Scott and Vanessa Wilk were born on opposite sides of the country, unlikely to ever meet — but foreshadowing of their future selves, it was politics that brought them together.
Scott, a Republican, was elected to his his first term in the California Senate in 2016, representing the Santa Clarita Valley, Antelope Valley, Victor Valley and the communities of Adelanto, Apple Valley, Hesperia and Victorville.
Vanessa is district director for Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, who represents the Antelope Valley, Acton and parts of Kern and San Bernardino counties.
Scott was born on the third floor of Antelope Valley Hospital in the third year of the hospital’s existence. His father, like many Antelope Valley residents, worked in aerospace, and his mother was a stay-at-home mom. Scott, the oldest of three siblings, has two sisters.
He also recently discovered he is a direct descendant of Kentucky frontiersman Daniel Boone.
“That was kind of neat to find out,” he said.
A graduate of Antelope Valley High School, Scott had planned to attend University of California, Santa Barbara, before fate intervened.
While attending community college, he applied for a paid summer internship program in Washington, D.C. He was accepted and found himself working in the summer of 1979 for Congressman Bill Thomas during the legislator’s freshman year in Congress.
Thomas, a Republican served in Congress from 1979 to 2007, finishing his tenure as the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
“He was a very smart man,” said Scott.
Scott worked for Thomas in his Bakersfield district office for four and a half years.
Instead of attending UCSB, Scott attended the California State University, Bakersfield, during that time, earning his bachelor’s degree in Political Science.
After his stint with Thomas, Wilk worked for a public affairs consulting group then found a position with Republican California state Sen. Ed Davis.
Davis represented the Santa Clarita Valley in the state senate from 1980-92.
Wilk moved on from Davis to work for the Motor Car Dealers Association of Southern California (now the New Car Dealers Association), and then ran the trade association.
Republican Assemblywomen Paula Boland hired Scott to be her chief of staff from 1993-96. Boland’s 38th Assembly District at the time included Granada Hills, Simi Valley and a little sliver of the SCV. After Boland was unable to run again because of term limits, Republican Tom McClintock took the seat and retained Scott as chief of staff.
In 1999, the Wilks left Southern California for Sioux Falls, S.D. Scott worked at a startup company in the Midwest until 2001.
Buck and the Tornado
Fate brought the Wilks back to Southern California in a most dramatic fashion.
In June 2001, a tornado alert was issued for the Sioux Falls area, and the Wilks spent the night in their basement awaiting the all clear.
“In the morning, we went outside and saw that the trees in our neighborhood all looked like wine goblets,” said Scott. “The of the trees had been shaved. The tornado never touched the ground, but had taken off the tops of the trees.”
The F3 tornado, (classified as a “severe tornado” with wind speeds from 158 mph-206 mph) had touched down on the main street only a few blocks from the Wilks’ home.
“When Vanessa saw that, she said, ‘I’m out of here,’” said Scott.
Later in the day, then-Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, called Scott to ask if he wanted to return to California.
“Yes, yes I do,” Scott told McKeon. “The phone call was completely out of left field, I was not expecting it — but it came at the right time.”
Scott worked for McKeon as district director in his Santa Clarita office until December 2006.
After leaving McKeon’s office, Scott went out on his own as a public affairs and government consultant working on the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Master Plan, helping obtain a parcel of land for Castaic High School and the addition of The Patios to Westfield Valencia Town Center.
Appointed in 2006 as a trustee to the Santa Clarita Community College District, Scott won re-election to the board in 2007 and 2011.
“It is so important in an ever-competitive world to get education right,” said Scott. “We have a moral obligation to the children. It seemed there was a miracle that would happen on the College of the Canyons campus every day. It was really rewarding to see how the college changed people’s lives.”
After Cameron Smyth “termed out” in the 38th Assembly District seat in 2012, Scott ran a hard-fought campaign against Patricia McKeon, Buck McKeon’s wife, and Santa Clarita resident Paul Strickland.
“It was during that campaign that Vanessa came up with the ‘Got Wilk’ campaign, a take-off of the ‘Got Milk’ advertising campaign,” Scott said. “I went into it kicking and screaming. I said, ‘I’m a serious person, I’m not doing that.’”
However, when Scott saw the favorable reaction from voters to the whimsical campaign, he changed his tune and “we went all-in.”
He handily won the Republican primary nomination. He was re-elected to the Assembly in 2014.
Vanessa was born in Boston and spent her elementary school years in Watertown, Massachusetts. At age 12, the family moved to Weston where she attended junior high and high school.
She is a graduate of Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Communications.
Vanessa is the middle child with an older and young brother.
Her father was a psychologist, which worked to her advantage as a child.
“If we did something wrong, he would take us into his office and ask why we were compelled to act the way we did,” she said. “Our friends would all get grounded for a week. In our house, we just discussed it, and then we were done.”
Her father’s asthma compelled the family to move to the Palm Springs area in 1979 while Vanessa was in college.
She came out West in 1981 after graduation.
“I intended to go back to Boston, but ended up staying,” she said.
Vanessa and her mother opened up a dress shop in Palm Desert they ran for more than three years.
After a mall was built in the area, they closed the shop and Vanessa moved to Los Angeles to work in the garment district at the California Mart.
Finding a Soulmate
Scott and Vanessa met when Scott came to the Palm Springs area in support of a developer who wanted to build a Ritz Carlton hotel in the Rancho Mirage area.
The controversial project attracted powerful and influential people on both sides.
Frank and Barbara Sinatra were against the project, and former President Gerald Ford was in support.
The project landed on the ballot to be voted on by residents.
“Scott was working for a political consulting firm and they were hiring local people to go door-to-door to support the development,” said Vanessa. “A friend of mine suggested I work on this in my spare time to make extra money.”
Scott hired Vanessa and they became good friends.
The development was approved by voters and Scott returned to Los Angeles, but the couple stayed in touch.
Scott wanted more from the relationship, but Vanessa told him she didn’t feel the same way.
“This was before texting and emails. I wrote him a letter telling him, ‘Let’s just be friends,’” she said. “Scott now calls it his, ‘Dear Scott’ letter.”
Vanessa soon moved to Los Angeles, unknowingly renting an apartment around the corner from where Scott lived.
She invited him to a Fourth of July party, where he showed up with a date.
Vanessa and Scott became an item soon after when Vanessa realized she did, in fact, want to date him.
“We started hanging out again, and the rest is history,” she said.
Scott proposed to Vanessa on the beach at Santa Monica in the summer of 1985.
“It was very sweet; the beach is my favorite happy place,” she said.
The couple were married Oct. 20, 1985.
“Vanessa is so vivacious,” said Scott. “I would not be where I am with Vanessa. We are a partnership. I know she will always have my back.”
The Wilks have two adult children, Scott Wilk Jr., 32, and Alison Grace Hicks, 29.
They have one grandson, Ezekiel Brady Hicks.
“He is named after Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time,” said Vanessa, a New England Patriots superfan. “Alison did her big baby ‘reveal’ on Super Bowl Sunday in 2017.”
The Patriots won that game, defeating the Atlanta Falcons in what Vanessa called “the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. We told her she had to name the baby Brady — but my son-in-law objected. He finally agreed to Brady as the middle name.”
Vanessa said she is lucky her grandson lives in Canyon Country so she is able to see him a couple of times a week.
“I adore my grandson, every time I don’t think he can get cuter, then he does,” she said. “I get it now… about being a grandmother.”
Vanessa was a stay-at-home mom during the years her children were growing up.
Their two dogs, Simi, named after Simi Valley, and AV, named for the Antelope Valley, currently rule the Wilks’ home.
“They are spoiled rotten,” said Vanessa. “They have completely taken over our life.”
Vanessa’s mother also now lives with the couple in Saugus, having relocated from the Palm Spring area last year.
Scott clearly remembers his first day in Sacramento after his election to the Assembly.
“It was Dec. 3, 2012. I was really awestruck,” he said. “We woke up early, about 5 a.m. It was still dark and when we opened the curtains in our hotel room, we could see the state capitol dome and it was all lit up.”
As a member of the minority party in Sacramento, Wilk has taken the advice given to him by former Assemblyman Cameron Smyth.
“Try to get to, ‘Yes,’” he said. “Sometimes, you can get changes to a bill because you are willing to negotiate. It builds goodwill when people realize you are willing to listen.”
Scott serves as vice chair of four powerful state Senate committees — the committees on education, agriculture, rules and governmental organization. In addition to his vice chairmanships, he is a member of the committees on business, professions and economic development and veterans’ affairs.
On March 14, Scott served his first tour as presiding officer of the Senate.
“I was the only Republican selected for this honor,” he said.
Wilk’s ability to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats has earned him the ability to get things done for his district.
In his first year in the state Senate, he was able to complete the merger of the Castaic Lake Water Agency and the Newhall Water Agency.
“It has saved millions of dollars for Santa Clarita water consumers,” he said.
He recently was able to get a bill passed to allow cultivation of industrial hemp in California.
“It will revolutionize agriculture in California and job creation,” he said.
Industrial hemp can be used in more than 25,000 different products.
Currently a battery company is setting up shop in the Antelope Valley to be near the new supply the local farms will soon produce.
Wilk’s philosophy is to listen to his constituents, as well as his peers.
“I don’t want to get caught up in all the noise,” he said. “If you write me a letter, I will write you back. I want people to feel connected to their government.”
Wilk is appreciative of all the support he has received in the SCV.
“This is a childhood dream that I’ve achieved, and I couldn’t have done it without the people of Santa Clarita,” he said. “I feel very blessed and honored.”
Scott doesn’t know when his interest in politics began, or why.
“I was reading the paper at age 12,” he said. “My parents had no interest in politics.”
When Scott was 13, the family took a vacation to Northern California and Oregon.
“We spent two days in Sacramento, and we did a tour of the capitol. I remember sitting in the balcony of the state Senate thinking ‘this is what I want to do. I want to be a senator,’” he said.
Scott said the realization of his lifetime dream makes him emotional every time he walks onto the floor of the state Senate.
“I still well up,” he said.
Vanessa said Scott sparked her interest in politics.
“The more I was involved ,the more important I realized politics was to the future of my children,” she said.
In 2006, Vanessa served as executive director of the Republican headquarters in the SCV.
In 2007, she became club director for Belcaro in Valencia, a 55-and-over housing community.
“I love that job, it was a joy,” she said.
But after seven years, when state Sen. Sharon Runner asked Vanessa to become her representative in Santa Clarita, Vanessa jumped at the chance.
After Runner died, Scott ran for Runner’s Senate seat and won, putting Vanessa out of a job.
In September 2017, Lackey called and offered her the position of district director in the Antelope Valley.
The last couple of years have been filled with challenges for the Wilks.
There have been ups, like the birth of their first grandchild, and downs.
In late September, Scott Wilk Jr. was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
After the shock of the diagnosis wore off, Vanessa became her son’s advocate, making sure he received the best care available in Southern California.
Scott Jr. is now in remission and his prognosis good.
“Scott and I have been married 34 years, and I remember taking those vows of ‘in sickness and in health,’” she said. “But you never think it will happen to you.”
In December, Vanessa was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
“The good news is that it is chronic and not acute,” said Vanessa. “The bad news is that it is leukemia, and I have the more aggressive kind.”
She is optimistic that the disease is treatable with oral medication.
“We’re just going to fight through this and deal with it like we’ve dealt with other challenges in the past,” she said, “just address it head-on.”
The side effects of the medication are minor, she said.
“I’m really tired and I have to be careful because my immune system is depressed,” said Vanessa. “But the outlook for a normal life is positive, and I’m receiving excellent care.”
The Wilks have a long history of work with nonprofits and community service in the SCV.
Vanessa is on the board of the Santa Clarita Valley Committee on Aging (SCV Senior Center), and served twice as the co-chair of the SCV Senior Center’s Celebrity Waiter fundraising dinner.
She is also a charter member of Soroptimist International of Greater Santa Clarita Valley, which she’s served on the board of in several capacities and as club president in 2013.
“My proudest accomplishment as president was staring the Go Girls, a mentoring program in Val Verde for girls age 8-18. I tell everyone that we went in there thinking we were going to change their lives and in reality, they changed ours,” she said. “They are amazing young ladies, and to see their growth in the past five years has been incredible.”
Vanessa said fundraisers held by Soroptimist have raised thousands of dollars for organizations in the SCV including the Domestic Violence, Center, Henry Mayo Hospital, Sheila Veloz Breast Cancer Center and SCV Child and Family Center.
Vanessa is also on the board of the SCV Child & Family Center.
In January 2017, she was appointed to the Santa Clarita Arts Commission by City Councilman Cameron Smyth.
She was recently named vice chair of the Arts Commission.
“I always knew Santa Clarita had a vibrant arts community, but I never realized how much was happening here. The city’s commitment to the arts has been inspiring,” she said.
The Wilks are seen at nearly every nonprofit fundraiser held in the SCV.
Scott has served on the board of the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital Foundation, the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Committee and a past member of the Granada Hills Rotary Club.
Loving the SCV
The Wilks first moved to the Santa Clarita Valley in August 1990 with their young children. They lived in North Valencia until taking their brief detour to South Dakota. Soon after they returned to the SCV in 2001, they purchased a home in Saugus.
“We love living in the SCV,” said Vanessa. “This is such a giving community and we are fortunate to know so many incredibly kind people.”