Former editor enjoys romance, adventure in Baja


This day one year ago, July 7, 2016, I couldn’t have imagined how much my life was about to change. It was a Thursday and, as editor of The Friday Flyer, I was still recovering from “deadline Wednesday,” having put together the 4th of July-recap issue in just two days.

On the morning of July 8, I was anticipating a brief visit from my sister and her husband; and later, a get-together with an old family friend: Scott Butler had worked with my husband in financial services some 30 years earlier and our families had been friends when our children were young.

Now, Scott was passing through town while returning from a road trip, and contacted me via Facebook Messenger to see if I’d want to meet for iced tea and catch up on what had been happening with our families over the past three decades.

Scott and I had been Facebook “friends” for a few years, so he knew my husband had passed away in 2007, and I knew he was divorced and working with with the ministry, “Baja Bound: Building Houses for the Working Poor,” in Baja, Mexico. Other than that, there was a lot for us to catch up on.

That first meeting, at the Menifee Marketplace patio, we talked two and half hours. Two weeks later he came back up from Mexico for dinner at my house, and we talked six more hours that evening and another three hours the next day. He also went with me to church, as we share a strong commitment to the same biblical values.

The connection we felt was immediate and only deepened as we communicated via Messenger while he was in Mexico – thousands of words at all hours of the day and night. We sensed a divine purpose in our reconnection and, within a month, knew we wanted to marry.

On August 8, I submitted my notice of resignation to Chuck Golding and Carolyn Knight, owners of The Friday Flyer, and told them I’d be moving to Baja to work with Scott in his ministry and to live at the beach in the largely ex-pat community known as Punta Banda (about 80 miles south of San Diego).

Needless to say, family members and friends were alarmed and shocked by the suddenness of my decision. I have to admit I was shocked, too. But I never doubted it was the right decision.

I hadn’t dated in the nine years since my husband’s passing and wasn’t looking for a husband. Scott hadn’t dated either and wasn’t anxious to find a new wife. But we fell the proverbial “head over heels” in love and quickly rediscovered passion and romance, as well as a fun and conflict-free companionship.

We married three months later, on Thanksgiving Day, in a private ceremony held during an extended family retreat at Thousand Pines Christian Conference Center in Crestline. After our honeymoon and three wedding receptions – one held at the Canyon Lake home of Reel People Ron and Leigh Martel – we settled into our own beach house, located a short distance from the Baja Bound beach house.

Scott and I agree it would be difficult to imagine any romance/adventure novel telling a better story than ours.

The work we do with Baja Bound is a major part of the adventure. The San Diego-based organization provides escort across the border, lodging, food and technical support for groups who raise money and come from the U.S. to build sturdy, 16×20 wood-framed houses for farmworker families in the Maneadero area.

Baja Bound works in conjunction with a Mexican church that helps determine which families qualify for a house. The families are interviewed and must show title or payment history on a plot of land. In most cases, the families live on their property in a hovel made of wood crates wrapped in plastic, with dirt floors, and no plumbing or electricity.

This is a huge agricultural area, with fields and greenhouses stretching for miles across the valley and up the sides of nearby mountains. Fortunately, with its proximity to the ocean, the weather is temperate. The countryside and towns are very picturesque – in a Mexico sort of way. We love it!

Volunteer groups who come to build range in number from six to sixty. A retired banker with some construction background, Scott is the main construction supervisor, assisted by his son, Connor, and two nationals, Alfonso and Francisco. I participate in every build and head up the painting crews. Groups are escorted south by Baja Bound staff based in San Diego.

Groups are made up of all ages and backgrounds, with just one thing in common: a desire to serve their fellow human beings in a tangible way. They come from churches, private schools, business associations and friend groups. This past spring, one young woman told her family and friends she wanted to celebrate her 23rd birthday with a build. She conducted an online fundraising campaign; and she and her friends not only built a house, they were able to purchase numerous gifts for the family.

One of my personal favorite groups – Linfield Christian School of Temecula – has been working with Baja Bound for several years. Two of Scott’s sons attended Linfield, so it holds a special place for him, too.

When Linfield came this past April, I figured there would be someone from Canyon Lake, so I brought a copy of The Friday Flyer to the build. Sure enough, Scott and I met Canyon Lake student Owen Gibbel and his mother Josette, and had a picture taken with them for the newspaper feature “Near and Far with The Friday Flyer.” (Unfortunately, I never sat down to write their story and send it to the paper.)

The last two weeks of June welcomed students from a private high school in Manhattan NYC. Several seniors came the first week; underclassmen the second. Together they raised enough money to build three houses and contribute numerous gifts and educational scholarships to the families.

There are several ministries in this area that benefit from the generosity of Americans. In the meantime, the many Americans who live and/or minister here – away from the “tourist” parts of Mexico – benefit from a culture that is rich in color, music, family life, hard work, warm smiles and great food. It is no sacrifice to live here!

Because Scott and I live on Social Security and small stipends we earn on builds, we have figured out another source of income: renting out our beach house on Air B&B (Casa Ballena Punta Banda) while visiting California or taking road trips. This has given us the funds and motivation to work together on home-improvement projects. As a result, the last few months have been busy but satisfying.

Some of our friends may have thought we were escaping the rat race to live a life of relaxation, margaritas and long walks on the beach. We do enjoy those; but working together and serving together have been our true joy. It’s a rare occasion now that I get on my computer. Considering where I was a year ago today, it’s a whole new world.

To learn more about Baja Bound, visit


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Donna Ritchie