History & Profiles

As her dream project breaks ground, Mary Morales leaves the town she loves

San Juan Bautista resident and her husband were involved with the city for nearly 30 years.
Business card for Rick Morales. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Business card for Rick Morales. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Anthony, Mary, and Carmen Morales. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Anthony, Mary, and Carmen Morales. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Mary Morales, 87, spent the afternoon of Feb. 12, her last day as a San Juan Bautista resident, at lunch with friends at The Smoke Point BBQ. Then she drove back to the home on Franklin Circle she had shared with her husband, Rick Morales and his two children, to check on how the packing was going for her move to an assisted living facility in Monterey.

It was a bittersweet moment for her. Mary said the family’s house was just too empty since Rick had passed away last year, but her leaving came just a week after a gratifying event for her—the groundbreaking ceremony for a new park on the island in the center of the circle, a park which she had been trying to get built for over 13 years. 

The park at Franklin Circle, when finished, will include most of the elements that Mary proposed in the first design she brought to the city—picnic tables, hopscotch  and bocce ball courts, and a barbecue grill. 

“Mary was the grassroots of that park and she organized it to make it happen,” said neighbor and San Juan Bautista Planning Commissioner Yolanda Delgado. “That area was always important to her. Even during COVID, she had all of us living in the Circle come out every night and sing the National Anthem together and she organized socially distant birthday parties, where people would leave presents there.”

Mary said she can leave the area feeling content because her dream of getting the park built is coming true. She promises to return from time to time to check on their progress.

“There are so many things I will miss about this town,” she said. “The people, the stores, the restaurants and all the events. I will never cut my ties to those.”

Mary’s energy and dedication to the city of San Juan Bautista will be missed, according to City Manager Don Reynolds.

“She understands the value of the community and her neighbors,” he said. “She is willing to give everything she has to the benefit of the community and is willing to put in the hard work to make the changes that help improve the quality of life for everyone.”

Rick and Mary met close to 30 years ago at one of the most San Juan of San Juan events—the annual Bonfire.

“He was standing by the wall, away from the fire,” she said, “and I went over to him and started talking. The next thing I knew, he said ‘I’d like to ask you out.’ And said ‘I think that would be fun,’ and that was that.”

At the time they were married, he was serving as a ranger at San Juan Bautista State Historic Park, stationed at Fremont Peak, and living there with his daughter Carmen and son Anthony. 

“Mary used to drive up to the peak to visit us,” Carmen said, “One time, I grabbed a tarantula and put it on her leg. I think I was testing to see if she would stick around. And she is still here.”

During his time there, Rick worked with the Boy Scouts to carve the hiking trails and, as president of the Fremont Peak Observatory Association, helped get the observatory on the peak funded and then built it himself.  

Mary’s commute up and down the mountain lost its novelty quickly and she nudged Rick into moving down to the city in 1997. 

Becoming a teacher, Rick later served as the Aromas-San Juan school superintendent and helped found Anzar High School. He also worked as a private contractor.

“He probably touched every building in the historic district on Third Street,” Delgado said. “He renovated the building where Vertigo Coffee Roasters is now, on Fourth Street, and made it beautiful. Even the benches downtown and the Third Street gate to the State Park, he made those too. He could build anything.”

Mary opened her own business selling wreaths made from local grapevines and Spanish moss. She and Rick took part in local activities, such as the Booster Club for the high school and the annual downtown events.

Rick’s decline started about seven years ago, according to Anthony.

“It is tough because as they are going through it, you are going through it with them,” he said. “I thought, ‘I need to get some of these stories, who he was and what he did, before it is too late.’”

Rick died on Oct. 5 and Mary decided it was time to make a new life for herself. While she will miss the neighborhood and the park, she has made peace with her move to Monterey. 

“I feel good about leaving because I miss Rick so much,” she said. “I hated being in the house by myself. But now I have a cute little studio apartment at Merrill Gardens in Monterey and there is always somebody around if you just want to talk. It will be a lot better for me.”


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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.