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Female Politicians Unite For Ailing Longtime Santa Maria Supporter

Lois Capps, Hannah-Beth Jackson, Terri Zuniga, Joyce Howerton gather to recognize Joann Marmolejo

A group of Santa Barbara County Democratic politicos came together on Monday to honor longtime support Joann Marmolejo, who has terminal cancer
A group of Santa Barbara County Democratic politicos came together on Monday to honor longtime support Joann Marmolejo, who has terminal cancer (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

For years, Santa Maria Valley resident Joann Marmolejo rallied support for Democratic candidates running for office.

On Monday, some of those politicians united to show support for Marmolejo, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Rep. Lois Capps, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, Santa Maria Councilwoman Terri Zuniga, Joyce Howerton, Jackson’s aide and a former Lompoc mayor, and Sharon Siegel, Capps’ retired district director, gathered at Marmolejo’s home in Santa Maria on Monday morning.

“This is a minimal token of our appreciation,” Capps told Marmolejo. “The United States Congress doesn’t ever get any better than when we recognize an individual like you, because this is what makes our country great.”

Capps called Marmolejo a “firebrand and a strong Democrat in a community where there weren’t very many.”

Jackson also presented a certificate of recognition to Marmolejo. 

“I was thinking about this as we were driving up here — how would one best describe you? You are a tough old broad who doesn’t take no for an answer,” Jackson said.

Marmolejo’s persistence, commitment and tenacity have led to a legacy that will continue through her family and those politicians she supported, Jackson added.

“It’s a legacy that calls for justice, and fairness, and equality, and respect, and dignity, which is the work of the unions,” Jackson said. 

Preferring to work behind the scenes, Marmolejo previously shrugged off recognition for her campaign work.

But the strong women were determined to recognize Marmolejo, showering her with words of appreciation and proclamations for her efforts while talking about past successes in fighting for Democrat causes.

“Joann hates this kind of thing,” Howerton said. “For years, since I’ve known her, everybody has wanted to honor her, and give her certificates. She’s always said no.”

With the 77-year-old diagnosed again with cancer, the politicians gathered around the couch where Marmolejo sat, a nasal canula delivering oxygen.

“These women are the ones — Lois, Hannah-Beth, Terri and myself when I was a candidate — Joann has worked the hardest for, was there for …,” Howerton added. “Without Joann, it would have been very, very different.

"Lois and Hannah-Beth and Terri particularly wanted to come by and tell you how much they appreciate and love you.”

After undergoing radiation for lung cancer in June 2014, Marmolejo learned she had cancer in her lungs, lymph nodes and adrenal gland. With no known cure and a 9-month life expectancy, she opted against chemotherapy or additional treatment.

As the politicians sat around her, Marmolejo, who has lived in Santa Maria since 1962, shared about her introduction to labor unions while she worked as a field worker, where men earned more than women.

"It’s been a fight,” she said. “But from time I came in — I came in at 24 years old — we made such good progress.”

Her pay rose from 65 cents an hour to $2.12 an hour, as she received insurance benefits, holidays and more.

She recalled the man who urged her to join the union, becoming convinced as she heard the benefits.

“And I’ve been pro-union ever since,” she said, adding that she formerly worked for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

Howerton, who ran unsuccessfully for county supervisor, said she heard about a “kick-ass union steward” long before meeting Marmolejo. 

“Then I met her — sure enough, she was kick-ass,” Howerton said. 

Marmolejo raised four sons plus has seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. 

She also was active in the League of Women Voters, the Democratic Club of the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Barbara County Action Network, which will recognize Marmolejo next month.

After the recognition Monday, Marmolejo said she has had a good life, and welcomes the politicians' appreciation for her campaign work.

 “I actually feel very honored, to tell you the truth," Marmolejo said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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