Meet Lillian Spreckels ...

The Coronado Flower Show festivities will give attendees an opportunity to learn more about the lady who helped establish our annual Flower Show 100 years ago when Debbie Watts, as Lillie Spreckels, strolls around the flower show and engages in conversation with guests.

If you are at all knowledgeable about Coronado, you know that the Spreckels name is honored in multiple ways. The name is attached to significant buildings as well as the central park in town. Residents are aware of John Spreckels, the industrialist sugar king, who bought the Hotel del Coronado and built the Spreckels Mansion in 1908 as his private residence. He lived there until his death in 1926. That mansion across from the Hotel Del is now Glorietta Bay Inn,

His wife Lillian was a dynamic force in Coronado, also, but very little is known about her. The Flower Show festivities will give attendees an opportunity to learn more about the lady who helped establish our annual Flower Show 100 years ago when Debbie Watts, as Lillie Spreckels, strolls around the flower show and engages in conversation with guests. Guests are encouraged to greet her and ask questions.

Watts, a resident of Nashville, Tennessee, is multi-talented. She has performed, starting with Opryland USA while she was a teen, in stage shows, then in piano, vocal, and recording sessions. As a piano performer on a steamboat, she received questions about Nashville’s Captain Ryman which piqued her interest in Ryman and his wife Betty. Majoring in English with an emphasis in creative writing at Lipscomb University and then Graduate School at Austin Peay State University motivated her research to gain answers for the passengers’ questions. Fascinated by the famous couple, she used her knowledge and writing skills to become an author and a playwright, which led to her two-person “conversational monologues” about the Rymans. Joining with Tom Dolan, they became the Ryman couple around the Nashville area for two years.

After visiting Coronado, which she now calls her second home, and seeing the Spreckels name prominently displayed, Watts discovered another famous historical couple that took root in her mind. She began her investigation to write their biography. “The Diaries of John and Lillie Spreckels,” published in 2015, spawned another two-person stage play. She introduced the stage version at the Coronado Library that fall. Impersonating Lillie feels natural to Watts as she has no trouble getting into character at a moment’s notice. She enjoys the acting aspect of portraying such an admirable, historic woman.

John Diedrich Spreckels married Lillie Siebein in 1877, and they soon left to begin their marriage in the Kingdom of Hawaii. Although skeptical of water travel, Lillie did not hesitate to follow her husband as he set out to work for the family’s sugar refining business. While there, she became friends with Queen Lili’uokalani who was the only queen regnant and the last sovereign monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom. The Spreckels had four children: Grace, Lillie, John, and Claus.

The local history in addition to the entertainment component of Nashville have kept the native there. Currently in Nashville, Watts is portraying Anne Dallas Dudley who was central to the national suffrage movement and the struggle in her home state of Tennessee. Dudley was instrumental in Tennessee’s efforts to become the 36th and final state to support women’s suffrage, making the 19th Amendment the law of the land.

Watts has written several children’s books, the first being “What’s in My Stocking?” about the best Christmas she ever had. “I got a puppy in my stocking. And I had a pop-up puppy in the book.” Two years ago, she wrote a book to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association: “What’s Wrong with Grandma?” Inspired when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Watts wanted to write a book to explain Alzheimer’s to children. “We were all shocked when my mom was diagnosed, and we didn’t know what we were dealing with.”

With her many professional hats as performer, author, singer, and piano player, Watts has a fun hat, entering pageants. She placed third in Ms. Tennessee, has won several competitions, and placed in others, and this year “I’m doing the Ms. Senior. So that’s going be fun. That’s down in Buloxi, Mississippi, and they live stream it. This pageant doesn’t do talent but a fitness routine. I do have my favorite fitness, hula hoop, so it’s fun. It’s a lot of fun.”

Watts is grateful to the Coronado Floral Association and its president Diana Drummey who have invited her to participate in the Flower Show for the second time. Billed as the largest tented flower show in the U.S. and Coronado’s longest running tradition, it will be held April 23-24. The Lillie Spreckels engagements will begin with a tea in the Winn Room of the Coronado Library on Thursday, April 21, to a sold-out performance. Mrs. Spreckles will engage in conversational monologues, giving the audience a peek into her life 100 years ago.

Watts will continue to find historical women to explore, write about, and impersonate. For additional information or suggestions, contact her at

Vol. 38, No. 16 - Thursday, April 21, 2022

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