Meet the dynamic and charming Readon (Donnie) Marilyn Grossi Silva. She was born in Lompoc on December 7, 1933. Her childhood home was on Santa Lucia Canyon Road, and she has lived in Lompoc all her life.
Donnie and I had an impromptu conversation at the Lompoc Valley Historical Society last week, where she is one of the volunteers who diligently tend to the memorabilia of the area's history. She is constantly in motion, but I followed her around and did my best to ask her questions.
I’d heard she was the first Lompoc Flower Festival Queen, so I asked her about this:
It isn’t hard to picture Donnie as a festival queen, looking pretty in a lavender dress, waving from a float. She earned the title by selling the most tickets to the festival, and her still vivacious personality must have served her well.
But she also admits to having had connections: her dad was bartender for Martin’s Bar, and his bookkeeper gave her good advice about where to sell the tickets. "I was in every bar for miles around selling those tickets," she laughs. Her mother ran the soda stand at Stan Johnson’s drug store on the corner of I and Ocean, and that helped too. Yes, those tickets sold like hot cakes.
Donnie has fond memories of the way Lompoc used to be, when it felt more like a community and everyone came out to celebrate:
The changes in the flower festival reflect the way the town has changed in general. People aren’t involved as they used to be, says Donnie:
Donnie’s father played accordion, sometimes accompanying a terrific local piano player named Bea Harris at the USO. “Back then they had dancers,” she said. “The dancing has changed. But the swing...they’ll never get rid of the swing.”
Donnie’s history is right here. All the old names represent real people to her, and every street holds stories. She observes that many newcomers lack a sense of the past and aren’t even interested in it. They do not feel the deep connection and sense of community that add such pleasure and meaning to her life. It's a loss.
But maybe there's a lesson here too on the importance of engaging in community, participating, celebrating, and learning what happened yesterday to help guide us through today.