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By Jan Siegel
On Sunday, Sept. 15, the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society is having its annual Heritage Barbeque on the grounds of the Society on Los Rios Street. The event honors the old-timers who have given so much to the history and culture of our community. This year, the Historical Society is honoring the Basques who have contributed so much over the years to San Juan Capistrano.
The year 1910 is best remembered as the year that Fr. St. John O’Sullivan arrived in San Juan Capistrano and started restoring the Mission. But another person who would have an enormous effect on our community also stepped off a train in San Juan Capistrano in 1910. He was Basque farmer Pierre Lacouague.
Lacouague was not the first Basque to come to the Capistrano Valley, but his son would be the one who kept the records, stories and histories of these families that give us the insight to a way of life for an extremely hard-working group of people. Jean Lacouague started his project in the 1990s. According to a Los Angeles Times article in 1994, Jean Lacouague planned to give the information that he gathered on the Basques to the Historical Society.
Gwen Vermeulen, the former executive director, stated at that time “that Jean Lacouague’s project will be a wonderful and significant addition to the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society museum and that the Society’s Board of Directors will decide how to publish and present the work.”
Unfortunately, Jean Lacouague never saw the completion of his work on the Basques in the Capistrano Valley. He passed away in 2008, but his widow, Marie, who still lives in the family home on Camino Lacouague, kept all of his notes.
The Historical Society was privileged to be given access to Jean’s files and to complete his vision. The Historical Society will be publishing a pamphlet on the History of the Basques in the Capistrano Valley before the end of the year. Marie will be among the honorees at the Heritage Barbeque.
The Oyharzabals were another influential Basque family in our community. Carmen Oyharzabal, daughter of Eugenie and Esteban, will also be among the Society Honorees.
According to Jean Lacouague “The Oyharzabals were the biggest single employer in San Juan at one time.” Lacouague used the Oyharzabals’ old payroll lists of ranch, hotel and store employees to pin down the names and dates for his project. He further stated that the Oyharzabals ran a boarding house, had a water district and supplied water to the town.
You can spend a Moment In Time at the Society Barbeque, meeting the Basque families and learning about their contribution to our community. Reservations are a must. Price for admission is $50 a person. To make your reservation, contact Chevon Vermeulen at the Society by calling 949.493.8444.
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.