Remembering Eva Glidewell

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There are a lot of words that can be used to describe Eva Garcia Glidewell — generous, caring, beautiful, fearless and unique.

The list goes on and on as those who loved and knew Glidewell remember her and the impact she had on the city of Belen.

Courtesy of the Glidewell family: Always welcoming, always generous, Eva Glidewell made sure anyone who visited her home left with a small gift — even if she had to raid her cupboard for some canned goods to do it. Glidewell died Wednesday at the age of 90.

Glidwell was famous for her red chile and infamous for her outspoken nature. She knew everyone and everyone knew her. That’s why her death will leave a gaping hole in this community.

Just after 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 23, at the age of 90, Glidewell died peacefully at Senior Living Systems in Los Lunas.

Her daughter, Francis Romero, said the senior living facility took beautiful care of her mother and treated her like the queen she was.

Glidewell had the distinguished honor of being the first Our Lady of Belen fiesta queen back in 1939. While attending Belen High School, she was also elected queen of the prom, homecoming and popularity, a feat no other girl has accomplished.

But her beauty and popularity were not just on the surface, Romero said, calling her mother “beautiful inside and out.”

And Glidewell wasn’t one to rest on her laurels or shirk responsibility.

Between Glidewell and her late husband, Marvin “Sugar” Glidewell, Romero said she and her brother, Marvin, were taught the value of hard work.

“What do I remember most about her? She worked, she worked, she worked, she worked,” Romero says with a smile.

Courtesy of the Glidewell family: Eva Glidewell, right, seen here with her late husband, Marvin “Sugar” Glidewell, left, was known for her dedication to the community, her sharp wit and big heart. Eva and Sugar, who died in 2009, were nothing short of an institution in the city of Belen.

Eva and Sugar came from the generation that grew up in the shadow of the Great Depression. As it did for so many others, that experience forged a work ethic that was unbreakable.

They always lived near where they worked, he at the bowling alley on Becker Avenue, and she across the street at the grocery store that her father had founded when she was a child.

Glidewell owned and operated E. Garcia Grocery, founded by and named for her father, Estanislado, and worked there for 65 years. She also founded Eva’s Blue Ribbon Red Chile, which she sold in 2005 at age 83.

As children, Romero said she and her brother were expected to get home after school and get to work — she at the grocery and Marvin at Sugar Bowl Lanes.

“She was a wonderful mother, provider, hard worker,” Marvin said. “She enjoyed going to the store every morning.”

And she didn’t work hard just at the business, Romero said.

“She was a great mom and a wonderful wife,” she said. “But she also took care of my grandma, who lived right next to the store. She was a great daughter, too.”

It was the house Glidewell grew up in, and after her mother’s passing, she kept it just as Barbarita Castillo Garcia left it — neat as a pin and ready for visitors. Glidewell was known to give people tours of the little home.

One could say that her home extended well beyond those four walls. Her children both remember her generosity to the community, always willing to donate what was needed to make a community event successful or extending a helping hand to an individual.

“Nobody ever left that store hungry. I can say that,” Romero said.

Her generosity was something Marvin saw every day, along with his mother’s wish to stay out of the spotlight.

“She never wanted praise or honors. She didn’t want to be above anybody,” he said.

Both he and Romero said her final wishes were, after her interment, that everyone get back to work or go home and have a bologna sandwich.

“That’s what she wanted, so that’s what we’re telling people,” Romero said, tears standing in her eyes.

While she didn’t want recognition really, she got it all the same. Upon the completion of the pavilion at the entrance to the Heart of Belen, Glidewell and three other women of Belen were honored with permanent stars on its ceiling for their contributions to the city.

Humble, tough and a heart of gold — just a few more words describing Glidewell.

She was a businesswoman in a day when most women were homemakers. She took over the family business in 1949 when her father passed away. The store offered everything from canned goods to fresh meat. And Glidewell was the butcher.

At 4 foot 11 inches, she could carry a side of beef by herself, Romero said.

She was always willing to help someone in need, but if you worked for her, you worked hard, her daughter said.

“You had a lot of fun, but you earned every penny,” she said. “I don’t think she paid top dollar, but she had very few employees leave.”

Running a market in the heart of Belen gave Glidewell plenty of interaction with the public. And sometimes she got to indulge her wit and humor.

Romero tells a story of a hapless railroader who came into the store looking for deodorant right around the time roll-on applicators hit the market. When Glidewell pointed to the traditional stick dispensers, he clarified.

“No, do you have the ball one,” the man is purported to have asked.

“Oh no honey, we just have the one for under your arms,” Glidewell responded.

She could rib a railroader in one breath and talk to one of the richest women in the world in the next. Glidewell was friends and pen pals with many famous people, including Helen Walton, the wife of the Walmart founder Sam Walton.

Romero said her mother corresponded regularly with the president of Delta Airlines and on a trip to Pasadena to see the Rose Bowl parade, managed to secure VIP passes for the two of them from the organizer’s daughter.

“She never met a stranger,” she said.

Many Belenites visited the store as children for root beer barrels and the like, while others can remember their parents working there.

Former Belen Mayor Ronnie Torres said his mother was one of her employees, along with “half the town. Almost everyone was a stocker or checker there.”

Torres, Glidewell’s stylist at Hair Innovations for many years, called her “tough as nails” as an employer.

“You did it right and you would be all right. If not, she would tell you like it is,” Torres said. “You didn’t have to wonder what she thought about you. Eva would tell you. And if she liked you, she had your back.

“We really clicked. She was always funny and made everyone feel so important. She left a mark on more people than she’ll ever know.”

She would also wish you a happy birthday. Glidewell had a calendar with the names of everyone she knew on it, a number probably in the hundreds, Torres said.

Every year, they got a call, and according to Romero, a rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Romero has her calendar now and carries on the tradition.

Glidewell cared deeply about the people of Belen and was often the first to celebrate their accomplishments, especially if they made the paper.

Former Valencia County News-Bulletin editor Sandy Battin said she remembers Glidewell clipping articles out of the paper, laminating them and mailing the story to the person if they no longer lived in the area.

“If someone wrote something she liked in the paper, especially something about living in Belen, she would always call and tell you how much she loved it,” Battin said. “And she would send something down to the paper for everyone to share. She was so incredibly generous.”

Battin said she was always very outspoken, as well.

“I think it may have shocked and surprised some people that she was so plain spoken,” she said. “But that was just Eva.”

Milford Misener, the pastor at the First Baptist Church of Belen, first met Glidewell when he came here in 1967, and found a woman who was an individual who saw great humor in life even if others didn’t.

“I loved the lady. She was a compassionate caring person,” Misener said. “She cared a great deal about her children, her husband and siblings. I found her to be an individual who was willing to express great generosity to those in need. But she also had a realistic view that some were not doing well because they had made bad choices.

“No one was too big not to know and no one was too small that she didn’t know them. She was unique.”

Even after her death, Glidewell continues to be the same humble, unique person she was in life as her family is asking friends and family to forego flowers.

“We are asking people to plant a chile plant in memory of Eva,” Romero said.

A viewing will be held at Romero Funeral Home Chapel at 5:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 27, with a Rosary to be recited at 6 p.m. A final visitation will be held at Our Lady of Catholic Church at 11:30 a.m., Monday, Jan. 28, with a Funeral Mass to be celebrated at noon. Interment will follow at Our Lady of Belen Memorial Gardens.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.