was that year’s Spirit of Fiesta, and Ms. Parker attended the auditions during which Sophia Cordero, then 16, was named Spirit of Fiesta, and Paloma Valenzuela, then 10, was chosen the Junior Spirit.
Mrs. Cabrera shared her memories of Ms. Parker.
“She was a very beautiful lady, a very quiet lady,” Mrs. Cabrera said. I remembered a couple years ago, we had a sash made for her.”
During this year’s Fiesta, Los Ninos de las Flores — flower girls — visited Mrs. Cabrera at Garden Court and posed for a photo with her. She effortlessly wore the gracious smile that has long been a defining part of her legacy.