Our Mission

The purpose of Napa County Historical Society is to discover and keep history alive through exhibits, lectures, and events, as well as research, publications, and educational activities. As a membership and sponsorship-based archival and educational organization, the Society is dedicated to the discovery, preservation and presentation of the people and history of Napa County and its place in California history and the world.

Board of Directors

Liz Alessio

Liz Alessio

President

When Liz Alessio talks about her family’s deep connection to Napa, she can back it up with the fact they have lived in Napa Valley for over 140 years. Her great-great grandfather was County Supervisor from 1901-1904 and as a master stone mason built several of Napa’s most famous landmarks, while her father was a Napa Police Officer and mother a local banker, both involved on local boards. Alessio is a fourth-generation Napa resident and current Parks and Recreation Commissioner who is well known around the community for her charity work, public service and professional success. Looking at her long resume of accomplishments doesn’t do justice for just how involved she is in all things Napa.

Danielle Barrecca

Vice President

Danielle was born and raised in Napa and is a Vintage High graduate. After high school Danielle attended California State University, Sacramento where she received her BA in History.
Danielle has leadership experience as a Past President of the Rotary Club of North Napa and a Leadership Napa Valley Class 29 Graduate. She currently serves on the Leadership Napa Valley Board of Directors. In 2016 Danielle completed her FEMA training to become a member of Napa’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and she enjoys continuing her education and training in Emergency Preparedness. In 2018, Danielle was appointed to the City of Napa’s 2040 General Plan Advisory Committee which will work on updating the City’s vision for land use, housing, transportation, parks and recreation, historic resources, and economic development.

Danielle is a local real estate Broker working with buyers and sellers throughout Napa County. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, reading and spending time with her family.

Tom Spaulding

Secretary

Freelance researcher, writer, and photographer Tom Spaulding arrived in Northern California in 1996 to pursue doctoral studies in English literature at UC Davis, and taught writing courses there for several years. Tom fell in love with his new home, and spent countless hours exploring and photographing Northern California’s natural and constructed landscapes, from hikes through the Desolation Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada mountains to visit alpine lakes, to drives down historic highway routes in run-down sections of Central Valley cities to spot vintage motel signs. These travels were usually followed by more time spent in libraries researching the subjects he discovered. Eventually this culminated in Tom writing about his discoveries and experiences in blog entries and articles, including in Tidings and other local publications in Northern California. Tom’s photos have appeared in local galleries and in local and national publications. He has called Napa his home since 2010.

Sandy Re Sims

Treasurer

Sandy and her husband Gordon moved to Napa in 2016 from Green Valley though she has been working and volunteering in Napa since 2001. Growing up in San Rafael she attended Sir Francis Drake High School, then continued her studies at Sacramento State, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in US History and English Literature. Her aspirations were to be a High School History teacher, but found herself in banking for 44 years, retiring as Vice President of Bank of Napa. Sandy is very well known for her volunteer work and has been recognized for her leadership, notably with NEWS and  Aldea.  Additionally, she’s been a member and volunteer for NCHS. Sandy’s letter of interest to join the NCHS Board stated, “Thank you so much for the opportunity to serve on the Napa County Historical Society Board of Directors.  As you know, my degree is in History and my passion is Napa, so this position is the answer to my prayers!”

Ricky Hurtado

Board Member

Ricky Hurtado is born and raised in Napa, comes from an immigrant family, is a first generation college graduate, earning his bachelor’s degree in Government/Political Science, from Sacramento State University. Ricky has over 38+ cumulative years in giving back to our Napa communities by working in the nonprofit field and serving on different boards, including as Vice President of Fair Housing Napa Valley, and a Committee Member of the 2040 Napa General Plan, helping shape Napa’s future. He also currently serves as the President of the Napa County Hispanic Network, as well as other community boards.

Ricky’s fascination of history first occurred when he learned that his family first came to the U.S. and Napa Valley in the late 1970’s. It was his grandfather who came to work as a farm worker through the Bracero Work Program, which allowed Mexican farmworkers into the United States. Learning that history from his grandfather has led Ricky to appreciate, learn, and understand the U.S. history and the policies behind such actions. Ricky says, “It’s important to capture history from different vantage points and perspectives. Once we know our history, we know our direction”.

Scott Sedgley

Board Member

Raised in Napa, Scott Sedgley graduated from Napa High School in 1970. He completed a four year apprenticeship in carpentry, spending 13 years working as a union carpenter. His next opportunity was working for the Napa Fire Department. Starting as a Reserve Firefighter, Scott worked 32 years with the department, retiring as a Truck Captain in 2011.

Scott’s community involvement includes 25 years as a docent at Bale Grist Mill State Historical Site, four years on Napa’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission and serving nine years as a board member with the Napa Valley Unified School District. He currently serves on the boards of the Napa County Historical Society and the Foundation for Napa Recreation. Scott is a member of the Native Sons of the Golden West, Napa Elks Lodge, Land Trust of Napa County and the Sierra Club. Even after retirement, Scott continues to serve his city as an elected member of Napa’s City Council. Scott and his wife Linda were married in 1975 at Napa’s First United Methodist Church

Don Winter

Don Winter

Board Member

Don Winter has served as a nationally recognized Hotel & Restaurant Consultant for the past 40 years, primarily specializing in Dispute Resolution. His first economic research assignment in Napa County Lodging began in 1973 and he continues to assist local hotels and restaurants to this day. A graduate of Cornell University, Don has served as President and/or Board Member of numerous charitable and professional organizations throughout the Bay Area. His dark side is sated through his secondary career as a professional humorist and M.C. for events throughout the United Sates.

He and his wife Katherine moved to Napa full-time in 2000 and are enthusiastic world travelers. They are members of the Native Plant Society and Land Trust of Napa County and spend many weekends hiking the unlimited back trails of this wondrous and blessed County.

Brad Wagenknecht

Board Member

Brad Wagenknecht has been a school teacher since 1977. During the first 10 years of his teaching career he taught emotionally disturbed adolescents. Since 1987 Brad has been teaching social studies at Redwood / Silverado Middle School in Napa. In recent years, he has taught part-time in Special Education and kindergarten. Brad graduated from a local high school in Napa and went on to graduate from the University of California-Santa Cruz with a degree in Political Science and Elementary Education. Brad has split his time teaching with public service since 1984, when he was elected to the Napa City Council. He has also served as Mayor to the City of Napa. In 1998 he was elected to the Napa County Board of Supervisors and began serving as the representative for District 1 in January 1999.

Brad grew up in the Browns Valley area of Napa and has three children: Gretchen, Fritz, and Max. Gretchen is a city planner and manages a retail clothing store in Petaluma. Fritz attends college in San Diego. Max is a full-time student at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Brad runs 300 days a year and plays basketball religiously. He spends his free time attending his kids’ sporting events and performances.

Hanna Housley

Board Member

Hannah Housley is an experienced Activities Director with a demonstrated history of working in the primary/secondary education industry. She is skilled in Nonprofit Organizations, Coaching, Classroom Management, Curriculum Development, and Public Speaking. Strong administrative professional with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), History focused in History from Norco High School and Pepperdine University. Currently, Hannah is in a graduate program for Organizational Leadership. In the past, Hannah has worked with Napa Valley Unified School District, Vintage High School, Vintage Elementary School, and Napa High School. 

Gordon Huether

Board Member

Gordon Huether specializes in the creation of public and privately commissioned artwork, and also creates fine art. Huether’s large-scale and privately commissioned work is always site-specific. During his conceptual phase, Huether conducts expansive research in order to deliver an artwork design that is unique to the specific location and connects to historical, geographical, social, economic, ethical, religious etc. characteristics. He founded his professional business and art studio in 1987.

Gordon Huether has been the permanent artist in residence at Artesa Vineyards & Winery since 1997. One of the first pieces Huether completed was a series of sculptures made from a composite of resin, fiberglass and powdered aluminum for the fountain at the vineyard’s entrance. Artesa Vineyards & Winery features a rotating exhibit of Gordon Huether’s sculptural and fine art work. A selection of Gordon Huether’s fine art work is on display in St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery’s gallery space since Fall 2014.

Douglas Skelton

Board Member

Douglas Skelton joined Coombs & Dunlap, LLP in 2020 after six years in private practice. Mr. Skelton began his legal career with the Napa County Public Defender’s Office before establishing his own Napa criminal defense office where he handled a wide range of criminal cases, from simple misdemeanors to complex felonies, both at trial and on appeal. His practice continues to focus on criminal and DUI defense while expanding his civil practice to involve all manner of civil litigation.

Mr. Skelton was recently recognized for his expertise by being named a Northern California Rising Star by Super Lawyers, a rating service of outstanding lawyers awarded to only 2.5% of attorneys in Northern California.

Mr. Skelton is a member of the State Bar of California, the Napa County Bar Association, and the First 5 Napa Network. He is the President of Napa Valley Networkers, Napa’s only BNI chapter. Outside of the office, he enjoys exploring the valley on two wheels and playing music and telling stories with his family.  Mr. Skelton is grateful to local legendary criminal defense attorney Mervin Lernhart, who was both officemate and mentor to Mr. Skelton during his early year.

Laura Orozco

Board Member

Laura Orozco grew up in the heart of Napa Valley, surrounded by grapes. Her father literally broke his back working in the vineyards so she wanted nothing to do with agriculture, she wanted a better quality of life. Laura — the first in her family to graduate from college — had plans to join the medical profession. After graduating from The University of California at Santa Cruz with a Molecular Biology degree, she returned to Napa to prepare for the MCAT. While staying focused on her studies, she obtained a harvest-season lab assistant position at Franciscan Estate Winery. She was immediately intrigued by the complexity of winemaking. After harvest, Laura’s seasonal position turned into a full-time job. That promotion marked the end of her medical school path and the beginning of her wine career.

After 6 years at Franciscan Estate, Laura moved on to become an enologist at V. Sattui Winery and was ultimately promoted to winemaker. Over the course of her career, Laura has gained deep experience across 15 plus varietals and genuinely loves the varied dynamics of winemaking. In 2015, Laura joined the team at Chimney Rock Winery as Assistant Winemaker. Today, Laura works alongside General Manager and Winemaker Elizabeth Vianna crafting the winery’s signature Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Laura fell in love with Chimney Rock 10 years earlier – her husband was a cellar worker at the winery. When the opportunity came to join the team, she immediately jumped in. Coming full circle, Laura’s original dislike of agriculture is now one of the elements she most enjoys. Working in the vineyard has become a pleasure and an honor.

Staff

Sheli Smith

Executive Director

Sheli was born and raised in Napa and graduated from Justin-Siena High School. She went on to study Anthropology at the University of Arizona, eventually specializing in Maritime Archaeology she received her Masters from Texas A&M University and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.  Sheli worked in maritime museums doing research and curation, returning to California to work with California State Parks in the study and preservation of the state’s maritime heritage. 

In 2000, Sheli joined the PAST Foundation, a non-profit focused on developing new and engaging educational models in response to changing workforce needs around the world. After twenty years of developing programs and professional development, Sheli has returned home to the Valley.

Sheli actively participates in a number endeavors that reflect her passion for Education, the Arts, and Anthropology including California’s State Parks Diving Advisory, Ohio’s Shadowbox Live Educational Advisory, and the international Advisory Council for Underwater Archaeology.

Kelly O’Connor

Research Librarian

Kelly was raised in Petaluma and has always been interested in history. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Global Studies at CSU Monterey Bay, and earned a Masters in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University in 2019. She feels honored to be a new member of NCHS’s Goodman Fellowship program as she works towards her Arrangement & Description certificate through the SAA.