FULLERTON — The empty wheelchair, adorned with a black ribbon, said it all.
Marie Sacino, 76, known as the "Fullerton Greeter," a beloved fixture who sat in her wheelchair outside her retirement home and waved to passersby on the busy street, died Sunday.
"She made the people feel good," said Juana Inzunza, assisted living coordinator at the Acacia Villa retirement home. People she waved to would wave back or honk, and many came by to visit the woman, Inzunza said.
"Every morning she was out there, waving to people, and it made the people feel good."
Sacino died early Sunday of a heart attack. Paramedics were summoned to Acacia Villa on Saturday night when she had chest pains, Inzunza said.
Everyone at the retirement home was very sad and knew that drivers and others who passed by the busy corner of Chapman and Acacia avenues would wonder where Sacino was, she said.
At the suggestion of other residents, she put a black ribbon on Sacino's wheelchair and pushed it out to her customary spot.
Robert Sacino, one of Marie's five children, came by the retirement home after his mother's death and, touched by the memorial, put flowers on the wheelchair. Before long, dozens of others who had grown fond of Sacino piled more and more flowers into the wheelchair or streamed into the retirement home all day Sunday to express their sympathies, Inzunza said.
Marie Sacino was born in New York and lived almost her entire life in the Bronx, said Robert Sacino, who lives in Fullerton. He and his wife, Laura, brought his parents to California to live in December 1995. After his father died, his mother, a diabetic and unable to live by herself, entered the retirement home. From the start, she spent her days outside, waving to what she called "her public," Sacino said.
"She was the kind of person who wanted to be outside," he said. "It was her idea to go out in the fresh air. . . . She would wave, and people would blow their horns. It was her way of communicating."
Drivers would stop to chat, and she came to know everyone who walked by, including the homeless, he said.
Her friendliness was manifested inside the retirement home as well. Many people--some not even knowing her name initially--visited her, bringing flowers, candy and gifts, Inzunza said.
In addition to Robert, Marie Sacino is survived by her four other children, all of whom live on the East Coast. A private Mass is planned for the family, Robert Sacino said. People at the retirement home may organize other services for his mother's friends, he said.
"People looked forward to seeing her. She really touched a lot of people," Robert Sacino said. "She was a friend to everybody who went by."