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San Fernando Resident Balbina Camacho Prepares To Celebrate Her 100th Birthday PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry, Sun Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 29 March 2012 02:35


Balbina Chavez Camacho

Saturday, March 31, will be a very special day in the San Fernando home of Balbina Camacho.

The longtime resident will join the ranks of U.S. centenarians by celebrating her 100th birthday.

And Camacho will find the club is quite crowded – and growing.

According to the U.S. 2010 census, there were nearly 72,000 men and women who have reached triple digits in age, the largest such group in the world. That figure is expected to double by 2050.

Camacho cannot invite all of them to her party this weekend. But she will have plenty of family and extended family to be with her.

She is a very special woman to me," said granddaughter Colleen White, an executive assistant at the Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Seattle, Wash., who is coming to San Fernando for the party.

"She is our rock. She has given of herself to entire family all of her life. Reaching 100 is special because we never thought we'd have her this long. It's phenomenal and wonderful."

White said Camacho, who was born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1912, came to San Fernando from Texas with her late husband, Telesforo Camacho, in 1938. Telesforo, a laborer, built the family home 10 years later, a home she still lives in.

"I and 11 other grandchildren grew up in this home," White said. "We did so because our parents worked and couldn't afford childcare, so my grandmother cared and helped raise each and every one of us.

"Every morning, Grandma got all of us fed, washed and dressed before sending us off different schools: San Fernando Elementary, O'Melveny Elementary and Santa Rosa School. As we grew into our teenage years, we attended San Fernando Jr. High, San Fernando High and Alemany High."

White said Camacho bore five daughters, four in Texas – Anita, Avelina, Grace and Rosario – and one in Los Angeles, Helen. She has outlived all but one.

The firstborn, Anita, was only nine months when she came down with a fatal case of whooping cough, a devastating blow to Camacho, White said.

"My great-grandmother Antonia, my grandmother and several women of the town gathered, praying continuously for a miracle. They nursed and tended the baby every moment but the baby perished despite the women's efforts and prayers," White said.

"Anita was buried in the simplest of coffins – an unadorned, unlined wooden box — but inside, a baby lay on a white satin blanket, wearing a lace dress, also white. With help from the grief-stricken women, my grandmother had sacrificed her wedding gown so that her baby would forevermore sleep in elegance."

White said Camacho rarely speaks of Anita, but believes that being able to give her daughter the wedding dress was "a salve on an old woman's heart."

Unfortunately, tragedy would find other family members as well.

Grace, White's mother, died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 37 in 1974. White said she was there when her mother passed away, and vividly remembers her grandmother's anguished reaction.

"I will never, ever forget seeing my grandmother walk into our house and seeing my mother lying on the floor, she dropped to her knees and caressed her face, speaking softly to her unresponsive child," White said.

"I was, indeed, in shock but I was lucid enough to literally see a human heart shattering into a million pieces. In the coming months, Grandma became very ill with grief...collapsing one evening. Incredibly, despite her anguish, Grandma took care of us and life went on."

Still, more family members were taken away from Camacho, White said.

Telesforo would succumb to cancer. That deadly disease would also eventually claim Avelina. And in 2006, Nena's health began to decline. Over a span of 4-5 years, Nena would fight through and survive a stroke and heart disease. But cancer, again, would prove to be too much.

White said she believes her grandmother's faith and selfless, giving nature was a major reason she was able to cope with the loss of her family.

She recalled how Camacho, a Catholic, faithfully attended Mass at Santa Rosa Church. "Most of the time, I went with her," White said. Before Mass we picked up friends that couldn't drive and drove them home afterward. During the week, Grandma drove these women to doctor appointments, to the market or to hairdresser appointments."

White said Camacho would also help her Uncle Herculano and his wife Lilia, who was blind, with their shopping after church.

"My grandmother became Aunt Lilia's eyes," she said. "She and Grandma would walk slowly, arm-in-arm, through department stores while Grandma described for her everything around us. She would help Aunt Lilia choose a dress by describing color, pattern and style, while Aunt Lilia explored the garment with her hands."

Camacho is now unable to attend Mass, White said. But she prays with her rosary; and surviving daughter Rosario, an Eucharistic Minister, provides Camacho Grandma with Holy Communion every Sunday.

"My grandmother, steadfast in her faith and love for God, has persevered through many hardships, disappointments and heartache but she has lived to experience joy and blessing in her beloved community with a beloved family that has grown from 12 grandchildren to 30 great-grandchildren and 12 great-great-grandchildren," White said.

"Throughout my grandmother's life, she has offered and given every element of her being, never asking to be acknowledged. She loves unconditionally despite being taken for granted. There have been many that have taken advantage of her generosity and good nature yet she gives without compromise.

"I have heard it said that angels walk the earth...I know that this is true because my grandmother is one of them, and she lives in the City of San Fernando."