Ailie Chamberlin of Los Olivos, who rode horseback through California’s coastal ranchlands in a time when there were no paved highways, has died at the age of 102.

Helen Adele Elizabeth van Loben Sels Chamberlin died on Aug. 16 at Rancho Los Potreros in Los Olivos, her family home.

She came to the valley after many travels and adventures, taught high school in a tent in Santa Ynez, and met her future husband, Theodore Chamberlin, Jr. They had seven children.

Ailie Chamberlin was born during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, when the shaking of the Bay Area sent her mother into labor at the family home in Oakland. Chamberlin was the eldest of seven children.

She grew up on the family ranch in delta country, downriver from Sacramento and still among the family holdings.


Her life was filled with adventures and many journeys, one in particular that stands out. She rode on horseback from Central California to Grass Valley in 1928, bringing her ailing brother Peter home from Thatcher School in Ojai. The family was living temporarily in the High Sierra, and it became necessary to bring her brother home after he was bitten by a rattlesnake.

According to a family account, the brother and sister rode over the Sespe into the Cuyama Valley, then down into the Salinas River drainage.

Judging that the inland route would be too hot, they crossed over into the coastal mountains, from Paso Robles to Cambria.

Construction of Highway 1 had just begun, so the pair rode up the Big Sur coastline following trails, staying with local ranchers at night.


They arrived at William Randolph Hearst’s ranch and asked permission to camp and light a fire near the creek. Instead, they were allowed to stay in a small cottage with hot water and a bathtub. They woke up itching, scratching and finding fleas that had invaded their sleeping bags. Then they learned that the “cottage” was the temporarily vacant doghouse at Hearst’s ranch.

Her childhood was spent being tutored at home with her siblings, studying French and playing the piano.

Her last two high school years were spent at Castilleja School for Girls in Palo Alto. She graduated from Stanford University in 1929 with a bachelor’s degree in biology, then went on to earn a masters in entomology from Cornell University in New York.

After she came to Santa Ynez and met Ted Chamberlin, the two were married in 1935. Thereafter, they lived at Rancho Los Potreros in Los Olivos, with a family that grew to seven children.


Following the early deaths of two of the children, Anne and Mike, the Chamberlins raised their surviving sons and daughters: Helen, Fred, Willy, Debi and Sarah.

Ailie Chamberlin, in addition to housework and child-rearing, assisted her husband with the work of the ranch: Rounding up cattle, separating milk, churning butter or cooking homegrown garbanzo beans.

She also did the canning, gardening, darning and mending in the evening, then squeezed in a few minutes before bedtime to read.

A lifelong lover of horseback riding, she was a member of the Sage Hens until she had to quit the activity when she was in her mid-80s.

She also took pleasure in traveling, and achieved her goal of going through the Panama Canal by ship when she was in her 90s.

She visited her grown children in far-flung places such as Bangkok, Paris and Venezuela, other family members in Holland, Germany and Austria, and cruised the Inside Passage to Alaska.


Closer to home, she was active in the SYV Co-coördinating Council, the Children’s Health Memorial, Santa Barbara County Cattlewomen, American Field Service, the SYV Chorale and the Presbyterian Church in Ballard.

Chamberlin was predeceased by her husband, three of her children and one granddaughter.

Her survivors include four children, seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Memorial services and a celebration of her life will take place at the Ballard Presbyterian Church on Sept. 13, followed by a barbecue at the family ranch three miles north of Los Olivos on Figueroa Road.


Chamberlin’s family has asked that participants be comfortably dressed for a ranch meadow barbecue.

Memorial funds in her name have been set up at the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Society, the Santa Barbara County Cattlewomen, c/o Gerry Campbell in Lompoc, and the Santa Ynez Valley Chorale.