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By Susan Motander
Mimi Mency was a loving mother, grandmother, great grandmother and great great grandmother. But she was also a Monrovian. In fact, you had only to day Mimi in Monrovia and everyone knew to whom you were referring.
Mimi was so determined to be a Monrovian that she was born on Huntington Drive in Monrovia en route to the hospital. Born Mimi Luvenia Martin, she was the daughter of Eugene and Narrey Martin on November 13, 1936.
She attended Monrovia Schools, first Huntington Elementary. then Clifton Junior High and Monrovia Arcadia Duarte High School. She was graduated from MAD in 195 and attended Pasadena City College before marrying young and having her daughter, Sherellyn.
Before then, in the 1940s, she had become very involved in the Second Baptist Church where her parents were in the Deacon ministry and her sister was the church pianist. She remained an active member of the church throughout her life, serving in its Sunday School, Baptist Training Union, Vacation Bible School, Youth Ushers, Young Adult Choir, and later its Youth Director.
On June 13, 1965, Mimi remarried, this tie to the love of her life, George W. Mency, Jr. They had a house custom built for themselves on Fig, where else, in Monrovia. She had, by that time, started working at Pacific Bell in Pasadena and rose from an operator there to a Supervisor in Los Angeles. She retired in 1989 from ATT- Lucent Technologies.
By 1969, racial tension which had been on the rise throughout the nation broke out into violence at Monrovia High School, her alma mater. Mimi, like several other parents and clergy members, dropped what they were doing and rushed to the high school to restore the peace. They patrolled in two person teams (my own mother was paired with one of the black clergymen, Mimi, was, as I recall, partnered with Pat Myers – start of a long association.
While she had always been active with the schools, serving as a room mother (1950s moms were always room mothers), a member of the PTA and later a PTA president, the “troubles” at the high school motivated her further involvement. In 1972 she ran for and was elected to the Monrovia Board of Education, the first African American elected to any public office in Monrovia. She served on the Board from 1972 through 1984, part of the time with her old patrol partner, Pat Myers.
Linda Proctor, former City Clerk of Monrovia who also served with Mimi on the School Board for many years, spoke at the Memorial Service on Tuesday. She called Mimi “a pillar of strength and fairness.” She pointed ot that Mimi fought for Title I and Title IV funds bringing Head Start to Monrovia. Proctor also called Mimi a rich asset to the Board and the community.
In pointing out the importance of Mimi, City Historian, Steve Baker said, “Without Mimi Mency, there would never had been a Bob Bartlett,” referring to the first African American elected to Monrovia’s City COuncil in 1974.
Baker was right in more ways than one. Sandford, another of those who spoke at the Memorial, worked with Mimi on many campaigns including the one in 1974 for Bob Bartlett and what was called “The Team:” Bartlett, Eric Faith, and Pat Ostrey. Mimi brought with her a get out the vote crew from the Second Baptist Church which motivated an under utilized force in the community. Sandford recalled that she and Mimi had worked on many projects including the human rights commission, various school bond measure and even Sandford’s own campaign for the School Board. She summed up her friend Mimi saying she had “strengthened our community and schools.”
Even before leaving the School Board Mimi expanded her service to the community. She began her service with the Community Services Commission where se served from 1978 to 1985. Community Service was apt place for Mimi for it was something she had done throughout out her life.
But from there, she moved up to the Planning Commission in 1985 after leaving the School Board the year before. Here she served with Glen Owens who also spoke at the service. He recounted a list of accomplishments of the Planning Commission during that time: The Huntington Oaks Shopping Center and Restaurant Row on West Huntington Drive. the High Tech Corridor on East Huntington, Auto Row along the 210 Freeway, up to the Revitalization of Old Town, the Gold Hills development and, lastly, the Hillside Specific Plan.
“We were like targets in a shooting gallery at time,” Owens said. According to him, the Planning Commission had learned from the Gold Hills project to limit the size of homes based on the property size and applied that knowledge to the Hillside Specific Plan. As a result of that plan the movement to reserve the hillside area as a preserve began. In result in the bond measures that were passed by the community the Wilderness Preserve was created and purchased.
Owens pledged that he would work to open up the hillsides to the community as Mimi would have wanted “in a very Monrovia Way.”
All this community involvement led to a number of awards, in 2001 Mimi received the Mary Wilcox Award for her dedication to the Boys and Girls Club (of which she was the founding executive director. In 2002, the Chamber of Commerce gave her the Iris Award, making her basically the Citizen of the Year in Monrovia. Los Angeles County gave her an Older American Volunteer Award in 2004. Lastly in 2010, the Monrovia Duarte Black Alumni Association presented Mimi with its Mwalimu Award. Mwalimu is a Swahili word which means “Strong Leader.” Last year the groups Board of Directors decided to present the award to a “Strong Community Activist” and according to their president, Eloise Hart: “Who else, but Mimi?”
Her childhood and ultimately lifelong friend Lois Gaston, who now serves on the Duarte City Council, recalled their joint lives and the support and love they gave each other over the years. She spoke of Mimi’s childhood calling it “the original Cosby family” with its own home and a new GM automobile on a regular basis. She remembered how Mimi’s father would let the girls drive the car little knowing the adventures they would have.
Another long time friend (again from childhood), former Monrovia Mayor Bob Bartlett gave the principal eulogy. Mr. Monrovia (as Bartlett has been called) said “I called Mimi the Princess of Peace. Whenever there was a problem, Mimi was there with a peaceful solution.”
Bartlett’s praise was not just for Mimi and all the help and friendship she had given him over the years. He also thanked her husband George for selflessly sharing her with the entire community and never complaining about all the meetings and phone calls her commitments required.
Bartlett pointed out that while Mimi was one of his strongest supporters, she was also his strongest critic, regularly reminding him of what she saw as his shortcomings. After the service, Bartlett shared a final memory: “Whenever she was upset with me, she would ‘fire me,’” he said. “She fired me last two days before she died because I brought her the daily paper everyday she was in the hospital and that day I brought it in the evening. She pointed out it was news in the morning. So she fired me,” he recalled.
Two of the lasting memories from the service came from her family. Mimi’s niece Roxanne Mayweather said that with Mimi “service came second to self.” Mimi’s only sister Lavada Desalles provided the lasting challenge to the community: “As children in our schools, we sang Monrovia the Gem of the Foothills every day. It wasn’t true. It is now,” she said.
Desalles went on to say that with Mimi’s death the glow from that gem was slightly diminished. Because of Mimi and the work she did in the community, the gem had been shining brightly. In Mimi’s honor her sister, Desalles said, ” I ask all of you to polish that gem; make it shine a little more.”