Maria (Marie) A. Ybarra, who lived in Boyle Heights for 86 years, passed away on July 7, a few weeks shy of her 94th birthday, at her home in her beloved community. She was born Maria A. Najera on July 30, 1923 in El Paso, Texas to Simon and Antonia Najera, immigrants from Chihuahua, Mexico, and her early childhood years were spent in Prescott, Arizona. Her father was a engineer/conductor with the Atchison,Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. Her grandfather, Patricio “Pat” Najera, also worked for the railroad for many years. Her family moved to Los Angeles in 1931 and settled in Boyle Heights. Marie attended Breed Street School, Hollenbeck Junior High School and graduated from Roosevelt High School in the summer of 1942. While at Roosevelt, she won the B’nai B’rith Award, presented by the Jewish community organization, for an essay comparing the diversity of her school and Boyle Heights with that of a colorful garden filled with different types of flowers.

Marie, who, as part of the “greatest generation,” lived through the Great Depression and World War II, married John Ybarra, a staff sergeant with the Marine Corps during the war, in 1950. The couple raised their eight children in John’s childhood home in the Mount Pleasant area of Boyle Heights and this remained Marie’s home for the rest of her life because she never wanted to leave the neighborhood.

She was an advocate for her community of Boyle Heights and loved the Benjamin Franklin Library, fighting for it to be rebuilt in the community after the original library was demolished. She worked tirelessly attending meetings with Los Angeles City Council member Arthur K. Snyder, the library’s staff, and other representatives from the City of Los Angeles until the new library was finally built. She treasured a signed photograph presented to her in 1976 from council member Snyder. She referred to the councilman as “Tom Sawyer” because of his red hair and he accepted this nickname fondly as he knew my mother truly appreciated all the work he did.

Marie Ybarra

That same year, 1976, Marie took a photo of Prospect Park with her Polaroid camera. On the back of the photo she had written this note: “Sort of a sad lonely park. It does have some ‘valuable trees.’ Children would rather have some playground equipment.” Eventually her idea would come to fruition. Working with the local council member, play equipment was purchased and installed at the park. She called the new play equipment “the doodads” and would often take her own grandchildren to play there. Later on, more playground equipment was added and amenities were upgraded through the years by the various council members of Council District 14, City of Los Angeles.

In the mid-2000s, when daughter Diana was working with other community members and supporters to organize and coordinate the formation of the Boyle Heights Historical Society with neighbors and long-time residents, Marie enthusiastically backed that work and was elated to know the organization finally became reality. She enjoyed learning about the many improvements that were taking place in Boyle Heights and looked forward to the future. She knew and believed Boyle Heights would be beautiful and diverse once again – just as she had written in her essay years ago.

Marie stood 4’11″ and weight under 100 pounds, but her spirit was strong and her feet and heart were planted firmly in the ground of Boyle Heights, a community she lived in and loved for over 85 years!

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