Rufus Woods | Lucy Montoya's extraordinary life

Lucy Montoya, 95, shares a laugh with Fr. Mauricio Munoz on Jan. 30, 2015 at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Wenatchee.

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WENATCHEE — When Lucy Montoya accepted the social justice award from the city of Wenatchee in 2015 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, she told the audience that working for justice is not difficult — a person just needs to show up.

Montoya, who passed away on Dec. 20, 2018, at the age of 99, was indeed a person who showed up by making countless meaningful contributions to her family, the community, and her church. Her life of service, faith, hope and unfailing generosity provides us with an example to which we can all aspire. She was a quiet and effective community builder

Montoya, who was born in New Mexico, married Epimento “Epi” Montoya in 1933. In the early 1940s, they left New Mexico and came to Wenatchee by way of Spearfish, South Dakota, Mansfield and Chelan.

According to her family, the relocation to North Central Washington was a huge shift culturally, economically, politically and linguistically. Epi and Lucy, who moved into a house a block away from their beloved Catholic Church in South Wenatchee, had 12 children.

It was how she lived and served that stands out as extraordinary and worthy of emulation. In so many ways, she paved the way for countless thousands of Spanish speakers who would come to the Wenatchee Valley.

A woman of tiny stature, she was a giant in terms of her heart for fellow human beings. Wenatchee artist and former educator Terry Valdez remembers his family living in the basement of the Montoya household when his family moved to the valley.

She had a strong moral compass, was quietly forceful when she felt something ought to be done. Her daughter Marian Montoya, who cared for Lucy in her final years, recalled Lucy traveling to Spokane to meet with Bishop William Skylstad (a native of the Methow Valley) and strongly suggested that the church ought to send Spanish-speaking priests to the valley to serve the growing number of Latin American Catholics. Soon after, masses were being held in Spanish.

As Spanish speakers came to the valley, Lucy and Marian found themselves teaching English to the newcomers in the family home. Marian recalled the time that her mother donated the use of Marian’s car so that a newcomer could take his driver’s test. When Lucy saw needs in the community, she didn’t hesitate to step up and find a way.

Businesswoman and philanthropist JoAnn Walker told me that after a local family was deported to Mexico, they worked with Lucy and a local physician to bring the kids back to the United States. The Walkers looked after a couple of the kids, and the physician took care of the others. A rental house Marian owned became their home.

At the end of the Vietnam War, Lucy made sure that immigrants from that conflict, including restaurateur Cuc Tran, were welcomed to the valley. For years, Lucy provided volunteer translation services for local law enforcement agencies and medical facilities.

For the church’s Queen of Angels Guild, the diminutive Lucy would pick up fellow guild members that needed a ride and take them to the meetings. She could barely see over the steering wheel, Marian recalled.

With all of the achievements and contributions, Lucy also experienced times of great sadness. But she was never without hope and faith. Lucy was preceded in death by her husband, Epimenio Montoya, her sons Jesse, Fred, Pat, Mike and Ted; infant daughters Gabriel and Anna Marie.

Lucy was persistent, energetic and a consummate bridge builder. “She just didn’t stop at anything,” JoAnn Walker told me.

This report first appeared in The Wenatchee World.

An earlier version of this report had an incorrect date of death for Lucy Montoya. 

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