People in Your Neighborhood: Attorney-turned-accordionist Vicki Eriqat is in tune with helping others

La Jolla resident Vicki Eriqat plays accordion in three groups after working 30 years as an attorney.

Victoria Eriqat plays accordion in three different groups after decades of practicing law. To her, it’s all about helping others.

The La Jolla resident — known to most as Vicki — played accordion as a child but put it down as she grew older. “I had to make a living,” she said.

Eriqat got a job, got married and had five children. Amid all that, she found little time to play.

“Once a month I’d take it out, sit on the bed and play a little bit, but I let it go,” she said.

Eriqat moved to San Diego in 1959 for her husband’s job in electrical engineering — back when “Mission Valley was a mudhole and the El Cortez [hotel] was the skyline.”

She was among the first to live in La Jolla Woods. When all five of her children were in school, Eriqat went back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration, followed by a master’s in finance, both from San Diego State University. “I figured I’ll just keep going,” she said.

She also became a Girl Scout leader. “I loved the girls,” she said. “They were so much fun.”

She moved from organizing activities and setting up fundraisers to becoming Girl Scouts area chairwoman and then to the board of directors, recruiting others to lead the girls in events.

As her children began to leave home, Eriqat decided to pursue her dream “to do something interesting. So I thought I’d get a law degree.”

She got her juris doctor degree from the University of San Diego and practiced civil law for 30 years.

As an attorney, Eriqat said, she was able to help people discover the best in themselves. She recalled a divorce case in which she represented the wife. Eriqat brokered a peaceful exchange, to the surprise of opposing counsel, and after the case was settled, her client made remarkable changes in lifestyle and appearance. “Her whole attitude changed,” Eriqat said.

Later, Eriqat served 12 years as judge pro tem for San Diego County Superior Court, which she said she enjoyed more than practicing law. “I can listen to both sides,” she said, something she yearned to do while an attorney. “The truth lies somewhere in the middle.”

Eriqat also assisted her niece, who moved to stay with Eriqat for better educational opportunities. The young woman lived with Eriqat for three years, until age 21. Eriqat helped her improve her English, learn simple tasks like boiling water and take on her first job at a fast-food restaurant.

“Now she has a master’s degree in civil engineering,” Eriqat said.

With raising children and settling cases behind her, Eriqat returned to the accordion and now plays with three groups as well as solo. Her first performance, for an audience of 200 people at a church function in Pacific Beach years ago, led her to believe “she was going to faint.”

She stayed upright, however, and now is band director for the Accordion Lover’s Society International, which she said includes nurses, engineers and other professionals. She also plays accordion in a banjo band and with the Polka Dots, a group of four women who call themselves “San Diego’s accordion sweethearts.”

In her various groups, Eriqat has played Seaport Village several times, in the University City Christmas programs, for the Knights of Columbus and at various Oktoberfests and pub crawls.

Though the banjo band isn’t playing due to the coronavirus pandemic, Eriqat has put on concerts with her other groups — from small, masked performances in driveways to shows at the assisted-living facility La Vida Real.

She said she’s looking forward to resuming her solo act at the Wesley Palms retirement community as soon as it’s allowed.

Eriqat said playing accordion has further enabled her to coax others to find joy. She tells of when a former prosecutor listened to one of her groups play at the University City Oktoberfest. He said he used to play drums but gave it up as “kid stuff.”

“I said ... ‘Don’t kill the kid in you. That’s the only part that has any fun,’” Eriqat said.

He ended up playing drums with her group for a while. “This is the caliber of the people we get playing,” she said.

With Eriqat’s children living in various cities (her husband and one child died years ago), her fellow musicians are her “extended family,” she said. “Older, retired folks are often alone. It’s nice to know someone out there cares.”

Eriqat doesn’t talk about her age. “I’ve noticed all my life people tend to put you in little boxes if they know how old you are, and assume you can’t do anything but that,” she said. “I don’t like to limit myself as to what I can do because someone thinks I’m the wrong age.”

“I’m somewhere between 50 and 100,” she added. “And that’s the way I plan to stay for the rest of my life.” ◆