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Patty Westerbeke

Published: Monday, December 3, 2012 at 6:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 3, 2012 at 6:18 p.m.

Patty Westerbeke, a founder of Westerbeke Ranch Conference Center and a leading player in Sonoma's spiritual community, died Nov. 16 of complications from a fall. She was 87.

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Patty Westerbeke

Born Aug. 11, 1925, in San Francisco, Patricia Ann was the eldest of three daughters born to Muriel and Richard Van Hoosear.

Westerbeke earned a political science degree from UC Berkeley in 1946. Two years later, she was taking a break from skiing at Sugar Bowl and pouring hot chocolate from a thermos when the insulation broke and glass shards began flowing into her cup.

Donald George Westerbeke approached and offered to buy her a proper drink at the bar.

“She completely forgot that she was supposed to be chaperoning her two younger sisters,” said her daughter, Wendy Westerbeke of Sonoma. “She felt sparks, that is what she always said.”

“Within a week she went to Shreve & Co. and ordered her silver with a ‘W' on it,” she said.

The couple married July 31, 1948.

The pair lived and raised their four children in Mill Valley but spent weekends and many holidays on Patty Westerbeke's family spread on Grove Street in Sonoma. In 1968, the Westerbekes hosted their first retreat on the 70-acre property at the foot of Sonoma Mountain.

“Her very first inspiration was, ‘I've got to share this place,'” Wendy Westerbeke said. “I've been blessed. This is a huge gift. The biggest gift we can do with this land is to share it with the world. She wanted it to be a healing resort.”

Westerbeke traveled the world studying alternative forms of medicine, yoga, meditation and other subjects.

“She certainly thought that Western medicine was useful as far as it could go, but she also saw that there was another dimension to healing,” Wendy Westerbeke said. “My Mom had this sort of spiritual belief that we are all connected and we were all one, and she sought out people to learn from in that regard. She studied with a variety of people.”

Westerbeke spent weeks at a time in Cambodia and Haiti with service organizations, helping wash children and set up nurseries. Westerbeke and her husband made many trips to the Philippines to study psychic surgery after Don Westerbeke was diagnosed with a tumor in his pituitary gland and believed psychic surgery had rendered traditional brain surgery unnecessary.

At home, Westerbeke was known to take in travelers and lend support to people who needed it, said 20-year friend Baba Harihar Ram of Sonoma.

“It's hard to put her in words,” he said. “She was mother of the valley in a way.”

“I came as a monk who did not know anyone in town,” he said. “When I met Patty, she met me with open arms, gave me food and a place to stay.”

“She was very, very generous with her time, with her resources,” he said. “If she was in a crowd, you would not miss Patty. She was the center of attention, she was a mother.”

The ranch evolved into a full-time conference center and retreat location. Westerbeke lived on the ranch and among the guests for years, her daughter said.

“She adored coming to meals and meeting all the people,” she said. “She was always gracious, extremely hospitable. She never met a stranger.”

“She was such an amazing, vital person. Curious to the end,” Wendy Westerbeke said.

In addition to her daughter, Westerbeke is survived by sons David Westerbeke of Mill Valley and Richard “Van” Westerbeke of Susanville; daughter Susan Westerbeke of Sonoma; sisters Joyce Moulton of Whidbey Island, Wash., and Marilyn Goode of Sonoma; four grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

A celebration of her life will be held at noon Dec. 12 at Westerbeke Ranch Conference Center, 2300 Grove St., Sonoma.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Red Cross, 5297 Aero Drive, Santa Rosa 95403.

—Kerry Benefield

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