I am excited to introduce our readers to amazing and caring people who live, work, play and do business in our community and city. Learning about people of all lifestyles, talents, and personalities who I think would be interesting for our readers to enjoy. San Diego has a wonderful diversity of individuals that make our slice of paradise the greatest place to live and enjoy each other’s uniqueness.
As a gay man, and for as long as I can remember, the Leather Community has played a huge role in making a powerful difference in the LGBTQ+ Community. Unfortunately, it is one of those groups that is sometimes overlooked for the amazing work they do for all human beings. I met Donnie years ago through the Imperial Court de San Diego, from the beginning I notice he was always willing to step forward to volunteer and take leadership roles to make sure things happen. A soft-spoken, kind, and loving member of our community who has a heart full of compassion to help others. May I introduce you to my friend, the loveable Bear, Donnie.
How did you end up in San Diego and what do you love about it?
I am a Native San Diegan; born and raised in South County. I loved growing up in the 92154 area as a child because we were close to the ranches where our horses were kept. On weekends I’d go riding with my Grandpa Ray and help him with cleaning out the stalls. I had a Shetland Pony named Lucky when I was a child.
In four words, what gets you excited about your goals in life and why?
Family, Community, Volunteerism, Leader.
I love my family for all that they have taught me in my life. I appreciate my community for letting me be me and all the friends I’ve made through volunteering and working in the groups that I help lead such as Bears San Diego.
What makes your business stand out and how has it changed your life?
I help with the board of Bears San Diego. Bears San Diego is a Social Group for Men who identify as a Bear, Otter, Wolf, Etc. and other likeminded people who enjoy our company. Our Group also has several members that are women. We are also a 501(c)3 not for profit organization. Combining social activities such as dinner nights, movie outings, monthly house (den) parties with different fundraising events at local establishments such as our annual chili cook-off, Mac & Cheese Contest, our caBEARet shows which have specific themes and feature many local entertainers of all types. We also have our Annual Mr. Bear San Diego Contest during BearQuake each October, which is a weekend of fundraising events at different bars such as AWOL, PECS, RICH’s, and The Merrow. Two other title contests, Goldilocks, and Huggy Bear are fun contests that are open to anyone regardless of Gender Identity or expression.
I used to be shy as a kid. I’m kind of still am especially in big group situations. People think I’m an extrovert but in reality, I’m more of an introvert until I’m approached by someone and then I’ll be an open book. Being a part of Bears San Diego has helped me to come out of my shell. In October 2013 I decided to run for a contest. I competed with other Bears from So Cal that were already experienced title holders and low and behold I won the title of Mr So Cal Bear 2014. That year I worked with the current San Diego Bear David Wayne Ferguson, and we were able to raise close to $11,000 which was split up and donated to Special Delivery San Diego, Stepping Stone, and the LGBTQ Center.
What do you do in your life to help make life a little better for others?
Besides participating with the Board as acting President of Bears San Diego I am also a member of the Imperial Court de San Diego. I was dubbed the Obsidian Double Dragon Crowned Prince from Regent Emperor 44 Summer Lee after serving as the inaugural Royal Bear 2016 which is a title that serves as a bridge between Bears SD and the ICSD. The Bears often help the Court at several of their Annual Events such as the Easter Egg Hunt at Trolley Barn Park, Scott Carlson Thanksgiving Dinner, and blanket, toy, and backpack drives.
If you were given the chance to do something amazing for yourself and one other person, no matter the cost, who would you choose and what would you do?
I am a fan of anything Disney and of Duffy the Disney Bear. He is a character most popular at Tokyo Disney Sea a park which is equivalent to, if not better than Disney’s California Adventure Park. I would love to get the chance to visit there with my partner Anthony.
Who inspires you in life to do your very best and why?
I’ve been inspired by many people such as community volunteers that came before me like Mandy Shultz and Queen Eddie Conlon. These two have set great examples of Community Volunteerism. Mandy was one of the first people I got to meet when I volunteered for San Diego Pride in the mid 90s. Back then I was just a shy kid a couple years after graduating high school. I’m inspired by fellow titleholders, colleagues, and friends like Tamanava McKlintock, Paulo Batista, and Benny Cartwright. These three continue to push boundaries, open doors to create change in the community and lead with their hearts for the betterment of the community. Lastly, I’m inspired by my dad, Santos “Joe” Vella, who recently passed away this past Christmas Day from a hard but brave battle with pancreatic cancer. My Dad was always a hard worker be it for his job or taking care of his family.
If you could witness any event of the past, present, or future, what would it be and why?
Growing up we didn’t have extra money for many fun things to do so I missed out on going to concerts and events when I was younger. I would have loved to have seen live artists like Michael Jackson or Prince back in the day. They were pioneers in the music industry and now they are no longer around.
If you could give someone advice about your art, hobby, or business, what would you tell them?
Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can accomplish today. Tomorrow is not promised. Like the song says from my favorite Broadway Show (RENT) “There is No Day But Today.”
Name two people who have impacted your life in a positive way and how they have they changed it?
Papa Tony Lindsey – I met Papa Tony when he was running the Fetish Men San Diego group. I followed the group online at first and after about a year I felt brave enough to go to a meeting in person which used to be held upstairs at Pleasures and Treasures in North Park. He invested his time in me and saw beyond my shy exterior. He taught me a lot about the Leather Community and about what it means to have a “Leather Heart”. Papa Tony and I also organized a Leather Gear Night to see the Tom of Finland movie at the now closed Ken Theater.
The other person I would mention is actually a combination of people that coached me and helped me produce the first “CaBEARet” show fundraiser I produced during my title year as Mr. So Cal Bear. That would be Jade Melrose, Ma Ma Cass, Saphire Tyde, and Sister Nora Torious. They all gave me great advice and connected me with many of the local performers and personalities; many of which have become great friends and I still get to work with today.
Gratitude is so important in each of our lives, what are you most grateful for, and how do you pay it forward?
I am grateful for the many people that have supported me throughout the years from the bears, the leather community, the Imperial Court, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Something that I am very proud of is the Community coming together when I asked them to, and we were able to raise enough funds through donations to get a Giant Bear Flag made so that the Bears could be represented and recognized on the flagpole at Pride Plaza. We unveiled the flag at Pride in July 2019 and flew the flag for the first time in October 2019 in Celebration of Bears San Diego’s 25 years as an organization. I hope that it becomes a tradition to fly the bear flag in recognition of our Annual BearQuake Weekend. In 2024 I have plans for a big event that will enable the whole Community of Hillcrest to be able to celebrate with us as we celebrate our 30th Anniversary.
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