On the morning of June 8, 2023, our beautiful, energetic and feisty mother, Helen Marie McAbee, passed away peacefully with her family by her side. Her enthusiasm and determination for living never waned. She continued to enjoy her flowers, her view, her family and friends, her cat (Suki), her love of dancing, tasty food and good wine or cocktail right up to the last day she was with us.
Helen and her two sisters, Mary Barbora and Kathryn Barbora Payton, had the privilege of growing up with customs brought to the United States from their Croatian born and raised parents, Raymond and Kate (Knego) Barbora, both immigrants. The vegetables they consumed were grown in their backyard as well as their eggs and chicken. A glass of wine always accompanied their delicious main meal during the noon hour. Therefore, we as her children also enjoyed and experienced those very same customs.
Helen only spoke Croatian when she started school. This wasn’t unusual. Watsonville had a large Croatian population. However, she said she was shy, timid, fearful of the nuns and deemed herself “ugly”. She eventually transferred to public school and graduated in 1944 from Watsonville High School where she was also the winner of a swimsuit beauty contest. Yes, despite her childhood opinion of herself, she was a true natural beauty and remained beautiful and ageless for the entirety of her 97+ years.
After high school, she was employed at Meadow Gold Creamery in Watsonville as a bookkeeper. While out for an evening of dancing at the Springfield Grange in Pajaro, she met her future husband, Richard “Dick” McAbee, from San Juan Bautista. On May 18, 1947, they were married at St. Patrick’s Church in Watsonville. They settled in Watsonville, had their eldest daughter, Lynda, in August of 1948, but relocated to Hollister in early 1949. Dick said he was tired of the sun in his eyes in either direction as he traveled to and from work at his family’s ranch in San Juan Bautista. The city of Hollister became their forever home. They welcomed four more children, all born in Watsonville, but reared and schooled in Hollister, Janis in 1951, Cathy in 1955, Patti in 1959 and finally a son, Richard Jr. in 1970.
Once Dick taught Helen to drive, she, as a devoted daughter, usually visited her mother in Watsonville once a week with us in tow. These gatherings were always around the kitchen table where everyone enjoyed delicious food and the conviviality of conversation. After a fall at 98, our grandmother lived the rest of her days at the Mabie Center in Hollister until she passed at the age of 102. Mom visited daily, often bringing fresh baked cookies to the staff.
Helen was the consummate homemaker. Like her mother, her meals were large and delicious, she fussed over her children’s clothing, hosted countless birthday parties for them, made certain to pack a fresh lunch for Dick daily and often personally delivered it to him at their McAbee Trucking business. She spent hours in her garden, baked homemade desserts and canned fruits, vegetables, jams and jellies. She eventually followed in the footsteps of her mother-in-law, Elda McAbee, and began entering many of these delicacies in the San Benito County Fair for many decades. Her entries also included flower arrangements and specimen flowers. She worked tirelessly creating these arrangements, then rushed to the fairgrounds to get there by cut off time. Her prizes ranged from Sweepstake Winner, Ball Jar Winner and numerous Firsts, Seconds and Thirds in numerous categories.
As the years grew in number, so did Helen’s Christmas decorations. She put up and decorated multiple trees including her beautifully decorated 12’ tree, as well as Christmas decor on every available space. This was also the case this past Christmas where 47 of us gathered on Christmas Day. She was amazed as to how many people were in her house and kept saying in astonishment, “Look what Dad and I started! Look at all of these people!” Her indomitable enthusiasm, desire and energy was quite out of the norm for someone her age and even younger, let alone hosting her large, expanded family in her home for Christmas Day this past year.
Helen and Dick’s immediate family had grown with the addition of their son-in-law’s, Allen “Butch” Ariano (Lynda), Larry Barnes (Janis), Steve Holdaway (Cathy), Jerry Long (Patti) and her daughter-in-law, Jackie Blaser McAbee (Richard), and then the blessed arrival of 12 grandchildren. In birth order they are Jenae Holdaway Replogle (Dave), Lauryn Holdaway Barton (Bryan), Brandon Barnes (Shuryn), Justin Holdaway, Nicholas Barnes (Brianna), Ryan Barnes (Anne), Jason Long (Nicole), Zachary Barnes (Alyssa), Jessica Long Roberts (Marcus), Ireland McAbee, Donnovan McAbee and Jaden Long. At the time of her passing she had 23 great grandchildren. In addition to her biological grandchildren is Gabe Razo, as an addition to Richard’s family, he also lovingly refers to her as Dammy, as does all of the rest of her grandchildren and great grandchildren. Her family also includes many cousins from her Knego/Barbora family as well as many nieces, nephews and cousins from the McAbee clan. Helen always found time for fun. She and Dick belonged to the Hollister Dance Club, attended countless dances at the Elks Club and whatever other events took place in and around Hollister including mixers, parades and celebrations of life for the many people they knew. She was a long time member of Kinship, YLI, Slavic American Cultural Organization (SACO), the Republican Women and for many years worked at the polls whenever an election took place.
Snow skiing was another passion with trips to Badger Pass, Dodge Ridge, Sun Valley, Vail and Northstar, where they built a beautiful and much loved home. Helen still skied in her 80’s. They also enjoyed vacations at Bass Lake and house boating at Lake Shasta. In 2005, Helen visited Croatia with the Mékis family. She finally met her first and second cousins, visited both her mother’s home in Brgat, Croatia and her father’s home in Doli, Croatia. It was the trip of a lifetime. She visited her parents’ home country again some years later with her daughter, Janis. Her travels also included cruises to Mexico, Alaska, Europe, the Caribbean, vacations in Hawaii, Bronson, MI, the East Coast, Oregon, Arizona, along with many California getaways. As much as she enjoyed those travels, her love of the beach was always at the top of her list. How she loved the sun, the sand and walking along the shore.
Dick, the love of her life, passed away in 2004, just short of their 57th wedding anniversary. She missed our dad and the life they had immensely. Four years after Dick’s passing, she met John Vodanovich, also Croatian and also widowed. They kept company for eleven years until John’s passing in 2020. They enjoyed cooking, going to festivals, parties, the beach, restaurants and shared in their mutual Croatian heritage.
After a fall three years ago, we engaged part-time caregiving despite Helen saying she didn’t need anyone. After a short hospital stay this past April, thiswas increased even though she still insisted that it wasn’t necessary. We are thankful Christina, Nellie and Mona were there for her as well as some of Christina’s crew who so kindly availed themselves this past month. A huge thank you from all of us. You were an immense help to her and gave us such peace of mind knowing she had both company and care.
May our mother always be remembered as a vibrant, life loving person with an indomitable spirit and may we dance and toast to her memory! Zivjeli!
Services will be held June 26, at 11 a.m. at St. Benedict Catholic Church, 1200 Fairview Road, Hollister, California. A celebration of life will follow. The location to be announced.