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Narcissa Pena

Lifelong Davis resident Narcissa Pena, who comes from a pioneer family and was among the first women to attend UC Davis, died Monday at Courtyard Healthcare Center. She was 89.

Pena was born to Jesus and Lucy Pena on Oct. 29, 1918, in Davis - just one year after the city incorporated. She is survived by her brother, Tom Pena of Redding, as well as several nieces, nephews and numerous extended family members.

The Pena family, related to the Vacas, Berryessas and many other Yolo/Solano families of Spanish origin, helped settle this area.

Narcissa Pena was the great-granddaughter of Juan Felipe Pena, the first in the family to arrive in California. He came with his wife, Isabella, their six children and Juan Manuel de Baca (Vaca) from New Mexico in 1841, according to a 1996 Enterprise article.

Cattlemen Juan Felipe Pena and Vaca received a large Spanish land grant of about 50,000 acres in the early 1840s, the article said. The Penas' adobe house is now a state historic landmark on Pena Adobe Road in Vacaville.

Juan Felipe Pena's son, Gavino, and his wife, Ruperta Vaca, moved from the Laguna Valley to a ranch near Putah Creek in the late 1800s. When Gavino Pena died in 1902, his widow sold their ranch and moved to Davisville, the article said.

Her son, Jesus Pena, married Lucy Zuniga, the daughter of a native Chilean. They had five children - one boy and four girls - including Narcissa, who lived her entire life in the same house at Fourth and D streets until March, when she moved to Courtyard Healthcare Center, said her nephew, Michael Huitt of Davis.

'She was an outgoing person,' Huitt said. 'She spoke to everybody and was willing to tell everybody her life story. - She was good to everybody. She loved people.'

Beth Davis, a stylist at Lasting Impressions salon, where Pena came to have her hair done twice a week for a decade, said 'she was a bit of living history.'

'Whenever I wondered anything about Davis gone by, she always knew. And there was always some kind of personal anecdote that went with it,' Davis said.

She said Pena enjoyed the salon's social atmosphere, chatting and sharing stories with her dry sense of humor.

'She came in and she just knew everybody,' Davis said. 'Of course, she never really knew a stranger.'

Pena never married, but became like family to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity members who lived next door. She served as their house mother for more than 20 years, ironing shirts, making home-cooked dinners and helping 'her boys' with any problems. In return, the fraternity members would help with chores and take her to the market or church.

Among them was fraternity member and Aggie quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan, who graduated in 2001 and recently joined the San Francisco 49ers. O'Sullivan made a point to visit Pena every time he came back to Davis. He and other fraternity members even went to visit her at Courtyard Healthcare.

'She sure meant a lot to our fraternity,' O'Sullivan said. 'She really touched a lot of guys' experience in school.'

O'Sullivan said he felt blessed to know Pena, who was a grandmotherly figure, but never let them get away with anything.

'She'd constantly refer to us as 'her boys' one minute and 'bums' the next,' O'Sullivan said.

'She was so strong-willed and fun to be around. - To say she was intense and passionate would probably be an understatement.'

He said Pena was loud and opinionated, but 'you couldn't help having a smile on your face' whenever she was around.

In an Enterprise article, Pena recalled a time in Davis when she rode by horse and buggy on dirt streets and paid 15 cents to see a movie. Her father worked for the University Farm Division and later for the city of Davis, using a water wagon to sprinkle water on the unpaved, dusty streets.

Narcissa and her siblings attended Davis Grammar School on C Street, between Third and Fourth streets, where Central Park stands today, and Davis Joint Union High School, now City Hall on Russell Boulevard.

In a 1992 Yolo County Historical Society booklet, written by UCD history student Suzanne Jones Truitt, Pena talks about looking forward to the Picnic Day celebration at UCD and traveling by buggy over the new Yolo Causeway to attend the circus or go shopping with her mother in Sacramento. Before the causeway was built in 1915, Tule Jake Road was the only way to get to Sacramento. Flooding made the road mostly impassable except during the summer.

Pena also talks about discrimination she experienced in the city's early years, based on her Hispanic heritage and her family's lack of a college education as more and more professors came to Davis to teach at the university.

Pena never learned to drive, but a buggy or bicycle was sufficient to get around Davis. She was one of the first women to attend UCD, earning a degree in home economics in 1939.

According to an Enterprise article, she was a mail carrier in Davis and she worked at a sugar refinery in Woodland during World War II. After carrying mail for about two years, she worked alongside Hattie Weber, Davis' first librarian, for 11 years.

Later, she worked for 30 years as a secretary for the university, first in the registrar's office, then in the botany department and finally at the School of Veterinary Medicine.

She also traveled extensively, to places like Mexico, Guatemala, Spain, Europe and Hawaii.

Pena was preceded in death by her sisters, Juanita Huitt, Andrea Martinez and Clara Raubach.

A visitation is planned from 6 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Wiscombe's Davis Funeral Chapel. A Rosary will be recited at 7 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial begins at 11 a.m. Monday at St. James Catholic Church, 1275 B St., Davis.

To plant memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Narcissa Pena, please visit our flower store.


As a kid growing up in Davis, Miss Pena was simply always there; an integral part of the community as were all the Penas and Huitts with whom I grew up. My condolences to all her family.

Christine Hills Jul 23 2008 12:00 AM

One of my most satisfying accomplishments on the Davis City Council was working with Narcissa to name Pena Drive, running between Second and Fifth Streets, in honor of her family. Additionally, I recall the joy which my deceased wife had in talking with Narcissa at Lasting Impressions. She was a fine lady.

Jerry Adler Jun 25 2008 12:00 AM

I lived in the Phi Delt house next door to Narcissa in the early 1990's. She was great friend to all of us, she frequently came over to visit. She loved to tell us stories about the early days of the UC Davis campus. She had a wonderful sense of humor and was never afraid to tell us we were out of line. She was truly a grand dame of Davis.

Andy Mengshol Jun 3 2008 12:00 AM

I first met Narcissa in the late 50's when I first began my career at UC Davis. The department I worked in was one that assisted others on campus by reproducing copies and clerical duties as needed. Narcissa was working in the Botany Department at the time and I saw her frequently. It was always good to see her, and I enjoyed hearing her talk about her family and the history of the community. She always had a good story to tell. Through the years we lost touch for some time. A couple of years ago we reconnected through a meeting of the UCD Retirees' group. Narcissa was receiving her fifty-year award at that time. Another friend and I picked her up and took her with us to receive the well deserved recognition that was given. I am glad that I was fortunate to be a friend and will miss her.

Karen Scott Jun 2 2008 12:00 AM

Adios Narcissa, descansa bien en la paz del Senor.

Art & Adrienne Shapiro Jun 2 2008 12:00 AM

Laura and I and my daughters, Lynae, Sarah, and Leah wish Ms Pena God speed. I met Ms. Pena in 1971 as a member of Phi Delta Theata. I always enjoyed seeing Ms. Pena in town and talking about my family and the "house". God Bless. Mike

Mike and Laura Anderson May 31 2008 12:00 AM

Davis won't be the same without Narcissa; she represented its history and small-town character. We'll especially miss talking with her about Davis politics. When we would walk up to the Farmer's Market, she would often be in her yard, eager to start a spirited political discussion. (She never missed watching a City Countil meeting, and we first met her, in fact, at the public hearing for 312 D, a little 19th-century house the Davis Historical Society was involved in saving--of course, she was in favor of preservation!) She worked on several projects to document Davis history; as a member of the important Historical and Landmarks Commission, she helped to collect historical materials, which were published in the book Davisville '68. She was a living connection not only to the romance of Old California but to the beginnings of Davis! We'll especially remember her friendliness and willingness to share her knowledge and opinions about our community.

Mark and Merrily DuPree May 31 2008 12:00 AM

I'll miss seeing Narcissa sitting on her porch at 4th and D. And her wry wit. Yearly on July 4th as a Davis Bike Club member I would help protect her yard from wayward racers with hay bales and snow fencing. "No bikes on my porch!", she'd proclaim. Her zest for life and frankness were legendary and traits to be emulated.

Peto Kenner May 31 2008 12:00 AM

Dear Pena family, We are saddened to know that Narcissa died and still treasure many memories of her during our years in Davis when Jim and I were raising our daughters. They remember her kind ways when they were cared for by neighbor Mrs. Zuccuti as young girls. Sympathy and peace to you from Lillian McHenry, Lyndie & Laurie.

Lillian McHenry & daughters May 30 2008 12:00 AM

We will dearly miss you Narcissa! It was a joy getting to see you at the Pena reunions! May you rest in peace!

Anthony Ray May 29 2008 12:00 AM