María Engracia López was born, in her parents home in Grover Canyon, Claypool, Ariz. in October 1936. She was the middle of seven children born to Ventura and María Granillo López. María spoke only Spanish, and quickly learned, after starting elementary school at George Washington School, that she would be spanked for not speaking English, a language she did not yet know. She learned of school segregation, where Mexican children were kept separate from non-Mexican children during recess. Consequently, María chose not to speak at all during school classes and would later decide she would never teach her children to speak Spanish.
María grew up at the end of the Great Depression and during World War II, where, as a child, she collected tin foil from chewing gum wrappers, went all summer without wearing shoes, learned how to make lye soap, had fresh milk and churned butter from the family owned cow, never went to the doctor, even when ill, because “doctors are for the dying only,” and played every day with her beloved siblings Teodoro “Ted” Concepción “Connie” Rudolfo “Fito” Joseph “Joe”, Jovita “Jaye,” and Ventura “Ben.” On Memorial Day in 1948, at age 11, María was featured in a local newspaper story, playing softball with the Grover Canyon Ladies, who were all teenage girls, except for María. The story read in part, “The spectators saw little eleven year old Mary Lopez make the top hit of the game when she slugged the ball to make a home run and wait for someone to go get the ball.” The opposing team had sorely underestimated the little girl, my mother, who was a natural-born athlete.
María attended Miami High School and graduated as Salutatorian and Senior girl with the highest grade point average. María was the only Hispanic in the Graduating Class to give a Commencement speech. The story goes that the school principal called María into the office and informed her it wasn’t necessary for her to give a speech at the graduation ceremony. An alternative would be chosen in her stead. Although my mother was a quiet, shy person, she discerned what was being suggested, and informed the principal that she would indeed give a speech for the ceremony. And at the May 26, 1955 MHS Commencement Ceremony, María Lopez gave the address, “Culture: Unlimited,” and she did so, she told me, by swallowing her anxiety and taking her glasses off so as not to be able to see the faces of the audience clearly. She was proud of her courage and tenacity, knowing that principal had sorely underestimated her.
Besides being an accomplished student at MHS, María was also a member of the Girl’s Athletic Association and Intramural (4 years), was Senior Class Treasurer, was a member of the school newspaper and year book staff, was an Honor Club member, was in the Chorus and Vespers, was a Traffic Patrol member, was a member of the school Rotary, Homemaking, and Pep Clubs, was on the school Volleyball team (4 years), participated in the school Open House, Freshman-Sophomore Brawl, Senior Day, and the May Festival. María also was inducted into the Quill and Scroll Honor Society and the Zonta Girl of the Month Club, a woman’s organization.
During her senior year at MHS, María worked, after school, at the Miami Library under the supervision of Ms. Sheves, Librarian. My mother was a diligent, precise and task-oriented worker and Ms. Sheves asked her what her plans were after graduation; inquiring if perhaps she would like to become a nurse. Never a contrarian, my mother responded, yes, she thought she would like to become a nurse. And so, never suspecting my mother’s intolerance at the sight of blood or other bodily fluids, or her propensity to heave while changing a baby’s diaper, Ms. Sheves secured a scholarship application to St. Joseph’s Hospital Nursing School and my mother dutifully completed and submitted it and was accepted into the program. My queasy mother attended three years of nursing school, working any available job within the St. Joseph’s Hospital, on weekends, holidays and breaks, in order to pay her way. She was once asked by a doctor, while observing/assisting in surgery as a student, if she wouldn’t mind taking a specimen to the lab. She agreed and was horrified to learn the specimen was the amputated leg of an adult male. It weighed almost as much as she did, given her petite stature, but she was able to accomplish the task with stomach intact. María went on to graduate from St. Joseph’s Nursing School. Great thanks to Ms. Sheves for her wisdom, insight and investment in my mother, whom she did not underestimate.
In 1958, María became a Registered Nurse, a wife, and a mother. She would have three children: Cecelia, Patricia and Joe Paul, who all grew up, attended and graduated from Miami Schools and went on to obtain college degrees. In her time, María served as a Registered Nurse at Gila General Hospital, at Miami Inspiration Hospital, and at the Clinic in Claypool. Among a number of areas of nursing, María was an Industrial Nurse for Pinto Valley Mining, a Supervising Nurse, an Operating Room Nurse, an Obstetrical Nurse, an Emergency Room Nurse, and a Gila County Health Department Nurse. In this final capacity, María was instrumental in significantly increasing the volume of childhood vaccinations of Gila County children.
María spent her retirement years crocheting, knitting, making quilts, visiting family, and listening to songs by Elvis or to old Mexican ballads. She enjoyed her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. She was a wonderful cook, making delicious home-made Mexican food. We loved gathering to help her make tamales and menudo (well, maybe not so much the menudo). My mother’s kitchen often held the mouth watering aroma of fresh cooking tortillas, and how many buttered tortillas we ate along the way. My mom lovingly shared her cooking delights not only with her family but also with her neighbors, and those who would help with her house or yard tasks, but who would not accept payment. They did receive payment ... in fresh, home-made tortillas! She also made wondrous breads, cakes, pies and candies. I was often told that my mother’s fudge was the best in the world.
In overcoming the many hurdles and barriers presented to her, María López was a woman of substance. She loved her family, her faith, her community, and derived great satisfaction in her nursing career. She loved to laugh and gather with her siblings, re-telling the stories of their childhood and the mischief they could get into being so many, including cousins and Grover Canyon friends. María was a well-known, home-town treasure and took pride in her Mexican roots, history and accomplishments as well as the accomplishments of her children.
María was a life-long Catholic and prayed the Rosary every day. She became ill with Alzheimer’s Disease and eventually went to live in an assisted living home in east Mesa, in 2017. She passed away in August 2020 due to complications from the COVID-19 virus.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Ventura and María López, her brothers Ted and Fito. She leaves behind her three children, her five grandchildren, Stephanie, Erica, Yvette, Jeremiah, and Rio; her 11 greatgrandchildren, Aubre, Jacob, Ezekiel, Christopher, Julius, Elijah, Eleandra, Jazalynn, Jayace, Kadin and Zoley; one great-great grandchild, Christopher, Jr.; her siblings, Connie, Joe, Jaye, Ben and Al; and many, many loved family members.
Services will be planned at a future date.
Hasta que nos encontremos de nuevo. Te amamos querida madre.