When Anita Villegas moved to Woodlake from San Jose 42 years ago, she told her husband Manuel she was having second thoughts about living in such a small town.
“It was hard leaving my four sisters, but I made Manuel promise I could go back to visit once a month,” she said. “I even made a document and had him sign. Luckily, I’ve only had to use it once.”
Anita remembers the moment when she changed her mind. That first summer, Anita said a 13-year-old girl stopped at her home while her children were playing in the front yard. She introduced herself and offered to take all three of them (ages 5, 9 and 12) to the pool and introduce them to all the children. Anita was a little nervous, because she was never allowed to go anywhere in San Jose without an adult. Her husband, a Woodlake native, convinced her it was OK.
“The children came back and were so excited they had made friends,” Anita said. “Then they said there is no way they were ever moving back to San Jose.”
As part of the deal to allow the children to go to the pool, Anita told Manuel he had to buy a bicycle for each child. After the sticker shock wore off, Anita said her children were happier than ever.
“I never had a bicycle growing up,” she said. “They were able to ride across town and spread their wings. Woodlake was a wonderful place for my children to grow up.”
After selling her hair salon in San Jose, Anita went to work for Bank of America in Woodlake where Valley Business Bank is today. Anita retired from the bank after 24 years. Almost immediately after moving to town, a group of women invited Anita to join the Catholic family at St. Francis Cabrini Church, where she is a member and former president of the Catholic Women’s Club and a substitute religious education teacher. She also helps out at St. Mary’s with the Book Faire and Lady of Fatima Celebration.
“I didn’t know anyone in town and these women made me part of their family,” she said.
The church’s invitation turned into a lifetime of commitment to the Woodlake community. As her children grew up, Anita coached Little League for five years, was a time keeper for the TigerSharks youth swim team. At Woodlake High School she timed swim meets, helped with Sober Grad. While her children are grown, she continues be the Team Mom and Grandmother for WHS wrestling and serves on the PTA, helps with the WHS Foundation Spring Dinner and is Girl Scout Troop Leader who also sewed emblems on Woodlake Explorer Jackets.
“I love sports,” she said. “I am a huge fan of the New York Jets and the San Francisco Giants.”
In retirement, Anita has turned her attention to helping her peers – senior citizens. She volunteers her time to decorate for special events and set up for Bingo at the Woodlake Senior Center, organizes casino field trips for seniors. As a member of the Orange Blossom Quilt Guild, Anita makes lap quilts for women at the senior center in Visalia.
Anita brings liveliness and enthusiasm to every project. You can find her working the polls at election time, greeting every voter coming or going. She enjoys oil painting, arts and crafts, playing bingo, quilting and casino hopping!
“I don’t think I deserve this,” she said. “There are people here who work countless hours and volunteer more than I do. It takes a lot of people to make things run smoothly.”