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By Jan Siegel
San Juan Capistrano is truly a special place. Right now, the entire country seems to be fighting with itself. Everything seems to be brought down to segregating one group from another. But San Juan Capistrano is different.
We celebrate our diversity. We celebrate the cultures that have embraced all of our history. Forefront on this celebration is the Historical Society. And October is the perfect month for the Society to showcase the coming together of cultures within our community.
For more than 50 years, the Historical Society has honored a patriarch or matriarch for the city. To qualify for this honor, one has to have been born in San Juan Capistrano and contributed to our history. The appointments by the Society are for life. There have been five patriarchs since the honor has been bestowed: Mathias H. Belardes, Paul Abriso, Dick Mendelson, Julian Ramos and, currently, Happy Hunn.
There have been eight matriarchs: Vivian Oliveras, Delphina Oliveras, Lucana Georgia Forster Isch, Juanita Rios Foy, Evelyne Lobo Villegas, Fay Delores Wallenberg Mecker, Helen McMullen, and Cecelia Stansiele Hunn.
Cecelia Hunn recently passed away. Her term as matriarch had a special impact on the Historical Society. She was born and raised in the Oyharzabal house, which sits on the Society property on Los Rios Street. She learned to make Native American baskets from her mother, who was a Juaneno. She was married to Happy Hunn, which made them the first married couple to serve as matriarch and patriarch. While we will miss Cecelia, we will always remember the impact she had on our community.
As we get ready to celebrate Halloween and Day of the Dead, the Society features two exhibits in the windows of the Leck house and the Silvas adobe honoring both traditions.
And the Ghost and Legends Tour just keeps getting bigger and better every year. Be sure to reserve your space for Oct. 29 or 30 for the ghost stories on Los Rios Street. This year promises some amazing surprises. Food and beverages will be on-site and for sale, with BBQ by Ted Rosenfeldt and drinks by Capistrano Brewing Company. Tickets are $15 for the tour. Ten different ghosts will be encountered on the tour. Reservations can be made by calling the Historical Society at 949.493.8444 or by visiting the website at sjcghosttour.com. On Oct. 31, the Historic Los Rios District will have a special trick-or-treat family celebration for young and old.
On Nov. 14, the semi-annual meeting of the Historical Society will be at 2:30 p.m. at the Community Center. This is the first meeting since the pandemic two years ago. Our speaker is Bill Greenlee, who grew up on Los Rios Street, lived in the Silvas adobe, and remembers playing with the Stansiele kids next door. This event is free to the public and promises to reveal some interesting facts about life in San Juan Capistrano more than 50 years ago.
Mark your calendars. You can spend a Moment In Time remembering how special our community is by visiting the Historical Society to see our exhibits, take the Ghost Walk, enjoy trick or treating on Los Rios Street, and hear about life in the District by someone who lived there.
Jan Siegel was a 33-year resident of San Juan Capistrano and now resides in the neighboring town of Rancho Mission Viejo. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years, has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 26 years and is currently the museum curator for the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.