Community Notes – The Mendocino Beacon
Elk Nonagenarian Series – ‘Rae Wisdom: Our Village Flower Fairy’
By Kristi Hahn with Melissa Hays
In September, Rae Wisdom became Elk’s newest 90. She threw a little party with friends at her charming century old home in blufftop north of Elk. Rae’s husband Dean, who died two years ago, was also a nineties featured in this column. “I felt my life really started when I met Dean; it was as if I had always known him. Before Dean, Rae grew up in Whitter, California, where his parents, who were excellent ballroom dancers, took Rae and his sister to local ballrooms. Their favorite was the Montebello Ballroom, about 20 minutes from their home. Rae and her sister watched their parents and the other dancers from the balcony until they learned to dance “the old fashioned way” around the age of 14. The ballrooms, which did not provide alcohol, each had their own orchestra.
After high school, Rae attended UC Berkeley, where she lived in an apartment owned by her aunt and uncle. She was not declared in her studies and was somewhat disappointed with the size and scope of the campus. During this time, she was at a friend’s wedding and received a bouquet as part of the wedding party. Back home, she took the bouquet apart to see how it was put together and felt after that, the flower arrangement was her calling. She left Cal and transferred to attend Abbott’s School of Modern Floristry in Anaheim. It was the start of a long career in floral and event design. Rae worked for several florists and eventually worked for a West Los Angeles business that threw big parties and weddings. Most of the clients were from the company, and some were in the film and television industry. Rae and his team have often reinvented entire gardens or transformed swimming pools into dance floors based on themes and guest wishes. She remembered a customer telling her, “I want the party to be like what I did. I am just like vanilla. The work was rewarding but also exhausting. It sometimes took Rae away from her family, and for that, she worried.
Rae met Dean (unsurprisingly) at the Huntington Park Ballroom. He had seen Rae refuse a dance with another guy but decided to ask him to dance anyway. She happily accepted Dean’s invitation, and it seemed like they were still together from that point on. Eventually they settled in Palos Verdes Estates and had two children, Gloria and Craig. His aunt and uncle first bought their Elk house in 1931, then bought by his parents, and finally bought by Rae and Dean. Rae had many family vacations here in Elk as a young girl and introduced him to Dean on their honeymoon while in Canada. It was a natural place for them to retire, and they did a lot of work adding some modern amenities and restoring “The Shanty” without disturbing its historic integrity. This is one of the original houses at the bottom of Cameron Road and was built in 1881. It is assumed that the Cameron family once owned it, as Archie Cameron told Rae he was born in the house. .
Rae says what makes Elk special to her are the people and the natural beauty, “You can grow some really good flowers here too,” that’s how Elk got to know Rae and his amazing talent with flowers. Rae’s good friend, Rabbani Kenyon, calls her a “flower fairy”. And that it is. Rae has brought elegance and beauty to the design and decoration of countless events through his tireless work with the Greenwood Civic Club, Greenwood Community Church and the Elk Volunteer Fire Department. Beyond that, Rae has also been a member of the civic club and community church for decades. When asked what she attributes her success and kindness to, she replies, “I don’t let things bother me and I always try to find the positive. However, I was surrounded by wonderful people, and it was a blessing. “
Today Rae shares her home with her son Craig and attends Kathy MacDonald’s weekly gentle yoga class. She also has her cat to keep her company. She and Dean have always had a cat. In fact, they received a Siamese as a wedding present. Rae says, “If I come back, it’ll be like a cat!”