Cluffs celebrate 25th with
by Kelly Feser Eells
If it seems like The Oaks' spa owner Sheila Cluff has energy
to burn, it's because she does. And luckily for Ojai, she likes
to burn it in ways that benefit the entire community.
Well before she and husband Don helped turn a blighted piece
of land into another jewel in the valley's crown (Cluff Vista
Park), the Cluffs have had Ojai's best interests at heart.
"To me, Ojai is a town that treasures what you do for the
community, not what you have," she said.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of The Oaks at Ojai Spa,
and Cluff has been celebrating in her customary, high-energy
"Don and I have a five-year plan," she enthuses. "And
we're one year into it already."
The plan involves bringing "the entire property back to
its original, California mission-style look, what it looked like
in 1919, which fits well with the town" Cluff freely admits
"We've hired all these wonderfully talented people,"
including local architect and newly re-elected City Councilman
David Bury; RTK Studios tile artisan Richard Keit; the husband-and-wife
design and contracting team of Maraya and Tim Droney; and renowned
woodworker Wesley Theis.
"We were very fortunate in getting David, RTK for the custom
tile work, the Droneys - responsible for the overall concept
of the redesign - and Theis," whose skills are on display
in the spa's totally refurbished dining room.
In addition to Theis' handcrafted, alderwood beams, the dining
room also boasts the "custom oil paintings of (Santa Barbara)
artist Robert Larkin. All with food-related themes."
Chuckling, Cluff adds, "and David Bury, you know, he just
moved into new office space adjoining the Droneys, so it's almost
like we, indirectly, helped put together a local team of talent."
Indeed, the Cluffs' affection for Ojai's rich store of "human
resources" goes back a long ways. "Our artists, merchants
- all of our citizens, really - they're one of this community's
most special aspects."
And for many a resident, The Oaks is one of the community's most
Not only is the world-famous spa one of the valley's top three
employers, but its on-site gallery has been the place where a
number of local artists have made their first public debut.
Indicating that it's long been her unofficial policy to help
showcase the many talents of her neighbors, Cluff explains that,
"every six to eight weeks or so, we'll feature an artist
who, assuming they accept the invitation, may bring up to 100
guests to a reception The Oaks has in their honor. We provide
the hors d'oeuvres," the fitness buff laughs; "and,
of course, all of the non-alcoholic beverages."
Cluff is as excited to discuss recent program innovations as
she is the spa's current renovations.
"Nancy Martinez, owner of Ojai's You Paint Pottery, has
been coming down and giving our guests a chance to paint their
own pottery. And art, as you probably know, is great therapy!
After each session, Nancy takes the pots back to her studio and
glazes them, then brings them back the next day. The guests really
seem to love it."
While an ever-evolving selection of classes and treatments, including
a "pedi-spa" and the just-added "body bronzing
massage - soothing massage, exfoliation and instant suntan,"
keep The Oaks at the forefront of the fitness and health industry,
its homey, nurturing ambiance is clearly what sets it apart from
"One comment I'm always getting from our guests," said
Cluff, "is just how very nice people here are. They love
shopping at Rains, Primavera Gallery, the weekly 'fashion education'
classes Barbara Bowman provides, all our local merchants, really.
Quite a few of our guests have made long-lasting, bosom-buddy
relationships with the locals, some of them even moving here.
Our merchants, our citizens," she grins; "we work very
Looking forward to The Oaks at Ojai being a prime source of "R
and R, wellness and healthy living" for at least another
25 years, Cluff also looks back on "this very special community"
she has called home for nearly as long.
"Ojai people are so real," she said. "When something
wonderful happens to you, they're genuinely happy. When something
important comes up, the citizens rally around."
But "one of our greatest experiences," said Cluff,
referring to husband Don and herself, both of whom were born
and raised in Canada, and became U.S. citizens six years ago,
"was that this special place, Ojai, was the first place
we ever voted."
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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