“Godmother of Wellness” Deborah Szekely, Visionary Founder of Rancho La Puerta, Honored on her 100th Birthday!

Rancho La Puerta, a pioneering leader of the wellness-fitness movement, is named #1 International Destination Spa by Travel + Leisure magazine.

When my dear, longtime friend Deborah Szekely, founder of the world-renowned Rancho La Puerta Wellness Resort and Spa in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico, sent an invitation to her 100th birthday celebration, I booked my flight immediately.

For the occasion of Deborah’s birthday, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria proclaimed “Deborah Szekely Day” in honor of the health and wellness visionary, philanthropist, and community leader.

Deborah Szekely celebrated her 100th birthday at Rancho La Puerta, which she and her husband co-founded in Baja California, Mexico in the 1940s.


In 1940, Deborah Szekely (pronounced ZAY-kay), dubbed “the Godmother of Wellness,” together with her husband, Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, founded a rustic retreat they called Rancho La Puerta. There, they pioneered the balanced mind/body/spirit fitness movement. (She later founded the exclusive Japanese-inspired The Golden Door Spa in California.)

Deborah greeting her guests at Rancho La Puerta reception’s stained-glass Firebird Wings doors, designed by renowned artist, sculpture, and glass-maker James Hubbell.

The motto of “The Ranch,” as we regular guests call it, is Siempre mejor (Spanish for “Always better”)—and it always is.  Rancho La Puerta Fitness Resort and Spa has been voted the #1 International Destination Spa by Travel + Leisure magazine for the past three years, and Conde Nast Traveler has called it “Best in Mexico.”

How thrilling for Deborah to see what 80 years of dedication from herself and her family—who still own and operate The Ranch—has achieved.


Rancho La Puerta is Mexico’s top destination spa and retreat. Tucked at the foot of Mt. Kuchamaa, a sacred mountain of the indigenous Kumeyaay Native American tribe, The Ranch is an hour’s drive from San Diego and just a 10-minute ride over Mexico’s northern border.   

A spa break is a great way to physically and emotionally rejuvenate. For decades, guests have arrived at The Ranch to relax, refresh, renew, take mountain hikes, exercise, and enjoy the numerous wellness activities that are available from morning to night. Along with myriad opportunities to do your own thing during the day, The Ranch offers the conviviality of sharing dinner and stories in the evening.

Just south of the border in Tecate, Mexico, The Ranch offers year-round perfect clear skies and 70- and 80-degree days.

Scattered throughout The Ranch are idyllic spots to enjoy nature and scenic views of the rocky 3,885-foot Mt. Kuchumaa, a sacred spot for the Kumeyaay people.


Accommodating up to 150 weekly guests, The Ranch boasts a return rate of over 85%, many of whom—men and women of all ages, mothers and daughters, couples and groups of friends—come year after year.

Some solo visitors see it as a safe haven where they can be alone or with others as they choose. The loyal staff of over 400—some of whom are 40-year veterans whose children and even grandchildren work at The Ranch—creates a “family” atmosphere where guests feel at home.

Luminary visitors have included Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, William Buckley, Milton Friedman, Bill Moyers, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The list is long and impressive!

Guests enjoy the winding paths, ancient oak groves, chaparral and flora, olive groves, cactus, native plants, and fragrant herb beds of sage, lavender, lemon verbena, and rosemary.


The Ranch sits on 4,000 majestic acres with 40 miles of hiking trails, 32 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, a six-acre organic farm, and La Cocina Que Canta (“The Kitchen that Sings”), a world-class cooking school, plus multiple spas, a library, a museum, and fitness facilities.

Directional signs on the property help guests navigate around The Ranch’s 4,000 acres, where nature surrounds you.

The Veranda, adjacent to the main lounge, is a lovely and quiet spot to read, relax, or meet up with friends.

The main lounge, open 24 hours, is where guests gather to meet for hikes, enjoy snacks and juice break, play games, socialize, meet the concierges, and access the internet.

Hundreds of works of art that Deborah collected over the years, including one of my favorites, Native Women by Jeanne Julin, are scattered throughout the property in public areas.

Exploring the property, guests discover multiple hidden gems.

At sunset, the views of Mt. Kuchumaa and the property are particularly magical and peaceful.


Many guests prioritizing fitness opt to begin the day with a guided hike on beautiful mountain trails. Their choices range from a simple meadow stroll and a silent Woodlands Meditation Hike to more challenging options such as an 8-mile trek or half-day hike high above the valley.

Jeanne and Stephanie Lawrence set out for a hike using the directional sign to select a route. “Alex Oak Trail” is named after Deborah’s late son Alex.

There are possibilities for every level, from a leisurely stroll to a demanding hike, with spectacular views of the mountains and the sun rising over the valley.

My daughter Stephanie has been hiking at The Ranch since she was 11 years old, which helped develop her love of exercise.

The mountains and meadows you hike at Rancho La Puerta are home to these 100-million-year-old rock formations.

When you arrive at the top of the “Professor Hike,” you are greeted by stunning vistas and the sculpture The Spirit of the Shaman.


At The Ranch, you create your own schedule. Dining? Fitness? Relaxation? Beauty Treatments? There is something for everyone and every mood.

The more than 75 indoor and outdoor activities include yoga, Pilates, tai chi, dance classes, Zumba, circuit training, HIIT, kettle ball, dancing, swimming, tennis, and pickle ball.

Four swimming pools are available for aerobics, water polo, H2O boot camp, swim clinic, or just relaxing with drinks from the juice bar.

Watsu is a form of physical therapy in 95°F water that induces deep relaxation. The name derives from the words “water” and “shiatsu,” the Japanese finger pressure massage.

Guests can enjoy classes in sculpting, painting, photography, nutrition, the Spanish language, and Mexican history, in addition to lectures during the day and after dinner.

The walking meditation labyrinth, with eleven concentric circles, is modeled after the one at France’s Chartres Cathedral.

Cardio, strength, and interval training; boot camp, cycling, TRX, Tabata Sculpt, HIIT, and cardio drum are among the myriad classes offered in light-filled studios.

The 4,000 square-foot Azteca Gym houses state-of-the-art equipment with sets of free weights, ellipticals, stationary bikes, and more; you can join a class or work with a trainer if desired

Yoga classes in a range of skill levels are available in a wonderful space overlooking the gardens.

Some opt for R & R, delightful when you’re surrounded by nature and the lovely trees and gardens.


Scattered among the lush gardens are 86 tucked-away, spacious Spanish Colonial “casitas” (little cottages). The “Ranchera,” “Hacienda,” and “Villa” lodgings, of various sizes, locations, and layouts, feature spectacular views of the gardens and mountains.

The casitas were handcrafted by local artisans of brick and stucco, with baked terra cotta floors and roofs, wood-beamed ceilings, and arched windows

The Ranch helps sustain traditional craftspeople and sources locally, from the granite quarried nearby, along with the bricks for pathways and walls, clay tile roofs, and tile floors.

In their private gardens or patios, many casitas offer wood-stocked fireplaces that beckon a guest to sit by and read after dinner.

All rooms are decorated with local artwork and handicrafts that create a unique sense of place.

The casita patios offer a secluded spot to enjoy the surroundings. Some even have a private hot tub.


The Ranch’s full-service spa offers a never-ending list of therapeutic and body rejuvenation treatments. The four health and beauty centers are an oasis of tranquility, with saunas, hot tubs, steam rooms, showers, private treatment rooms, and relaxation lounges.

Along with mani/pedis, hair, and makeup, the spa salon treatments include waxes, scalp treatments, a rosemary loofah salt glow, a Japanese restorative facial, herbal or seaweed wraps…all performed by skilled estheticians and therapists.

The spa offers a menu of healing therapies: classic massage, mountain sage hot stone massage, sports recovery, aromatherapy, reflexology, and shiatsu.

Holistic wellness therapies available are craniosacral, reiki energy work, acupuncture, and Watsu aquatic massage, to name a few.


Breakfast and lunch buffets are served outside, weather permitting, or in the large, bustling Spanish Colonial dining hall, while the evening meal is a sit-down dinner with waiter service.

Guests can select low-fat, flavorful vegetarian or pescatarian selections. There are options to satisfy any type of dietary restriction, all of it organic, nourishing, satisfying—and delicious.

The Ranch has a six-acre organic farm where the gardeners grow crops for guests’ consumption using organic gardening techniques and environmental practices.

The main dining hall offers a breakfast buffet that includes fresh fruit, home baked bread, eggs, oatmeal, fresh squeezed citrus and vegetables juices, and more.

Dining al fresco on the terrace, surrounded by water elements, lush gardens, and spectacular mountain views, is a special pleasure.

It’s farm-to-table cuisine here: Over 90% of The Ranch’s food is organically grown on the property, and just-picked produce is especially nutritious.

Guests may sign up for classes at La Cocina Que Canta (“The Kitchen That Sings”), the brainchild of Deborah’s daughter Sarah Livia, where they can cook with visiting celebrity guests.

There’s always plenty to eat at The Ranch—the paella seafood special was a treat!


Deborah Shainman Szekely was born in Brooklyn, New York to immigrant parents. Her father was in the garment business and her mother a nurse and vice-president of The New York Vegetarian Society.

After the stock market crash of 1929, when Deborah was 8, her family escaped to Tahiti, where her father purchased a local coconut business, and her mother became a midwife. Deborah and her younger brother Joseph attended public school and learned to speak French.

During their five years in Tahiti, the family met the charismatic Hungarian Edmond Bordeaux Szekely. An author and philosopher known as “The Professor,” he wrote over 80 books. Edmond studied health practices of ancient civilizations such as the Mesopotamians and the Essenes. A natural-living enthusiast, he searched the world for the perfect climate.

As a child, Deborah moved to Tahiti with her family in the 1930 and lived there for five years.


In 1939, at age 17, Deborah married Edmond Szekely. The following year, the couple opened their first health camp, an “eco” resort where The Ranch now sits. The pair had two children, Sarah Livia and the late Alexandre, who both became involved with The Ranch.

Deborah credits her husband with being her inspirational guru and mentor; she was the “worker bee.” “From age 18, I ran the day-to-day operations, making sure everyone was fed and housed,” she says.  Apparently, physical work and keeping busy fosters longevity.

Deborah at Rancho La Puerta in 1940, age 18 and newly married to Edmond Szekely, known as “The Professor.”

Rancho La Puerta in the 1940s was still small and rustic, but guests came to enjoy the simple and healthy lifestyle.

In the 1940s, guests paid $17.50 per week to pitch tents on the property, where there was no electricity or running water—a real camping experience.

Health seekers in 1945 enjoy a “Breathing Class.” They came to bask in sunshine, perform calisthenics, eat healthy cuisine, and sleep well.

The Ranch continued to grow, and in 1950 guests were offered various exercise classes such as these sit-ups at the “Health Gymnasium.”

Deborah with son Alex, daughter Sarah Livia, and husband Edmond in the 1960s.


In the more than 40 years I’ve known her, Deborah has always had a project brewing, perhaps another of her secrets to long life. In 1958, she created something completely different from the rustic Rancho La Puerta—The Golden Door Spa, an exclusive Japanese-inspired property in Escondido, California that set a new standard for luxury spas.

In 1998, her son Alex sold The Golden Door to a corporation, but, thankfully, in 2012 it was purchased by a private owner, a long-time guest who loved “The Door” and who has poured millions into maintaining Deborah’s high standards.

Founder Deborah and her staff in front of the iconic golden doors of The Golden Door Spa.

The Japanese-inspired Golden Door was styled after a ryokan, a traditional Japanese country inn—a tranquil retreat that serves as a sanctuary for weary travelers.

The Golden Door features a collection of vintage Asian furnishings, antiques scrolls, shoji screens, paintings, and sculptures collected during Deborah’s travels.


In addition to running her spa businesses, Deborah has long been an activist, a philanthropist, and a visionary. She has served on countless boards, earned honorary doctorates, and received numerous accolades and awards for her devotion to community causes.

Among her extensive civic roles, she has been a U.S. delegate to UNESCO, is an inductee to the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame and co-founded the Commission Garcia Robles (a US-Mexico commission for educational and cultural exchange). In 1964, Deborah co-founded COMBO (Combined Arts and Education Council) of San Diego County that raised millions for local cultural groups.

Deborah also has been honored with a Civic Award from the League of Women Voters, named Humanitarian of the Year by the National Conference for Community and Justice, selected as “Mrs. San Diego” by the San Diego Rotary, and was recently named the first inductee to Spa Business’s new Spa and Wellness Hall of Fame (April 2022).


Deborah receiving the Volunteer of the Year Award from the late Old Globe Theater founding director Craig Noel for her fundraising efforts in rebuilding the theater.

The Old Globe Theatre has been a vital part of Deborah’s life for over 70 years. Her involvement began in 1945 when a newspaper ad seeking volunteers for a new theater in Balboa Park caught her eye. Therein began her love affair with the theater and an enduring friendship with Craig Noel, the Globe’s founding director. She eventually served on its board of directors and is still an Emeritus director and season ticket holder.

One of Deborah’s proudest achievements was in 1978, when she co-chaired the campaign to raise $6.5 million ($25 million in today’s dollars) to rebuild The Globe Theatre after it was destroyed by arson. The new complex opened in 1982 and has become one of the nation’s leading regional theaters and continues to be a worldwide attraction.


After founding and managing The Ranch and The Golden Door for years, Deborah was ready for something new.  She says, “It all started when I was looking forward to my 60th birthday. I realized I had every bit as much energy as I did at 30 or 40. I had been in fitness forever, and I decided I wanted to do something totally different to challenge my mind, challenge my spirit.”

She went on, “You don’t feel like repeating yourself, and at 60 you have the opportunity to create a whole new life.” And she did: In 1982, Deborah ran for U.S. Congress. Though she did not win the election, she moved to Washington, D.C. anyway.

Sarah Livia Brightwood Szekely and Alex Szekely took over running their mother’s business when Deborah moved to Washington to create a new chapter in her life of service.


Deborah spent the 1980s and 1990s in DC, where she was appointed by President Reagan to serve as president of the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) from 1984-1990. During her term, the agency distributed millions of dollars in grants to promote community-led development in Latin America and the Caribbean. Deborah calls it “one of the highlights of my life … a mind-expanding experience.”

While at IAF, Deborah travelled throughout Latin America and the Caribbean looking for grassroots projects to fund.


While in D.C., Deborah discovered there was no training or basic reference manual for newly elected legislators. Aa a businesswoman who understood organization, in 1984 she conceived and produced “Setting Course: A Congressional Management Guide,” now in its 17th edition.

Living in Georgetown, she continued to lead an active life and remained involved in philanthropic causes, meeting politicians and luminaries along the way.

Deborah with President Ronald Reagan in the mid-1980s.

Deborah with his holiness the Dalai Lama in NYC at a Tibet House benefit.

Deborah with President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

Henry Kissinger, Hillary Clinton, Esther Coopersmith, Colin Powell, Deborah Szekely, and Madeleine Albright (ca 2011).


Always a successful catalyst for change, Deborah returned to San Diego after the death of her son Alex in 2002.

During this time, in 1991, Deborah founded Eureka Communities, a national training program for leaders and CEOs of nonprofit organizations. She served as president for 11 years, during which she raised over $14 million in donations.


After 20 years in Washington, and never content to stand still, in 2008, at age 79, when many have settled into retirement, Deborah launched The New Americans Museum & Immigration Learning Center at Liberty Station, a former naval base in San Diego. The museum educates young people on the myriad gifts that immigrants bring to the U.S. and fosters tolerance among all Americans.

In 2012, Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon awarded her the “Order of the Aztec Eagle,” the highest Mexican government decoration given to foreign nationals whose work or actions have benefited Mexico and Mexicans.

Deborah with Linda Caballero Sotelo, Executive Director of the New Americans Museum. The museum was Deborah’s dream, as she has been a champion of cross-border cultural and environmental programs.


In 2012, Deborah celebrated her 90th with family and friends at many parties in her honor, as usual—all well deserved. She has always cultivated friendships with the same enthusiasm that she cultivates her gardens; and even today she stresses the importance of having younger friends.

Deborah and daughter Sarah Livia celebrated Deborah’s 90th birthday in 2012 with a big celebration with family and friends.

Deborah with Sara Livia and her daughter, the late Emily Brightwood, celebrating Thanksgiving together.


¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Deborah! This year she marked the big one—the 1-0-0! After 80 years of success and changing lives for the better at The Ranch, it was only fitting that Deborah celebrate her centennial birthday there. More than 1,700 guests arrived for the occasion, including family and friends from San Diego and around the world, local citizens and VIPs, and over 400 Ranch employees and their families.

The logistical planning for the party was perfection, and the kickoff evening flowed beautifully. Remarkably, while Deborah’s party was going on, The Ranch simultaneously provided the in-house guests with its signature first-class service it’s known for.  It was brilliant!

Over 1,700 celebrants gathered to celebrate Deborah’s 100th birthday in Tecate at Parque del Professor (“Professor Park”), which was donated by the Szekely family to the city for educational, environment, and cultural programs.


Setting a festive party tone and escorted by her daughter Sarah Livia Brightwood Szekely, Deborah arrived with a procession of dancers in the tradition of the El Cervantino, a festival that takes place in the colonial city of Guanajuato, Mexico. The crowd greeted her enthusiastically.

An El Cervantino band played as Deborah arrived, escorted by her daughter, Ranch president Sarah Livia Brightwood Szekely, and colleague Osvaldo Nieto.


The celebration drew a remarkable turnout. Deborah is revered for having given so much to the San Diego, Tecate, and other Mexican communities, that attendees were enthusiastic about celebrating this momentous birthday with her.

Many partygoers were Ranch employees and their families. Deborah treats her employees with such consideration, dignity, and respect that some have been happily on staff for 40 years.

The fiesta was filled with friends from around the world, including busloads from San Diego and many Tecate luminaries.

The procession included Tuna Real de Tecate performing in colorful costumes and followed by a mariachi band.

Tuna Real de Tecate added a festive tone to the birthday celebration.

Deborah Szekely with daughter Sarah Livia and grandsons Jacob and Joshua Szekely.

Sister Esperanza, Sister Ma del Refugio, and Sister Sarah from the program Jardines de la Misericordia (“Gardens of Mercy”), with Deborah and Sarah Livia.

Deborah with longtime family friends from New York Stephanie and Jeanne Lawrence.

United States and Mexico Consuls General Thomas Reott and Carlos González Gutiérrez.

Deborah with Karen and Jeff Silberman, board chair of the University of California San Diego Foundation.

Music journalist Rona Elliot, and Katrine Formby with her twin Susie Ellis, Founder/CEO of the Global Wellness Institute and Summit.

Diana Pickett, Aurelia Engel, whose gallery represents her mother Francoise Gilot (a muse of Pablo Picasso), and Jeanne Lawrence.


The festivities put a spotlight on Tecate chefs and restaurants. Many local restaurants, chefs, vineyards, and breweries participated in the celebration, serving up traditional Mexican snacks and desserts.

What a production! The guests were seated at round and high-top tables, and were served plate after plate of superb tapas, with wine from Barón Balché Auro Chardonnay and Adobe Guadalupe Miguel and Tempranillo. The ale by Tecate Lupita Pérez Brewing Brewery was so refreshing and tasty, I plan to track it down in NYC.

Guest raved about the chiles rellenos and chicken in black chile salsa, duck tacos, baja shrimp burritos, smoked tuna tostada, mixed paella, skirt steak sopa—all delicious.

For the sweet tooth, Café Acento, El Mejor Pan, and La Reina Victoria Panderia provided desserts: margarita cupcakes, mini conchitas, donuts and palmiers, and vanilla-mango-passion fruit cake.

Participating restaurants included Amores, Antojitos Susy, Asao, Cempoalli Cenzontle, El Cafecito Tres Estrella, El Ciclo, El Faro, El Food Truck, El Antojo, Ensamble 43, Fitz Paellas, Lugar de Nos, and Puerta Norte.

Guests lined up at the various food stations where they could sample local specialties from over a dozen participating local restaurants.


The 100th birthday celebration was a family affair. The children of Ranch employees were entertained with a carnival and invited to play games and feast on Mexican street corn, pizza, and the best churros I’ve ever tasted.

“Seeing the staff together,” Deborah says, “I marvel at how much The Ranch has grown and the staff has grown and prospered. Great-grandchildren follow in the footsteps of their great-grandmothers and great grandfathers here.”

The children’s carnival was set up on a soccer field in the Parque del Professor, a sports and cultural complex where community fairs take place.

Children waited patiently for freshly made warm churros that were the best I’ve ever tasted—I kept going back for more!

The Classic Mexican Street snack elote, grilled corn on the cob sprinkled with mayo, cotija cheese, chili powder, and lime, was served on a stick.


A cherished birthday celebration—a day to laugh, love, and enjoy life and wishes from your family and friends—would not be complete without a birthday cake-cutting. And for a 100th birthday, the cake itself had to be truly special.

Deborah, with daughter Sarah Livia, continued the tradition of cutting the cake, in this case a multi-layered ornately decorated creation by prizewinning local cake bakery Postremus.

The custom-made cake’s frosting was applied in extraordinary detail to resemble the exquisite embroidery by local craftswomen.


Entertainment and speeches capped off the night’s festivities. Those who wanted to honor and praise Señora Deborah lined up to personally extend their best wishes.

Sarah Livia with nephews Joshua and Jacob Szekely, sons of the late Alex Szekely, who took the stage to toast their grandmother and thank everyone.

Diane Szekely (sitting), the proud mother of Joshua and Jacob Szekely.

Everyone found a seat to enjoy the entertainment, speeches, and, later, a fireworks extravaganza.

The Mexican dance troupe Cálida Fornax Folklor continues the folkloric tradition in traditional decorative costumes.

Cálida Fornax Folklor is a group formed in Tecate in 2017 by young enthusiasts of folkloric dance. They were followed by a second troupe from Denz Dance Studio.

Elena Durán has performed for the Queen of England and the President of Mexico, and with Nicholas McGegan, former Music Director of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in the Bay Area.


As the sun set, dessert was served; and after congratulatory speeches, Deborah took the stage to convey her thanks for the magical evening. The festivities then concluded with a fireworks show before guests headed home, still feeling buoyant in the afterglow of the grand fiesta!

What a sight! At dusk, the festival appeared to glow against the darkening sky and distant mountains.

Alongside her grandson Jacob Szekely and colleague Osvaldo Nieto (on right), Deborah thanked her guests for a “magical evening.”

From on high, guests looked down on the soccer field to watch Ranch employees thank Deborah with their own show: spelling out “100” with sparklers.

The first part of Deborah’s perfect 100th birthday celebration ended with a bang: a grand finale fireworks show.


The next morning on Deborah’s actual birthday, she was treated to another birthday tradition called Las Mañanitas—a serenade by a mariachi band to herald the day’s celebrations.

Ranch staff and friends gathered at dawn to wish her a happy birthday. What a great way to start the day and begin the next year! After hugs, kisses, and an exchange of well wishes, everyone clamored for a picture with Deborah, and she happily obliged. It felt like one big happy family celebration—which of course it was.

For the celebration, the casita was draped in papel picado—traditional Mexican cut paper flags.

On her actual birthday, for her Las Mañanitas, each year Deborah dons a different robe to greet her well-wishers.

Las Mañanitas is the traditional Mexican birthday song, originally written by composer Alfonso Esparza Oteo.

Grandsons Jacob and Joshua Szekely, Deborah Szekely, Sarah Livia Brightwood Szekely, and Manuelita Chiang, who worked at The Ranch for 58 years.

Alex von Bidder, former co-owner of New York’s The Four Seasons Restaurant, has served as Chairman of Rancho La Puerta’s board for many years.


During the weekend, Ranch guests packed the Oak Tree Pavilion to listen to Deborah’s inspiring thoughts on “How it Feels to be 100” and share in her wisdom. This was the latest in Deborah’s 40-year tradition of weekly lectures at The Ranch, and every seat was filled.

Rancho President Sarah Livia Brightwood Szekely and Director of Guest Relations Barry Shingle hosted a question-and-answer session.


In her talk, Deborah referred to her new book, 100 Lessons from a Grasshopper, which was published on the occasion of her 100th birthday. The title comes from her late husband, who referred to her as having a “grasshopper mind”—hopping from one idea to the next and from one task to the next without stopping. The book gathers quips, gems, and humorous sayings from Deborah’s many talks and lectures, affectionately known as “Deborah-isms.”

Always a philanthropist, Deborah is donating the proceeds from Grasshopper book sales to benefit “Our Green Umbrella,” a fund to plant trees throughout the Tecate community.


During the lecture, Deborah credited her artistic daughter and current Rancho La Puerta president Sarah Livia with many major new developments at The Ranch starting in the 1980s. Deborah called Sarah Livia The Ranch’s “true North Star.” She clearly shares her mother’s passion for this special place.

“I was pleased, of course, that Sarah Livia decided to follow in my footsteps. It was simply natural for her to take over the presidency. The future of The Ranch is in her hands,” Deborah said, “and she’s doing a marvelous job.”

Sarah Livia has divided her time between San Diego and The Ranch all her life. She studied landscape architecture, has a “hands on” approach, and for decades has been the creative visionary.


Over the years, I’ve marveled at how Deborah always has a future project in mind and never runs out of ideas. As I said earlier, I think that’s what keeps her energized. At l00, she continues to work with Sarah Livia to plan The Ranch’s future.

For years, the duo envisioned a sustainably conscious residential wellness community on the property.  And now, Rancho La Puerta’s $80 million Wellness Residence Club is under construction.

The Residences, 113 private homes on the property, are surrounded by vineyards and Mt. Kuchumaa.

Now under construction, The Residences will offer a host of services and amenities and Ranch privileges to the owners, some who are moving in later this year.


“Godmother of Wellness” Deborah Szekely is a Renaissance woman who lives life to the fullest. At 100, she is still active and healthy, walking a mile daily, attending theater and the symphony, dining out with friends, and traveling. She still goes to The Ranch weekly and spends two days there, holding court and lecturing on the principles of living a longer, healthier life.

“Thank you—my best teachers, my guests,” Deborah concluded at her birthday lecture. “You bring the world to my door every week. You have made all this possible. Thank you. Thank you!”

And she left everyone with this final advice: “Keep on hopping. Your life will be more enjoyable and never boring.”

That’s Deborah—gracious and inspiring as ever! We’re all looking forward to celebrating her 101st.

With no plans to retire, Deborah Szekely remains dedicated to improving the spiritual and physical wellbeing of others. Asked if she plans to retire, she says, “What would I do with myself?”

At The Ranch, words of wisdom are written on an iconic slate, always changing and always encouraging. This one says it all!


Photos by Jeanne Lawrence and courtesy Rancho La Puerta and The Golden Door.