The Cambrian

Scarecrow Festival leader is Cambria's 2013 Citizen of the Year

Taylor Hilden
Taylor Hilden

Scarecrow Festival maven Taylor Hilden, who is to be honored Jan. 14 as Cambria’s Citizen of the Year for 2013, doesn’t want recognition or praise for what she does, she said recently.

Instead, she throws herself wholeheartedly into her chosen activities to provide fun for others and encourage them to seek their own inspiration for enjoyment and enthusiasm.

Even so, she said, “I’m especially grateful for this award, because there are so many people who deserve it more than I do. The fact that it’s being given to me, well, I’m going to enjoy every single minute.”

Hilden, a super-energetic 68-year-old, is a smile on the face of Cambria, especially each October, when hundreds of scarecrows are put on display on North Coast sidewalks and other areas by local artists and businesspeople.

There had been an extensive organized campaign of nominations for Hilden, according to Mary Ann Carson, executive director of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the annual award but does not vet the list of potential honorees. That’s done by a committee composed of former citizens of the year.

They go through the nominations, make their selection and then send it to the chamber board for a vote.

The chamber doesn’t authorize or approve of such nominating campaigns, Carson said, and the slightly disgruntled selection committee disqualified most of the 350 nominations resulting from the push to honor Hilden. Carson said the disqualifications were because so many of the nominations were form letters, rather than heartfelt personal opinions about Hilden, and because those form letters didn’t even provide the information required on the chamber’s own nomination forms.

“This isn’t a popularity contest in which the person with the most nominations wins,” Carson said. Instead, the selection committee bases its recommendation on a variety of factors, including the impact each person made on the community.

Hilden won, which demonstrates the effect she’s had on the community she loves.

Moving to the pines

The Hildens moved to Cambria from Orange County in 1995. After visiting for more than 20 years, and briefly contemplating buying the town of Harmony, “we came up here to celebrate my 50th birthday and moved here six weeks later,” she recalled. “It was the best thing we ever did,” other than getting married young after being high-school sweethearts, and having three children (they have six grandchildren).

Once in Cambria, Taylor Hilden threw herself into the community with fervor, launching the most recent iteration of the Cambria Newcomers’ Club. Previous versions of the club had faded away, so she went to Morro Bay to participate in a similar group there. Then it dawned on her: “Why should I drive 40 miles to play Bunco?”

She spent 11 months attending meetings of newcomers’ groups throughout the county, came home, and launched her own club, which has about 200 members interested in everything from books and dining out to gardening, traveling, cooking, needlework, bird watching, kayaking and yes, Bunco.

Since then, Hilden has organized a Cambria Concerts in the Park series, launched a fundraising challenge between book clubs to raise money toward Cambria’s new library (the effort raised about $15,000), championed a weight-loss challenge and is currently obsessed with her latest passion, pickleball.

“It’s not only exercise,” she said, “but it’s play. You’re having such fun for all ages. We laugh a lot,” she said of the group that is looking for funds to build courts on the grounds of the Old Grammar School.

Hilden’s legacy

But the metaphor for Hilden’s Cambria success story always will be the scarecrows.

Cambria’s Scarecrow Festival has grown from 30 soft sculptures on display in 2009 to more than 400 scarecrows in a variety of media in 2013. The festival lightbulb went on over Hilden’s head when she and husband Joseph (“Jos” for short) visited the tiny Nova Scotia town of Mahone Bay in 2008. The town’s scarecrow festival had ended, but some of the sculptures were still on display.

Hilden told her husband, “What a delightful idea! Why don’t we do this in Cambria?”

They could, and with the help of other enthusiasts, artisans and the Cambria Historical Society, they did. Now, thousands of people arrive in town each October to see whimsical creations of hundreds of North Coast residents and businesspeople.

“The scarecrows continue to amaze us,” she said. “They’ve become an entity of their own. They belong to the community.”

The festival will change each year, Hilden said. “It gets fresh and exciting on its own,” as happened in 2012 with the flash mob and the posting of electronic QR codes through that people with smartphones can scan to get more information about the scarecrows.

Hilden’s especially pleased that the festival seems to have sparked “a whole new wave of energy” that has produced other new events. “I was so touched by that. It’s so connecting. I absolutely love it.”