Dona Santo: Cross-Stitching and Horse Racing

September 7, 2018

Dona Santo #222Three picture frames flank either side of Dona Santo’s apartment door, two on the right, one on the left – nothing terribly exciting. At least, not at first glance.

Friendly and soft-spoken, Dona does not describe her life as anything too wild. She was born in San Francisco in 1934 and lived most of her life in the City. As a true San Franciscan, Dona recalls the biggest difference between the modern San Francisco and the city she grew up in is security.

“We never used to lock the door,” Dona says, adding, “I can’t imagine anyone doing that now.”

Like the entry to her home, Dona’s story unravels only upon closer inspection. She was raised in the Richmond District by Scottish parents, graduated from high school, and worked as a secretary at Crocker National Bank and UCSF before she got married, but he r first marriage wasn’t meant to be. It was only after meeting her second husband, one she would keep for 48 years until his passing, did Dona settle comfortably into life. Their lifelong courtship introduced Dona to another lifelong love: horse racing.

Dona’s husband worked as a horse jockey in New York. “There’s a picture of him,” Dona says, pointing to the wall where a black-and-white photograph of a man on a horse racing track hangs. She speaks of their shared love for race tracks, and recalls going to the old Bay Meadows track, a legendary Bay Area racing venue that opened in 1934 and operated continuously until its closing in 2008. “It’s too bad they don’t have one here anymore,” Dona laments.

But Dona didn’t just enjoy her husband’s races  from afar – she worked at the tracks as well, holding a long-time position within the group sales department. When the pair retired, their adventures didn’t end either. With racing in the rear-view mirror, they opted for a much more relaxing form of movement: traveling.

Dona and her husband visited such far-flung places as Alaska, South America, Paris, Italy, and the Panama Canal, to name a few. They also logged many hours on the open seas. “We did a lot of cruises, too,” she says.

When her husband passed away in 2012, Dona continued to live in their Foster City home until six months ago, when she moved into Sterling Court. Fortunately, her two children Susan and Matthew, are local to the area.

Dona had always loved knitting and cross-stitching, considering both life-long hobbies. However, due to vision impairment, she hasn’t joined the Sterling Crafters – a club where she would have certainly felt right at home. But Dona still makes the most of her new life. When she’s not attending lectures at Sterling Court, she listens to audio books and socializes with her fellow neighbors.

“There’s always something to do,” Dona says, adding, “and everyone is really nice.”

The three frames that flank either side of Dona’s door have come into focus. The right wall holds two archival documents that mark her parents’ migration from Scotland to San Francisco. The left holds a beautiful cross-stitched cloth with patterns and “The Quilting” spelled out along the bottom. Much like her walls on first impression, Dona’s life may not seem that exhilarating. But with a closer look, anyone can see that it has been filled with art and adventure.

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