Since she retired five years ago after 23 years as an elementary school teacher for the Napa Unified School District, Elaine Ponziani-Seput has rarely had a day off.
Elaine has lived in her 1870s Victorian home by the water since she moved to Benicia 43 years ago, raising two children, tending her gardens and chickens, and even doing many of her own repairs. She enjoys caring for her three year-old granddaughter, and helps with homeschooling her twin teen granddaughters—but since retiring, Elaine is rarely home.
Her first priority in retirement was to start singing again. She grew up singing in harmony with her mother and siblings, and in her late teens became a singer and songwriter for blues and rock bands, including what she describes as a “Peter, Paul and Mary style” group. “I was really trying to be a hippie,” she says. Now, every Monday, she sings with a group of 16 women who come together simply for the joy of singing. There’s no judgment, she says, just a shared desire to harmonize.
If she’s not singing, she may be with a group of retired teachers who meet regularly for meditation and book study. Her Buddhist practice also includes the Benicia Sangha group, which hosts a range of speakers at St. Paul's Episcopal Church two Sundays a month. In recent years, Elaine has developed a penchant for watercolor painting, and takes a weekly class at Lafayette Studios. She was an active volunteer at Arts Benicia, and still helps occasionally with their family art programs.
Among all her activities, Elaine’s favorite community work has been for the Robert Semple Elementary School Garden Club. She started five years ago when her granddaughters were students there, but remained active in the garden club after they left. “I love seeing the children’s joy in the garden. A lot of them who maybe don’t do so well on the playground come together as a little community, and feel like they belong somewhere.” Elaine’s garden students learn about literature, water conservation, the environment, food systems, the economy, and more. “They learn what plants need in order to grow, and how to nurture them. They learn empathy when they put the worms back in the soil,” she continues. “And when we walk around and show them the new growth, they learn to notice more.”
Like the children in the garden, Elaine still wants to keep learning. “Everything is a learning opportunity, and when you stop learning, you die.”
When asked what she’d like to do next, she replied, “I want to get completely submerged in another language. I’d like to go back to Italy. And if I had another life, I would be much more into science. I love that kind of stuff.”