UPDATED 9-7-2011
Mary Valencia Wilson memorial service

HANDS ACROSS TIME, SPACE, LOVE AND LIFE — An attendee holds a program at the memorial service for Mary Wilson, a longtime Reno resident who was active both in her efforts for civil rights and to help needy members of the community. Wilson died of cancer on June 10.

Mary Valencia Wilson will be inurned in the Garden of Peace at Mountain View Cemetery in Reno. Read the full Daily Sparks Tribune story. (Photo: Nathan Orme/Tribune Editor)

Gospel-blues-jazz diva Pat Esters performed Amazing Grace, the classic hymn written in 1773 by repentant slave ship master John Newton. Ms. Esters also sang gospel legend Mahalia Jackson's If I Can Help Somebody.

If I can help somebody, as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,
If I can show somebody, how they're travelling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

My living shall not be in vain,
Then my living shall not be in vain
If I can help somebody, as I pass along,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

If I can do my duty, as a good man ought,
If I can bring back beauty, to a world up wrought,
If I can spread love's message, as the Master taught,
Then my living shall not be in vain.


To anyone who knew our friend Mary, the great Mahalia perfectly captured one small woman's very big life in just a few beautiful words. Amen.

Rt. Rev. Sean Savoy, Chancellor of the International Community of Christ, delivered words of reflection and inspiration.

Speakers included University of Nevada-Reno professor emeritus of political science and former ACLU Nevada President Dr. Richard Siegel ("I was Mary's Jewish friend"), and Reno-Sparks NAACP President Lonnie Feemster.

Friends, family members and community leaders remember Mary Valencia Wilson
Daily Sparks Tribune / 8-8-2011

Sunday August 7, 2011, 3:00 p.m.
American Legion Duby Reid Post #30
730 4th Street
(next door to the Sparks post office, across from city hall)
Sparks, Nevada 89432
Volunteers and assistance with final expenses are needed.

To help, please write Andrew Barbano or call Mary's sister, Joan Treptow, 775-560-0318, or Reno-Sparks Branch Assistant Secretary Dolores Feemster, 775-323-3677.

We need volunteers and Mary's family needs assistance. If you can contribute toward Mary's final expenses, please send a check payable to her sister, Joan Treptow, 15440 Toll Road, Reno, NV 89521. Alternatively, you may send a check payable to Joan Treptow to the branch at P.O. Box 7757, Reno NV 89510, or contribute through RenoSparksNAACP.org with a credit or debit card. Please make sure to designate that your donation is for Mary's family.

If you can support the memorial service with setup/takedown and/or food, please call or write ASAP.

[ ] Soup [ ] Salad/fruits/veggies and type _____________________________________
[ ] Entrée and type _____________________________________________________
[ ] Dessert and type ____________________________________________________
[ ] Bread/rolls [ ] Chips/dips [ ] Beverage and type ______________________________
[ ] Disposable plates, cups, napkins, utensils, table linens, etc. ___________________
[ ] Help with setup [ ] Help with takedown [ ] Both

We will begin setup at 1:00 p.m. on August 7 and complete takedown by 5:45 p.m. If you can help and/or plan to attend, please RSVP by Wednesday, August 3.

Thank you.

June 14, 2011

Andrew Barbano / Reno-Sparks NAACP
(775) 786-1455

Longtime Nevada civil rights leader Mary Valencia Wilson dies at 66

Mary Valencia Wilson, 1944-2011
Deidre Pike photo
Courtesy of and © Reno News & Review

RENO, Nev. — Longtime Nevada civil rights leader Mary Valencia Wilson, 66, died at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno shortly after midnight on Friday, June 10. She suffered from complications after a long battle with cancer.

She was born to Manuel Obregón Valencia and the former Margaret Regina Smith on October 21, 1944, in Palo Alto, California.

As a child, Mary Valencia carried tools to help her father, a union carpenter, build a small four-bedroom house so that their family could leave a one-room shack south of Los Angeles. It took years. The house still stands.

She attended high school in Norwalk, Calif., and worked as a waitress. When she could no longer work, she attended Fullerton College. She participated in anti-Vietnam War protests while at Fullerton and marched with United Farmworkers Union leader César Chávez.

She learned activism at an early age.

“My dad would come home bloody (from AFL-CIO marches),” she remembered, “bloody from the police. There are a lot of good policemen, but every barrel has a couple of rotten ones. We need a citizen police review board," she said in 2001.

During her childhood, Wilson often worked with migrant harvesters at several farms south of Los Angeles and in Orange County. She often said that John Steinbeck perfectly captured the life of these workers in his novel The Grapes of Wrath, a book she re-read once a year.

In 1954, her father, an Aztec from Mexico, was honored as Norwalk man of the year, the first non-white so honored.

She became a Nevada resident in the early 1990's.

Valencia Wilson was honored with the Nevada Alliance for Workers' Rights (AWR) Sentinel Award in 2002.

She proved "instrumental in helping the alliance get a translator into agricultural areas to talk to non-English-speaking farm and ranch workers," according to a 2002 Reno News & Review profile written by UNR journalism Prof. Deidre Pike.

"She worked for increased diversity in the City of Reno's hiring process," Pike reported.

"Not only was Mary a dear friend and loyal NAACP volunteer, but she was also a truly great advocate for equality and civil rights for all people," stated Reno-Sparks NAACP President Lonnie Feemster when informed of her passing.

"When Sparks police started ticketing casual laborers on Galletti Way, the indignant Wilson was ready to do whatever she could to instigate change," Pike wrote in 2001.

Mary Valencia Wilson served on the boards of AWR, Washoe Legal Services and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. She was a longtime elected member of the Reno-Sparks NAACP executive committee and served as the organization's political action chair. She sat on the advocacy committee of the League of United Latin American Citizens and was also instrumental in establishing the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN).

"She was our most avid volunteer and was loved by all," remembered PLAN lobbyist Jan Gilbert.

"Mary was on the founding board of PLAN, representing the Reno-Sparks NAACP, which was one of PLAN's founding member groups," stated PLAN State Director Bob Fulkerson.

"Our office was practically out the front door of Mary's apartment on Riverside Drive, so she was a frequent participant in our meetings, protests and social events. Out my office window, I used to watch the parade of kids that would go to Mary's place since she was known as the person in the neighborhood who would give them love, food, a place to hang out, whatever else was needed that, for some reason or another, they couldn't get at home," Fulkerson said.

"She also took in stray cats and we both cried the day when Bucket Mouth, her favorite, was killed by a dog whose owner was at a PLAN meeting for the day. Mary was the go-to person for anyone who needed support, love or redress against the establishment, whether police, city council or other organizations," Fulkerson added.

While increasingly physically disabled, she still insisted on participating in union picket demonstrations, most notably the 24-hour nurses strike against Washoe Medical Center (Renown) just before Christmas in 2001.

“'She’s out there on the line with the nurses in the cold — and her health is terrible,' said the late AWR founder Tom Stoneburner. “It’s a major hurdle just to get out there.'"

The AWR Sentinel Award was not intended for a large donor or someone paid to do community activism. It was instead directed toward an impassioned volunteer out in the trenches.

“Mary doesn’t get paid to do this," Stoneburner told Pike. "She has an activist fire in her."

“This is a person that every time something is threatening the community, this person’s ready to go,” Stoneburner added.

"When you start thinking about the kind of activist I’m talking about, Mary is that — she lives it. She’s an inspiration to everybody.

"We should all try to be like that.”

She was twice married and is survived by a daughter, Jessica Williams (Phill) of Oklahoma City; a sister, Joan Valencia Treptow (Bill) of Reno; and brother, Emmanuel Charles "Spike" Valencia (Karen) of Running Springs, Calif. She also leaves two grandchildren, two nieces and three nephews. [The latter paragraph was updated with new information on 6-16-2011.]

Her family is especially grateful to her longtime companion John Keim for all of his kindnesses rendered in her final years.

Valencia Wilson willed her body donated to the University of Nevada School of Medicine.

A memorial service will be announced later and posted at RenoSparksNAACP.org.

"The obstacles ahead in the struggle for equality are high, but not insurmountable," she wrote in 2001.

"We have come a long way since Jim Crow ruled the South. Unfortunately, deeply entrenched discrimination and racial violence still exist. The sense of moral urgency that fueled the civil rights era is just as imperative today."



Memories of Mary

From the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada

Mary was an Emeritus Board Member of the ACLU of Nevada and had served actively on the board for many years...

“There was incredible dedication,” said Rich Siegel, board member and former President of the ACLU of Nevada.

Rich said that he had never seen anybody under such adverse circumstances make sure that she could participate whenever possible in the work of the ACLU of Nevada. 

Although “she was in great pain,” he said, Mary would sit for board meetings as long as she possibly could. And when she was unable to sit, she would be available by telephone.

Mary had a committed activist spirit early on in her life. She picked vegetables and fruits with migrant farm workers in California and marched with César Chávez and the United Farmworkers Union.

“She represented the epitome of the civil rights leader,” said Rich. “She brought to the board a dedication and interest of civil liberties and civil rights for all people in Nevada and across the United States.” — Posted 6-15-2011

From the 7 August 2011 memorial service —

Mary Frances Valencia Wilson: Memories of my sister
by Joan Valencia Treptow

We’ve had many a rough patch in or lives, our little family. From the start it wasn’t easy for any of us. Being five years older than me, Nonnie was Mama’s eyes as well as her helper. When my brother came along 16 months later, she was now also shepherd of Dad’s ‘little sack of oranges.’ Nonnie was my nickname for Mary. I couldn’t say ‘Mary’, I thought she was Joanie, but I couldn’t say that either, ergo Nonnie.
Mama was blind, and Dad worked on the railroad, so he was gone during the week. Coming home on the weekends was always festive. Sunday mornings were the funny pages and dunking donuts in coffee—in bed.

Daddy died in 1955, just when Nonnie was starting to grow up. There was a lot of anger and confusion in her world. Life changed drastically and quickly for us. We moved from our home in Norwalk, California to a place in Covina, California, where mom was able to find a job teaching English and American Literature. It was very hard to leave the neighborhood in which she had grown up. She rebelled, and we didn’t see her for years.

Somewhere between her youth and adulthood, she met her demons, ‘fought the fight’ and won.

We all won.

Mary gave of herself unselfishly. She came home to help us get through the loss of our mom in 1968. I graduated high school, married, and moved to Wisconsin. My brother went directly into the Air Force after graduating early, spending his entire youth in Viet Nam. When he came home he headed to USC.

Mary came to my rescue again when I was left with a young son to rear on one income. She helped give him a stable after-school life with lots of friends to play with, in a safe, secure environment. She helped the neighborhood kids too, with their homework, feeding them after school, and made sure everyone had a coat and new shoes to start school.

When she left California, she moved to Reno to be near family. She lived with me for a time. I believe that this was about the time that her first issues with anxiety started. Being in a loud household with lots of noisy kids running in and out, and listening to many “lively discussions” over the phone from my ex-husband, didn’t help the situation. Mary needed a quieter place, and was relocated to an apartment on Riverside Drive. We lost contact with each other for several years — again. She found a niche and started to help others — again, always putting others first.

After many ups and downs in my own life, we reunited at my daughter’s wedding. I promised her at that time that we would never be separated by anyone ever again, and I kept that promise.

The last 10 years have been the best of our lives. We shared holidays, births of grandchildren, parties at home, and long talks on the phone; and we added another member to ‘our little band of Indians.’ John has been a blessing to us all. He was a constant companion to Mary, a great friend to Bill and me, and is a stand-up guy.

I will leave all her accomplishments in the community to others, who can better describe what Mary meant to Nevada. At this moment in time, it’s all about me and my sister.

Mary struggled every day of her life. She struggled with osteoporosis, the loss of her teeth, anxiety attacks, and agoraphobia. Still she fought on. She endured radiation treatments, chemotherapy, feeding and tracheotomy tubes, and many infections. She beat cancer twice. This last time, the bastard won. When she found out that she had cancer for the third time, she told me ‘I dodged the bullet twice. I think my luck is tapped out. At least I know I’m going out fighting.’

She is in a safe place now.

No pain. No fear.

At peace.

From John Keim

This is a short story about two people (at the beginning) empty in soul without companionship.

VOICES FOR MARYSpike Valencia, right, Mary Wilson’s brother, read a poignant first-person story written by his sister’s longtime partner, John Keim, about their relationship. Keim stood nearby, his eyes closed, too emotional to speak on his own. Valencia called upon the audience to adopt his sister’s motivation in their own lives.

“She was committed to the things she believed in,” he said. “That’s leadership. That’s what we all need to step up to do.”

Mary Valencia Wilson will be inurned in the Garden of Peace at Mountain View Cemetery in Reno. Read the full Daily Sparks Tribune story. (Photo: Nathan Orme/Tribune Editor)

Two people meeting in the manner in which Mary and I met, followed by extraordinary events, events which make one believe there may have been some external guidance.

My first encounter was when I decided to accept an invitation by my sister Barbara to have lunch with her in Sacramento; my first wife of 35 years had passed in 1995.

I didn’t want to drive, so I took the bus. While at the bus depot, this young lady toting a cane walked in and placed a sandwich about a foot adjacent to a young frightened man sitting on a bench. He looked desperate, scared, and like he could use some help.

Not having said a word, the lady walked out and headed west from the depot. The gentleman looked at the sandwich shaking with fear; he finally got up enough courage to pick it up and put it under his jacket; he walked out and headed east from the depot.

I watched with disbelief and felt that the one giving the sandwich needed it more than the recipient.

I had a hard time dismissing the event.

The second encounter with Mary was in 1997, about a year after the first. I had made a sudden decision to vacate my condo. I called the manager of the Riverside Apartments, the wife of a friend that shared an office with me on Freeport Blvd.

She gave me an apartment next to Mary.

When I pulled up, got out of the car to unload, here comes this lady with the cane. I had an immediate recognition. She asked me if I needed help. I looked at her in disbelief. She looked like she was in desperate need of help.

I unloaded the car, drove to the Burger King, got 4 hamburgers, and came back and sat down to our first lunch together.

There was something about Mary that fascinated me, her intellect, knowledge, and when I asked her about a certain novel, she would walk into her apartment and come out with the novel. I remember when I asked about The Prophet, she walked in, came out with it in hand, I don’t know why, but I actually choked up.

When we watched Jeopardy, she usually always had 75% of the correct answers on most all subjects. I couldn’t understand how a mind with such capacity would let the body break down. I discovered she had phobias, Post Traumatic Shock Disorder, and agoraphobia. To take her anywhere was somewhat of a challenge. It got easier as her trust in me grew.

I treated Mary like a soft shelled egg, until one day I felt we could take a drive to visit my brother. From there we drove a little farther to the Calaveras National Park, the Big Trees. She was so impressed with the Giants that I saw true happiness in her eyes for the first time.

After a few weeks, I went back and made arrangements with the park ranger to do a marriage ceremony. He acted as though it was a common request. In September of 1997, we went back, standing underneath the biggest tree, I asked Mary if she would become my wife.

She got tears in her eyes and said she would like nothing better, but couldn’t because of her divorce decree. I told her not to worry; the only ones that will know will be you, me, the park ranger, his witness, God, and the Giants around us. At that moment she got a smile on her face as though a light had turned on.

Suddenly I saw her stand tall as the trees.

She asked "are you sure"

I said "I’m sure."

We walked to the outdoor chapel where the park ranger and witness were waiting. We had our ceremony witnessed by God and the Giants.

This ceremony was our way of committing ourselves to each other. This was for both of us so that Mary could be secure and be ensured that I would not abandon or treat her as had others.

Our loyalty to each other became inseparable, our love and respect for each other never stopped growing. I stood beside her during her activities, also stood guard when people with opposing views became aggressive. For 10 years, we endured the noise at the air races so that the money earned would help the Boys and Girls Club.

Mary went through hell at these events because of her PTSD. She was driven to try and improve the lives of underprivileged children. I was always close by to comfort her when at times it got to be more than she could handle. At times when she was enjoying herself, she would say to me that I made her happier than she had ever been and she would tell me that I had saved her life.

This is just a short overview of two individuals that once felt that life had dealt them one bad hand after another. At last were dealt the best hand available, but, sadly was whisked from us, enduring a great deal of pain.

Some wise men from the past told us about love, happiness, and sorrow.

Love: "True love is eternal, infinite, and always like itself. It is equal and pure, without violent demonstrations: it is seen with white hairs and is always young in the heart. — Honoré de Balzac (1799 – 1850)

Happiness: : The nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of summer and winter seasons." — Bhagavad Gita (c. B.C. 400)

Sorrow: Grief is natural to the mortal world, and is always about thee; pleasure is the quest, and visiteth thee but by thy invitation: use well thy mind, and sorrow shall be passed behind thee; be prudent, and the visits of joy shall remain long with thee. — Akhenaton (c. B.C. 1375)

Thank you Mary. You have been a true and loving companion for the past 14 years, without which I would have wandered around aimlessly until death, and thank you for saving my life.

John Keim

FROM: wdomkr
7:34 AM on June 15, 2011
I am proud to have known her for 15+ years. I just called her Mary.

Mary was a small petite lady, she was a natural born warrior, who fought for others,with Activism and words. She was passionate about helping others no matter what. If she thought they were right and needed her, she gave it 100 %. Mary was kind and compassionate. Yet she roared like a lion. She never lost her cool, but you could tell when she was angry by the glint in her eyes. She just listened and gave her point of view. The years she spent picking in the fields and growing up in Los Angeles as a young lady working with César Chávez never left her. She always remembered where she came from.

For some crazy reason; I'll never forget when she would tell me, "Now let me tell you how it is..."

And she would. She always had input from years of experiencing life.

This world needs more Mary's. Today's Hispanic youth benefits the rewards of their labor. And they don't even know it.

Goodbye, my friend.

Adios Maria, ya descansate, ya estas con Dios. Ahorra el te cuida.

FROM: alpastor
8:51 AM on June 15, 2011
Mi hermana maravillosa. Como apasionadamente lucho. Le he echado por anos. Se puede encontrar la paz en el mundo que no se pudo encontrar en este. Por favor, saber que mantendremos con su buen trabajo. (2 replies)

FROM: wdomkr
1:51 PM on June 15, 2011
alpastor, how are you?
FROM: ResearchAnalyst
7:35 PM on June 15, 2011
It's good to hear you my friend. Ditto to what wdomkr asked.....

I'm very sorry to hear about Mary. I knew her while working at the ACLU. There are always too few activists, and now we're one less.Bob Tregilus, Reno, 6-14-2011

Our condolences to the branch and the family of the deceased.NAACP Los Angeles Branch, 6-14-2011

2011 NAACP National Convention
July 23 - 28, 2011
Hosted by the Los Angeles NAACP
Leon Jenkins, President
Vacie Thomas, Executive Assistant



Friends, family members, community leaders remember Mary Valencia Wilson at service
Daily Sparks Tribune / 8-8-2011

Longtime Nevada civil rights leader Mary Valencia Wilson dies at 66
MSNBC.com 6-15-2011

Mary Valencia Wilson, civil rights and labor rights activist, dies in Reno
KRNV TV-4 (NBC) 6-15-2011

Reno civil rights activist Mary Valencia Wilson dies at 66
Reno Gazette-Journal / RGJ.com 6-14-2011 / Page 2A 6-16-2011

CarsonNow.org: Mary Valencia Wilson dies

Mary Valencia Wilson: Nevada's Aztec Warrior
Barbwire / Daily Sparks Tribune 6-12-2011

Contagious activism
Community leader Mary Valencia-Wilson gets a grassroots leader award for being involved in all things progressive
By Deidre Pike / Reno News & Review / 1-3-2002

Equality remains elusive by Mary Valencia Wilson
Chico News & Review / 2-22-2001

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