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Margarita Flores, 92; Watts' 'Walking Example of Love'

October 04, 2002|ELAINE WOO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Margarita Calderon Flores, whose willingness to shelter children in need of a home earned her the title Mexican Mother of the Year, died of cancer Monday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 92.

Flores raised four sons and was a surrogate mother to more than a dozen nieces, nephews and other children. She opened her home in Watts to others even through the Depression, and many stayed until they had families of their own.

"I don't know how we packed everyone into that house," Flores said last year. "It was like a hotel!"

Last year, she became the 50th recipient of the annual Mexican Mother of the Year Award, established by the Franciscan Sisters Mission Guild and a group of Mexican mothers to recognize outstanding examples of Mexican American motherhood.

Father Peter Banks, her pastor at St. Lawrence of Brindisi Church in Watts, called her "a walking example of love" and a devoted community worker who was more energetic than women 20 years her junior.

Born in Old Zoquititan, Sinaloa, Mexico, she moved to Arizona with her family in 1922. She later settled in Watts with her American-born husband, Luis. They were married for 37 years until his death about 30 years ago.

Together they managed to support their extended family--he by selling vegetables at the 7th Street Market downtown, she as a seamstress who also sewed all the children's clothes.

The great-great-grandmother was also a prolific volunteer, who donated time to the American Red Cross as a translator and to Catholic Charities of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

For 25 years Flores was a member of the secular Franciscan order, a multicultural group of Catholic laypeople who perform community service.

At 91, she was cooking tamales for the children in the parish school at St. Lawrence. She was an institution at the parish bazaar, where last year she was still selling homemade burritos, tacos and nachos. Her booth raised more money than any other.

The worst anyone could say about Flores was that she could be strict. Her grandchildren sometimes called her the "sergeant-at-arms."

"She was no pushover," Father Banks said. Yet children adored her. "I told them, 'When you look at her,' " the pastor said, " 'you are looking at the face of a saint.' "

Flores outlived her four children as well as her husband. She is survived by 17 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren and 10 great-great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. today at St. Lawrence of Brindisi Church, 10122 Compton Ave., Los Angeles.

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