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Her Door Was Always Open to Needy Souls

Ofelia Prado, 72, who took in runaway teens and homeless strangers, loses a fight with cancer.

November 24, 2003|Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

In her lifetime, Ofelia Frances Prado was not a community organizer, a church leader or a major philanthropic giver.

But for 40 years, she and her husband, Reynaldo, opened their two-bedroom home in El Sereno to countless people in need -- from troubled teens and distant relatives, to down-on-their-luck strangers passing through the city.

Ofelia Prado, 72, died Nov. 16 after a brief fight with cancer, and dozens of family members, friends and recipients of her generosity gathered last week to recall an extraordinary life of unofficial care giving.

Those whose lives Prado touched said their Eastside communities wouldn't be the same without her.

"She never had the heart to say 'no' to anyone in need," said Rudy Garay, father of one of Prado's grandchildren, in a eulogy for her at Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles on Friday. "You would've thought she had more children. There were so many others who called her mother."

One such person was Yvonne Garcia, who about 20 years ago was a runaway teen bumming around El Sereno Park, estranged from her parents.

One afternoon, Prado's son Reynaldo Jr. approached Garcia and asked her if she had anywhere to go. She said she didn't. "They just opened their door, no questions asked," Garcia said. "They didn't even know my last name."

Garcia stayed more than two years, and by the time she left, Ofelia and Reynaldo were like a new set of parents. Today Garcia works in a brokerage firm in Santa Monica.

"I really think they saved my life; something terrible could have happened to me," Garcia said Friday, her eyes welling up with tears.

"And every time I was there, they were taking in more people."

Born in El Paso in 1931, Ofelia Prado completed a high school equivalency course in her later years and worked as a customer service representative at a hospital and as a tour organizer for seniors. Mostly, though, those who recalled her said Prado dedicated her time to helping others.

She often pulled over while driving to offer food to homeless people, they said. She encouraged those who stayed with her and her husband to seek work, go back to school, and mend broken ties to parents. She never let anyone go to bed hungry.

Prado once invited a poor family from Kansas City she met at a church to stay at her home while they settled in Los Angeles.

"It never felt crowded," said David Morgan, a telephone technician who has lived with the Prados off and on and married one of their granddaughters. "It wasn't uncommon on holidays to see wall-to-wall people."

Reynaldo Prado, a 76-year-old East L.A. native who served in the Army Air Forces during World War II, said his wife always had a fierce desire to do good, and much of it came from her strong Catholic faith. Prado said the rosary every night before bed.

"A special woman," said Reynaldo Prado, a retired glass glazier. "She didn't have much, but she shared what she had. She never wanted attention."

Neighbors agreed. Esther Hernandez, who has lived next-door to the Prados on Boca Avenue since 1963, said Ofelia Prado wouldn't be easy to replace in the neighborhood

"She raised so many people. She was just one of those people who loved unconditionally," Hernandez said. "You don't see that much anymore."

Prado was buried at Calvary Cemetery on Friday. She is survived by her husband, three children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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