Vlasta Dryak Kankel was a long time Santa Monica resident who passed away on March 8, 2006 at the age of 94. Vlasta inspired people, young and old, with her stories of survival, her encyclopedic mind that could recount historical facts from the Roman Empire to the state of California, as well as her sense of fun. She also followed the political scene like a hawk, voicing her opinions on everything from the death penalty (“It’s a sin – as bad as the original crime”) to the war in Iraq (“There are no winners in war – everyone is a victim”).Vlasta was born on October 10, 1911 in Zagreb into a comfortable middle class family, the youngest of three children. Her father was a noted architect – he supervised the building of the Croatian National Theater. At the age of 21, Vlasta embarked on what would become a very successful career as a stage actress at the Croatian National Theater. In 1937, she married Ferdinand Delak, a theater director, and two years later, their daughter, Xantha, was born.Vlasta survived the hardships of World War II despite being imprisoned for three months for harboring Jews and other refugees. She gave birth to her second daughter, Michele, in 1945 in an Austrian alpine village while her second husband, Josef Kankel, a political activist, was on a mission in Slovenia. Shortly after giving birth, she learned her husband had been shot and killed.The war ended in 1945 and Vlasta and her two young daughters adapted to life in Zagreb, a broken city in a fear-driven communist state. By a miracle, Vlasta managed to escape to Paris with her children in 1952 and settled there until 1959, when by another miracle, Vlasta received a visa to move to America. With characteristic resourcefulness, she started a successful business running retirement homes in Los Angeles. In 1971, she bought a house in Santa Monica and in 1984 retired to a nearby 1920’s Spanish bungalow where every weekend she entertained friends and family.Vlasta always remained optimistic and eternally grateful, despite all the anguish and turmoil she endured in her long life. “We have food on the table, we have a roof over our heads,” Vlasta would always say, “Let us never forget we are very rich.”
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