Press spotlight on: Nancy Torres

Buying or renting a house is very different from creating a home.

When a house becomes a home, it’s because we added our heart and soul to where we live. It’s the personal touches that make those who enter feel welcome, feel like family.

Those who have come to East Contra Costa County and, more specifically, Brentwood, will in due time feel how Nancy Smith Torres made this city a welcoming home.

One would think she has always been here. With her involvement in special needs programs, her passion for local theatre and music and, currently, her hours of commitment to Ghostlight Theatre Ensemble, you’d reasonably assume Brentwood was always her home.

In fact, Torres moved from Kansas to California in 1972, and she’s as passionate about everything she does as the “Wizard of Oz’s” Dorothy — it must be something about Kansas.

Her story is classically American: parents surviving the Dust Bowl of the Midwest, trying to make a living. Her father was a traveling shoe salesman, serving in the Marine Corps when his country needed him, and her mom worked as a bookkeeper. It was a matriarchal family, with her dad gone most of the time.

Torres’ mom — a model of a strong woman raising four children — later told her she could do anything. Though typical of pre-1970s parenting, recognition for her successes was not part of Torres’ upbringing. Compliments were not a requirement of parenting, but her parents did give her confidence, a love of music and the support to get a college degree — something less common for women in the 1960s.

“My dad had an incredible voice,” she said. “There was always music — Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Music came easy for me.”

Torres is blessed to have her own beautiful voice, along with her talents and love for theatre. Though she has given to our area in many ways, her passion for the arts has been one of her biggest gifts to East Contra Costa County. Along with other community members’ talents, Ghostlight Theatre Ensemble is flourishing. She is now the fundraising committee chairperson.

“Theatre has made me realize that you never know the impact you have on people,” she said. “At this point in my life, I love to provide youth performers opportunities to shine on stage.”

Torres is a tapestry of all the strong people — especially women — who have affected her, allowing her to give back to others. Attending Kansas State University, Manhattan, is part of that quilt.

“I pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma, a sorority of really smart women who were socially involved in the politics and rights of women in the ‘60s,” she said.

In her 40-year career working with special needs children, Nancy realized her calling. She first worked for the county as a speech therapist in Brentwood. Later, she did early intervention therapy with preschool students in special education. She worked with families in their homes developing home-based activities, but it was Bill Bristow who knew of her love for theater and encouraged her to direct an after-school theater program.

She continued striving and growing in her talents. Eventually, she became the coordinator of special education in the Oakley School District. From there she went on to direct special education services for Liberty Union School District. She mentored and brought in programs the district still incorporates into its special education services.

She still utilizes her years of experience in special needs education, now in a consulting capacity, and focuses on projects that give her joy

“I want my children to know I did it all with no regrets,” she said.

That includes her work in theatre and music, involvement with her church, inspiring others to find God through music and volunteering with Kaleidoscope Cancer Connection, an organization supporting those suffering from cancer.

Torres sees herself as fortunate to have a husband who understands her commitments and love for all of this. Between her husband, John, and her wonderful family, she’s able to strive and realize all these dreams. 

Everyone has a story, and Chris Dalton wants to hear yours — your path, your battles, what makes you strive. Contact her at, so she can share the story of your journey.