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By Susan Motander
Requiem for a Jersey Boy: Don Mariconda
By Susan Motander
Don Mariconda died March 16 after a valiant fight against cancer. His death came more swiftly than anyone anticipated, but Don was optimistic right to the end. He asked his wife, Kris to share this thought with all his friends: “I’ve had a wonderful 78 years. Thanks for joining me.” But it is Don we should be thanking.
Don loved life. He loved his country, the deep fried hot dogs at Rutt’s Hut in his native New Jersey, his family, music (especially jazz and big band) and his adopted home town of Monrovia, but not necessarily in that order. On the fiftieth anniversary of his moving to California , his native California friends voted to make him an honorary native Californian.
His new hometown of Monrovia was the better for his having adopted us. As long time friend, Joanne Spring , said, “Don blessed so many good projects here with his sweat.” It was a baptism of love.
Don worked hard in Monrovia . His wife Kris said, “He was never a formal person and was most comfortable when he was working, partying or listening to jazz”
Don ran Mariconda Construction Company from 1958 through 2008. Don learned to be a master carpenter from his Uncle Charlie in New Jersey . He took pride in quality craftsmanship in both new construction and restoration. Many of his nephews have followed in Don’s footsteps in the construction industry.
His nephew John Mariconda, who has his own construction company in Arizona , said, “To say the least, Don has been one of the most influential people in my
life. He has been more than an uncle to me; he has been father, brother, and mentor, and most of all he has been a friend to me.”
According to City Historian Steve Baker, Don gave a major jump start to the historic preservation movement in the city when he moved into and renovated a Victorian home on Aspen . The house had been slated for the bulldozers when Don moved in and rehabilitated it. He did this despite the myriad of problems which included a huge hive of bees which “gifted” him with hundred of pounds of honey dripping out of the ceiling and walls. The bees themselves were easier to cope with than their rather sticky offering.
Don was also active with the local Exchange Club. The group sponsored several freedom shrines, copies of milestone documents in American history, and Don was in charge of their installation first at Monroe School and later with a traveling exhibit.
According to Spring, who was the principal of Monroe when Don installed the shrine there, she was concerned that the students would interrupt his work when they left classes for recess. She said he had all the perma-plaqued copies of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, etc. spread out on the floor of the main hall with less than half and hour until the break. She wanted to warn the teachers. Don’s response was simply “No problem.” Spring said, “He had the whole thing installed long before the students came out of their classes.”
It was that same sort of dedication that he brought to the rehabilitation of the building which had held the locker rooms for the Municipal Plunge. He almost single handedly turned that building into the Monrovia Historical Museum . His wife Kris, who was in charge of fund raising for the museum said, “As quickly as I could raise money, Don would spend it and then the work would be on hold again until I could raise more money.”
BUt all this is just the beginning of the things Don did in this town. Perhaps other than the Museum, the thing that may leave the most lasting impression on Monrovia was the ROP class he taught through Monrovia High School “Home Construction 101″ was a hands-on learning experience for many students. The class, with Don acting as both teacher and general contractor on the projects built three homes from scratch. The city’s Redevelopment Agency supplied the land, a great many of the supplies were donated by members of the Chamber of Commerce, Don gave his experience and expertise and a local realtor even donated his time and commission. It was the sort of project which made Don proud to be a Monrovian.
Don Hopper who was the City Manager and Executive Director of the Redevelopment Agency when the homes were being constructed said that when the idea was first proposed he knew Don was the person to teach the class. “I decided there was no better person with the professional and personal skills to work with young people than Don,” Hopper said.
However, Don was reluctant to take on the job, but Hopper persisted. “The more we talked I realized that there was no one better suited to give the students the lasting skills, and in some ways life changing personal skills, than Don,” he said. Eventually Hopper convinced Don to take on the task and Monrovia gained three new homes and many students gained great skills.
One of those students, Jimmy Benken, whom Kris said was Don’s prize pupil went on to college and received his degree in Civil Engineering from Cal Poly Pomona. when. asked for a comment about Don, Jimmy said “I think I would just like to say that I miss his sweet whistle the most, because to me he was whistling more than Dixie .”
That whistle was in many ways his trademark. Everyone at whose home Don worked, knew when he arrived because the whistling would begin. He told people it was so that homeowners would know he was there. But it was probably because he truly loved working.
He also loved his country. Old Glory flew in front of his house every day. But he was not a sunshine patriot. He served in the United States Air Force of the in the 108th Air Police Squadron, 108th Air Base Group, Godman Air Force Base, Fort Knox, Kentucky, from February 1951 to June 1952 during the Korean “conflict.” Later he was in the Air National Guard of New Jersey and the Reserves of the Air Force through July 1953.
There must have been something about that time in the Air Force that got into his blood because on his 70th birthday his celebration was parachuting out of a plane for the first time. And it was a perfectly good airplane.
The list of his honors goes on and on. This is merely a partial list. He was Volunteer of the Year in 1999; received the “Best Teacher” award from his students in 2000; numerous recognitions from the Exchange Club for Americanism activities – Freedom Shrines in schools & the museum, and distribution of American flags at parades and community gatherings; Community Service for installation of deadbolt locks for Senior Citizens; and Operation Kid
Don was born on June 1, 1931 in Passaic , New Jersey . He was preceded in death by his father, Donato Antonio (Tony) Mariconda, and mother Stephania (Stella) Kaczmarek Mariconda. He is survived by his wife Kristin (Valentine) Mariconda; his daughters: Janine Denise Baloga (Benjamin) of Altadena, CA; and Tracy Jean D’Amico (Joe) of Glendora,CA; and step-children: Janisse Cusick Corral (David) of La Grange, KY; Michael Cusick (Christine) of Monrovia, CA; Gregory Cusick (Tanya) of Monrovia; Elizabeth Helmuth Learn (Mick) of Portland, OR.
Then there are the grandchildren: Shannon Kennedy (Tiffany) of Duarte, CA; and Dawn Kennedy of Los Angeles; Joshua David Corral & Melissa Brieann Corral of La Grange, KY; Jesse Aaron Cusick of Monrovia, CA; Blake Alexander Cusick and Bryce Evan Cusick of Monrovia, CA. And the great-grandchildren: Shannon Lynn Kennedy and Trace Phillip Kennedy of Duarte, CA ; Betty Jean Blancharte of Los Angeles . There are too many other relatives and friends to list.
Those friends and relatives are invited to join Kris at a celebration of Don’s life on Sunday May 30 from 1 to 6 pm at the Monrovia Historical Museum , 742 East Lemon Ave in Monrovia ‘s Recreation Park .
To help carry on Don’s spirit of giving back to his community, donations can be made to the Monrovia Historical Museum, or the Monrovia Schools Foundation.