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Rita Petrekova is the Conservancy's finance director.

Rita’s journey from Czechoslovakia to the Conservancy

Numbers make sense for Rita Petrekova, yet they also bring a sort of solace, along with a curiosity, of how to fit the pieces of the puzzle.

Rita’s draw to math, numbers and even spreadsheets began at an early age, but before she evolved into a financial wizard for The Escondido Creek Conservancy, she and her family had to ride out a tough environment.

Rita was born and raised in the former Czechoslovakia in a town, in what is now Slovakia, near the Ukraine-Hungary border. A strict communist country, the environment in Czechoslovakia was “rough,” Rita said.

So, her parents put Rita and her brother through every extracurricular activity which might help them leave the country once they were old enough. She is a trained classical pianist, danced for 17 years and self-admitted gym enthusiast.  She started piano at age 6 and took to it right away, noting the connection between the piano and math with the notes and pace. As a dancer until she was 17, Rita performed classical, ballet and modern, which she enjoyed a bit more as she was part of group, as her preference is to be part of a team.

In school, Rita said she had to be a straight-A student, and she was. She was always drawn to math, statistics, solving formulas and, yes, spreadsheets.

After high school, Rita spent one year working in Israel while she saved to attend an American college with a satellite campus in Bratislava, where she studied business administration.

Once she graduated, Rita briefly worked for her parents’ business, after which she packed her bags and set her sights on America, where her brother was studying at LSU. However, she was offered an entry-level job with a real estate company in Encinitas 15 years ago, so Rita chose her own Manifest Destiny and went west.

Rita stands atop Mount Whitney in 2019

Rita stands atop Mount Whitney in 2019. Courtesy photo

Although she lives in San Diego now, the move to the U.S. wasn’t too difficult for Rita. Always independent and mentally tough, she adapted even though she had an accent, and had to adopt in a new world.

“I wasn’t really afraid and when you’re young, you do things like this,” Rita explained. “My first roommate is still my best friend, so I really lucked out. She is like my extended family.”

Several years ago, though, Rita had a chance encounter with Ann Van Leer, the Conservancy’s executive director. The two bonded and soon Rita would join Ann to work at the Conservancy.

“I was impressed with Rita’s intellect and her integrity, as well as her fiscal acumen,” said Ann. “As the Conservancy has grown, and now with accreditation, financial competence is more important than ever. We were so pleased when she decided to join our team.”

At the Conservancy, Rita covers all the financial responsibilities, and the list runs deep. She oversees income, expenses, statements, analysis of statements, investments, budget comparisons, programs, payroll, she produces and prepares the budget and covers all financial transactions from grants, to name a few. Rita, along with Donna Leon, led the Conservancy’s efforts to obtaining the prestigious Land Trust Alliance accreditation last year.

“I didn’t know too much about conservation,” Rita said about the Conservancy’s efforts before being hired. “I learned on the job how these things happen. I grew to love and care about it.”

But when she’s not in her kingdom of numbers and spreadsheets, Rita said she’s either in the gym or outside, a nod to her childhood where she would work in her grandparent’s garden or pick grapes at their vineyard.

In 2019, she summited Mt. Whitney, which is the highest mountains in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet. Her journey — up and back down — took 17 hours and began at 2:30 a.m.

She also loves to ski with the Dolomite Mountains in Italy as her favorite spot and Mammoth and Park City, Utah, as her go-to destinations in the U.S.

“I work out a lot,” Rita said. “I do weightlifting, kickboxing, I love everything sports. I also play tennis. I am very passionate in the gym.”

And earlier this year, Rita became a naturalized U.S. citizen. It was a proud moment for Rita, her friends and family, as the journey was long, full of obstacles, but undoubtedly worth it.

Meanwhile, her parents remain in Slovakia, currently helping the Ukrainian refugees at the border as they still vividly recall past Russian occupation.