Rosa Margaret Pace: 1929-2015

Rosa Margaret Pace
Courtesy Photo

The life of dignity, compassion, and grace that Rosa Margaret Pace lived is an inspirational example of the impact one person can have on a family and community. My grandmother led an incredible life. In many families, grandparents are somewhat of an anomaly, but not in ours. I had the good fortune of living three doors down from one of the most amazing women I have ever known.

Everyone who came to know Grandma Rosa received her welcome. She was gracious not only with her family and friends; her generosity extended to all she came in contact with. Described by friends and family as a gentle and thoughtful matriarch, Rosa spent her life achieving many important triumphs for her family, friends, and Chumash tribe.

For our family, her work ethic created a very stable home environment — without the need for fancy bells and whistles. We had everything when we had nothing. The wealth of love and family shielded us from ever feeling we were without. And Grandma Rosa was always there when we needed her. If we were down or had a bad day, we could always count on her motherly charm and precious smile to make us feel better. Whether we were hungry or not, she loved to feed us — as soon as we walked through Grandma Rosa’s door, she would start cooking.

<b>DETERMINED:</b> From homecoming queen to Chumash elder, Rosa Pace set the bar high, working for better conditions at the Chumash reservation.

Rosa Margaret Pace was born June 27, 1929, to Juanita Grand and Timothy Ortega, and raised on the Santa Ynez Chumash Indian Reservation. Her mother gave birth to her in an old adobe, just 150 feet away from where she passed on peacefully into the heavens at age 86. It was a humble home with no electricity or running water. My grandmother and her family had to harvest and catch their food.

From a very early age, Rosa had an appreciation and love for others, and she developed this trait fully, empowering our family to love freely and unconditionally and to take care of others and ourselves. She attended grammar school at Santa Ynez College School and then high school at Sherman Indian Boarding School in Riverside, where she won the hearts of her peers and was elected homecoming queen her senior year. Rosa was awarded a Daughters of the American Revolution scholarship to the Sage Memorial School of Nursing, and she later received specialized training in obstetrics at Los Angeles Presbyterian Hospital. For many years she was a nurse at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and Lompoc Community Hospital, and served as head nurse at Santa Ynez Hospital.

One of Rosa’s most effective achievements was the founding of our Santa Ynez Tribal Health Clinic. In 1974, Rosa opened the doors of the clinic’s then-single-wide trailer, diligently writing grants to get funding and recruiting local volunteer doctors. She went on to direct and run the health clinic until her retirement in 2000.

During this era, Rosa was appointed as a California representative to work closely with then-congressmember Robert Lagomarsino. Today, our tribal health clinic provides medical, dental, and behavioral health services to the local population and sees approximately 17,000 patient visits annually. Grandma Rosa also started the first Urban Indian Health Clinic on Milpas Street in Santa Barbara.

Her career as a health-care professional was only the beginning of her journey to provide for her community. With the skills she developed in nursing and passion for her tribe, Rosa served in various elected and nonelected positions beginning in 1950. She held numerous tribal leadership roles from 1965 to 2000, which included vice-chair, secretary, treasurer, and health director.

She helped bring domestic water and a sewer system to the Reservation. She also was instrumental in bringing the reservation’s first campground, community hall, health and housing programs, and casino. She worked alongside her husband, James Pace, also a member of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. They married in May 1955 and together had four children, nine grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren. The love Rosa had for family and community set the stage for our success today.

It’s heartwarming how many people who have never met my grandmother say to me how much they appreciate what she has done.

Grandma Rosa was an incredible model for her faith and family. She really did magnificent things with her life. She was a loving sister and wife; a nurturing mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother; a devout woman of God; a leader in her community; a humanitarian; and a celebrated Chumash elder, and she was able to achieve all of this in a way that was quiet, kind, and determined.

My grandma had class and was one sharp dresser. She loved to get dolled up to go to church, have a meal out, or head out on the town shopping. Grandma Rosa did all of this with her partner in crime by her side — her sister Bea. They were inseparable and did everything together. They were so close that they even built their homes next to each other.

I see a part of my grandmother’s values, integrity, and compassion in each and every one of my family members. She was very proud of her family. Her faith guided her through life, just as our faith will guide us. She was able to go peacefully, knowing we have each other. We have her strength, and what she has taught us we will pass on to our children and their children’s children — generation after generation. Her legacy will continue to inspire us all.


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