Column: Deborah Szekely publishes a book on the occasion of her 100th birthday

It’s amazing to reach 100 years old.

It’s even more breathtaking to have founded a legendary spa resort, created a museum honoring “new Americans”, developed a residential community, and written a book that is published on your 100th birthday.

But then Deborah Szekely (pronounced say-kay) has been inspiring others with her energy, ideas and tireless entrepreneurial spirit for decades.

Since she and her late husband, Edmond, an academic, lecturer and healthy living advocate, founded a wellness getaway 82 years ago in Tecate, just below the US border in Mexico, she is in motion.

This enclave, started as a rustic summer health camp with guests bringing their own tents and paying only $17.50 a week if they helped with household chores, later became known as Rancho La Puerta. . It was recently announced by Travel + Leisure readers as the #1 international destination spa in 2021.

In the introduction to her book, Szekely credits her husband for being an inspirational guru and mentor. She was the worker bee. “From the age of 18, I ran the day-to-day operations, making sure everyone was fed and housed,” she wrote. This included their herd of goats.

“I was the manager, the chef and the bottle washer. I was going from one task to another all day. Hence the title of his 6 inch by 6 inch book, “100 Lessons From a Grasshopper.”

In her foreword, Szekely explains that she never actually wrote the content – ​​she verbalized it! Over the years, the wellness pioneer has made short jokes and observations in lectures and speeches that have intrigued and amused two of her Rancho La Puerta employees, Rob Larson and Peter Jensen. They began noting them as “Deborah-isms”.

She continues her 40-year tradition of giving weekly talks at the “Ranch,” though she says it’s now more of a Q&A. She doesn’t strive to tell people how to live their lives, she says, but rather pushes them to think.

Her book, with its symbolic leafy green cloth cover, is not just a collection of healthy living advice, but an environmental fundraiser. Proceeds from book sales and birthday donations will go to a tree planting campaign, Our green umbrella, to bring shade to parks and neighborhoods in the drought-stricken city of Tecate.

“Instead of a bench or a plaque or a wrapped gift for my 100th birthday on May 3 this year, I just want trees,” she said. His goal is also to buy an $80,000 truck to water them.

And, of course, there’s a 100th anniversary party. Instead of showcasing the Ranch’s all-natural cuisine, the Ranch, with an expected 1,300 attendees, celebrates the Tecate community with a focus on local restaurants, chefs and musicians.

Rancho La Puerta and the more upscale Golden Door, which Szekely founded in San Marcos in 1958 and later sold, are her most visible legacies but, exemplifying her grasshopper mentality, she jumped from project to project and career. in career.

From 1984 to 1991, Szekely served as president of the Inter-American Foundation, a US agency that awards millions of grants to promote community development in Latin America and the Caribbean. Szekely calls it “one of the highlights of my life” – a “mind-expanding experience” that has seen her work in every country in the Latin America region except Cuba. .

In 1991, Szekely created Eureka Communities, a national training program for nonprofit leaders and CEOs. In 2008, she established what is now called the New Americans Museum & Immigration Learning Center at Liberty Station.

Szekely has long embraced diversity, writing, “I am a Jewish Zen Buddhist whose best friends are a Catholic nun and a Swedish Lutheran.

When asked in an interview what three accomplishments in her life she is most proud of, without hesitation, she starts with her daughter, Sarah Livia Szekely Brightwood, who now manages Rancho La Puerta. “The future of the Ranch is in her hands,” Szekely says, “and she’s doing a wonderful job.” (The only thing Szekely regrets is not having a big family.)

Second, she points to the publication of “Setting Course: A Congressional Management Guide,” a practical manual for first-year US legislators. It was first funded by Szekely and written at his request by 12 retired congressional chiefs of staff.

The guide, now in its 17th edition, was born out of the businesswoman’s frustration years ago when she ran for Congress and couldn’t find a reference book explaining the how Congress works and what is expected of a legislator.

Third, the creation of the Ranch and Golden Door which, she proudly points out, employs nearly 800 people.

As for her secret to longevity, she credits good diet, sleep, and exercise, but, more importantly, her Pollyanna attitude that things will work out.

She discusses aging in her book. “Getting old is a gift so many others have been denied. Why simmer and worry about another birthday?” Also, “If you kept your mind sharp, you won’t stop thinking your body is 100.”

She can’t believe she’s 100 years old. “I still walk a mile every day.” Now, however, she uses a walker because she has broken her hip twice.

She plans trips to New York and Washington, DC, to sightsee and visit friends. And she still spends two days a week at Rancho La Puerta, with no intention of retiring completely. “What would I do with myself? »

Her top three life tips are to do good, surround yourself with smarter people, and cultivate a few best friends.

But the overriding lesson of the spa maven is, “Keep jumping. Your life will be more enjoyable and never boring.

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