At Home With Dean & Susie Spanos
“You want some chicken soup? I make the best chicken soup.” Susie Spanos is bustling about the kitchen in her hilltop home, offering visitors a taste from the pot simmering on the stove. The “First Lady of San Diego Football,” as she’s been called, is a petite, blonde bundle of energy as she shows Ranch & Coast around the three-level house carved into a canyon overlooking La Jolla Shores. From nearly every room, there is a dazzling view of the coastline. On this brilliant day in mid-October, the sun glints off sparkling, sapphire blue waters, and seabirds glide overhead.
There was just a small cottage on the private, one-acre lot when Susie and husband Dean, Chairman of the Board and President of the San Diego Chargers, bought the property in 1997. They hired Del Mar-based architect Bill Hayer, who says the biggest challenge was expanding the pad on the steeply sloped property. Hayer solved the problem by adding a basement and below-grade garage, then carefully laying out primary living spaces to take advantage of the remarkable views.
Susie also worked closely with the late Arthur Porras on the home’s interior designs. “Because we have so much nature around us,” she says, “he brought the inside in.” Sleek, contemporary furnishings in neutral tones complement rather than compete with the vistas. Porras also designed the custom cabinets, and selected artwork ranging from a massive glass panel above the reflecting pool to a centuries-old carved angel from a church altar. Despite its lofty location, the house, says Dean, is very down to earth. “What I mean by down to earth is that every room, you can get comfortable in. There’s really no formality to our home — and the views are spectacular.”
It’s also perfect for entertaining. “What I love about it, is the functionality,” says Susie. “It really works well for us.” From the living and dining rooms, guests can spill out onto the slate-tiled terraces or into the intimate interior courtyard with its raised reflecting pool and waterfall. The den, centered with a big screen TV and a couch large enough for linebackers, is a favorite place to watch football games. There’s also a bar, a foosball table, and bookshelves lined with dozens of Dean’s golfing trophies. An accomplished golfer, he has taken top honors at major pro-ams from Pebble Beach to Palm Springs.
The couple’s big, extended family includes sons A.G. and John and their wives, brothers and sisters, and 25 nieces and nephews. “When we all get together,” Susie says with a laugh, “it’s like the movie” — a reference to the sleeper hit, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The son of Greek immigrants, Dean’s father Alex, majority owner of the Chargers, became a real estate developer and self-made billionaire. Sixteen years after his father received the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor, Dean himself accepted the prize, which remains his most cherished. “That’s where it all started,” he reflects. “It was very special.”
The Spanos family also comes from a tradition of giving back. They have pledged $500,000 for a new Athletic Performance Center at UCSD, named after Alex Spanos, bringing their support to $1.6 million. The Chargers Community Foundation has provided nearly $12 million to programs that help youth and families in San Diego County.
Dean is especially proud of the Chargers Champions, created in 1999, to improve the health and fitness of county students. Since then, the program has provided more than $5 million to area schools for fitness, nutrition, weight rooms, and athletic fields.
Susie, named a 2001 Woman of Dedication by the Salvation Army and Woman of the Year by the San Diego Leukemia Society for her philanthropic work, has been especially involved with the Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic Church and the Village Garden Club of La Jolla. But perhaps nothing has been more rewarding than her work with the Chargers’ Blood Drive and the NFL’s “A Crucial Catch” campaign in partnership with the American Cancer Society to promote annual screenings for breast cancer. Susie and Tanya Snyder of the Washington Redskins were national spokespersons for the program, helping to raise millions of dollars for breast cancer education and screenings. The Chargers became the first NFL team to offer free mammograms. Last year, because of those screenings, 22 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.
Susie is a big believer in early detection for a very personal reason. In 2004, when a routine mammogram revealed a spot smaller than a pinhead, she insisted on a biopsy. She had stage one breast cancer, which doctors treated successfully. The experience taught Susie how important it is for women to be health advocates for their families, their friends, themselves.
Another lesson is especially apt as we approach Thanksgiving. “I’ve learned that you really have to enjoy your life,” she says. “Celebrate the good times. Bless the day. Be thankful.” Andrea Naversen
Photography by Vincent Knakal