Longtime Saratoga resident finds home through community engagement

Nancy Kirk

Kirk shares involvement with Saratoga Foothill Club, Saratoga Sister City and Sentencing Alternatives Program.

Though she was raised in Texas and lived in Rochester, New York for a few years, resident Nancy Kirk says she feels like she was born in Saratoga.

After first moving from Rochester to Los Gatos, Kirk later moved into a condo in Saratoga in 1975. Since then, she’s served as a volunteer for eight organizations across the county, from the first one she joined in 2007—Saratoga Sister City—to her most recent, the Hiller Aviation Museum, which she joined last year. 

For her, these are just ways to get more involved in the community she calls home.

“Especially during COVID-19, I thought if I ever got lonely, I could have taken a lawn chair and put it in front of Safeway, and I'd see someone I know,” Kirk said. “That's Saratoga for me, because of my community involvement, I’m fortunate to know a lot of people. It’s a great feeling to know I can choose not to be lonely.”

Much of her love for Saratoga sprang from a fond look at her past.

After moving from Rochester to one of the older neighborhoods in Saratoga, Kirk said she was immediately drawn to the homey feel of the atmosphere.

“We came from Rochester, where it snows all the time—and not a gentle snow, it's a frozen tundra,” she said. “So once we saw these beautiful mountains, the greenery and blue skies, we felt like we'd come to heaven.”

Beyond the physical attributes of Saratoga, Kirk also described major differences in the surrounding communities of Rochester and her hometown. Having attended a Catholic school in San Antonio, Texas, Kirk said she was “terrified” of the strict, punishing practices of some of the teachers, as well as the general discrimination against Hispanic individuals like herself and African Americans. 

When she later moved from UT Austin to Rochester to join her husband, she was pleasantly surprised by the lack of discrimination. They lived in what once was the servant’s quarters of an old home unequipped with proper heating. 

During winter, she recalled stuffing around the windows with aluminum foil to prevent the chill from seeping into her home. And they survived sleeping with the old gas oven on with the door open.

“Living in a historical home in Saratoga was a totally different feel,” she said. “Our home welcomed the privacy and homey feeling of the community, and the people seemed friendlier because they were long-term and enjoyed sunshine. You get to know people over time, since the same people live on this street.”

Kirk pulled out multiple pamphlets, ranging from Saratoga Historical Foundation brochures to old newspaper clippings showcasing the history of the area. She can recite the histories of her own home—which will be 100 years old this year—and the ones nearby that were designed by infamous architect Julia Morgan, or one that housed sisters and actresses Olivia DeHavilland and Joan Fontaine. 

Her appreciation for history led her to actively seek out more ways to build and preserve memories. After Kirk and her husband retired, they started going on weekly jogs at the Saratoga High School track. There, Kirk met a woman who introduced her to the first Saratoga community program she'd join in 2007: Saratoga Sister City. 

The organization aims to encourage and promote cross-cultural events, including exchange visits, homestays, educational programs and travel opportunities, between Saratoga and Muko, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan.

While Kirk said they never initially thought of going to Japan due to the cost and language barrier, she and her husband immediately took up the chance to tour Muko. Kirk and a group of Saratoga Sister City members traveled and toured much of Japan. 

They were invited to dine in various homes of Muko Sister City members. Since the tour, Kirk has been an active member of the subdivision of Taiko players, or Japanese drummers.

“It was an amazing experience [getting] to know people on a different level,” Kirk said. “So that started everything. And the same woman [who introduced me to Saratoga Sister City] invited me to join the Saratoga Foothill Club, and it kind of grew from there.”

Kirk joined the Saratoga Foothill Club, a non-profit organization, in 2008. Originally known as the Women's Club, the Foothill Club was established in 1915 and serves as a gathering venue for club rentals to the public for events ranging from weddings to dinner parties. 

Kirk has helped with food baskets and educational scholarships for the community as a part of the various club committees. She later created a separate activity of the club, dedicated for women to gather for meals and share life experiences.

Since then, she’s volunteered at Hakone Gardens and the Saratoga Historical Museum. For seven years, Kirk also served as a volunteer and two-time chair of the City of Saratoga Traffic Safety Commission, which reviews and analyzes traffic safety issues raised by community members and public safety agencies. 

Currently, she is the President of the Sentencing Alternatives Program in San Jose, which works with people referred by the courts to perform community service instead of fines or incarceration. 

“What I love about all of [these organizations] are the people I've met,” Kirk said. “Getting to know the community makes it that, even though I didn't grow up here, I feel like I was born here because I have more of a tie here than I did growing up in my hometown.”

The community here—as well as the first community she discovered in Muko, Japan through Saratoga Sister City—has also inspired her to travel to other places, to experience what Kirk calls a “big community of humanity.” 

Since she started traveling over the years, Kirk has gone to see the beauty of other cultures in places like the Island of Moorea in Tahiti; Seychelles Islands; much of South America and Europe; the Atlantic Maritime ecozone consisting of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick; Mexico; Costa Rica; Bermuda and the Grand Cayman. 

Her trips aren't executed without detailed research of the next place on her bucket list, a process Kirk follows through each time to ensure she never returns to the same place twice. However, she’d love to return to Yellowknife, NW Territory, Canada for the spiritual experience and amazing beauty of the aurora borealis. 

“You see people of all ages and walks of life,” Kirk said. “I made friends with a couple I met in Guernsey [in the Channel Islands] and have remained friends since. I'm very fortunate to have met so many wonderful people. I guess you just really hope to enjoy everything you already have and also your cherished memories of life. One usually cannot go in life unscathed from loss or sadness but true friendships are a treasure and beautiful memories last a lifetime.”

Photos courtesy of Nancy Kirk.