Molly Lopez (née Ruelas) was the last matriarch of the old families at “Spanish Town,” Montecito, California.
She grew up in Aurora, Illinois, speaking three languages, German, English, and Spanish. During the Great Depression, most of Molly’s family relocated to Paradise, Mexico. Molly and her sister went to Colorado, and then to Oxnard to live with her aunt. During WWII, Molly went to work at Port Hueneme.
As she explained it, “They gathered us all together and welcomed us by describing in detail the enormous, mountain-high piles of bolts, nuts, and washers, some as large as small kitchen pots!” These huge piles needed to be moved in order to later be fitted and arranged to prepare for repairing many types of Navy vessels. After this introduction, the tough women who passed muster rose to the call of country and duty, on 24-hour call for weeks on end, frequently working from 2 a.m. until 10 or 11 p.m., adjusting their lives and families to the demands of fighting a war. The women painted, riveted, cut, welded, and cleaned many vessels to prepare them for our fighting boys in the Pacific theater. They were a proud group of women; from the kitchens to the docks, they performed their assignments admirably.
When the Seabees returned at the ending of the war, many of these “Rosie the Riveters” (“Rosita,” in Molly’s case) were transferred to the mess halls and kitchens to feed the boys passing through the base, which served as a transfer station. Molly, who was quite a “looker,” caught the eye of an up-and-coming inspector from Mugu Fire Department, overseeing fire prevention and operations at both Pt. Mugu and Hueneme. Molly was courted and soon married. Molly left her sister and relatives in the small Oxnard community to move to Montecito, California, where she would live for some 75 years.
Raising a family in one of the most expensive areas in the United States was no easy task. The social climate was challenging. She sent her four children to public schools, supporting their sports and dances, and contributing her own Mexican and also Chumash cultural traditions. In the context of changing consciousness due to the social movements of the time — civil rights, farmworker organizing, and the like — Molly started working at Lincoln and Franklin schools as a teacher’s aide in bilingual education classes. She participated in developing Spanish as a second language, and was so integral to creating a warm and caring environment that to this day many social and political leaders remember and recognize Molly’s contribution.
Molly was active in the Mexican Garden Club, which helped park and private agencies beautify Santa Barbara and which won many awards for flower arranging in regional shows. Her many-splendored home garden was further proof of her love and knowledge of plants. She was much involved with the Union Civica Mexicana (UCM), a Mexican-American social club for the uplifting and promoting of Mexican culture, whose members sold tamales during Fiesta in the mercado in front of City Hall, raising money for scholarships. Molly also belonged to the Woman’s Club based at Rocky Nook Park, pioneering her way into an all-white established group, quietly breaking barriers.
Her husband, Victor O. Lopez, was a well-established Chumash elder, and they were always surrounding themselves with Chumash and Mexican cultural activities. The many frequent visitors to the little casitas in Spanish Town conferred upon Molly celebrity status for her salsa and cuisine — her medicine. When Victor died, she did not end her involvement in the Chumash world. Just recently, her contributions to the Syuxtun Mural project and the Annual Tomol Crossing, and repair of the tomols, were part of keeping his spirit alive — as well as her own.
Molly’s spiritual life was centered mainly at Mt. Carmel Church. For years, she walked over every day (even in the rain) to arrange the flowers and candles on the altars. As far as possible, she was the loudest and most ever-present worshipper. At the end of her ability to hear, she would pray in her own beat and style. She wanted God to hear her, and I believe God did. She would, toward the end of her life, be visited by Sister Pauline and other people from the church as she received the spirit of communion everyday. Her special spirits were the Lady of Guadalupe and her Santa Niño.
Molly was the matriarch of the Ruelas family and, in Montecito, the matriarch of the Lopez family, which made her head of one of the oldest families in the entire region of Santa Barbara. She outlived many friends, but now she joins them in the spirit world. Her husband, Victor, and daughter Flora preceded her. Molly leaves her children Alma, Larry, and Marcus; her grandsons, Marcus, Victor, Chimaway, and Casmali; her sister Tiburcia Ruelas and brother Lorenzo Ruelas, and many more relatives living in Oxnard and Southern California who will remember this wonderful, strong, spirited woman, a reflection of her time. Molly reminded us to live in peace as we come closer to the impermanence of life. Special thanks and blessings to Sister Pauline, her great spiritual friend, and Elanor Duimovich and children for being wonderful neighbors and friends.