Buena Park icon Connie Benemerito passes away at 104

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Long-time Buena Park resident Consolacion “Connie” Espejo Benemerito passed away Wednesday, July 31, at the age of 104, just one month shy of her 105 birthday.

Benemerito was born Aug. 22, 1908 in Luog City, Philippines, to Antonio and Arcadia Espejo. She lived in Buena Park for 40 years and was very active until May when she was hospitalized for leg ulcers and again in June for a gangrened toe, which spread over her entire foot.

Long-time Buena Park resident Consolacion “Connie” Espejo Benemerito passed away Wednesday, July 31, at the age of 104, just one month shy of her 105 birthday.

Benemerito was born Aug. 22, 1908 in Luog City, Philippines, to Antonio and Arcadia Espejo. She lived in Buena Park for 40 years and was very active until May when she was hospitalized for leg ulcers and again in June for a gangrened toe, which spread over her entire foot.

She wrote poetry that won recognition in the Orange County Poetry Contest moderated by the late Jane Glenn Haas. Benemerito’s last poem was penned in May after she was released from the hospital.

A staunch Republican for 39 years, she never missed voting even if she had to wait in line for three hours during the California Gubernatorial elections where a Republican won. She was dedicated and fiercely loyal to the GOP and never missed going to the polls and had met two U.S. presidents.

She was the oldest resident in Buena Park and one of the oldest in Orange County.

Benemerito was the oldest paid member of California Republican Assembly, as well as the Buena Park Woman’s Club.

Other organizations and groups where Benemerito was the oldest member included St. Pius V Catholic Church, America needs Fatima and the oldest member of the GOP, which she joined in 1974.

Her family said she was an active student at the Buena Park Senior Center, where she studied advanced Spanish (her husband spoke Castilian Spanish which is spoken in northern and central Spain).

She also worked on ceramics, oil painting and calligraphy, which she often used to write thank you notes to Senator John McCain, Congressman Ed Royce and Governor Sarah Palin after Palin and her mother Sally, called Benemerito to wish her a happy birthday and most recently to Buena Park Mayor Elizabeth “Beth” Swift.

In January, Benemerito was honored during the annual State of the City Luncheon by Mayor Swift and the Buena Park Chamber of Commerce (now West Orange County Regional Chamber of Commerce).

Benemerito’s longevity will be studied through her DNA at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine University Hospital in the Longevity Projects/Department of Endocrinology in the Bronx, New York.

Her family said in a statement that she is the only Filipino chosen for the honor.

“What a wonderful gift from God. A woman from a small island in the Philippines has been chosen for this magnificent project to aid future generations. It was all in God’s plan that her life should be spent in America, be studied, and that she would live a long life. The longer she lived, the stronger her faith became, which inspired numerous people, young and old.”

Benemerito’s mother, Arcadia, also lived a long life; passing away at the age of 105 of natural causes, after surviving two hip replacements at the age of 103.

Benemerito is described by her family as, a feisty and strong lady with a brilliant mind who graduated at the age of 20 with a degree in pharmacology; she owned her own pharmacy, and worked alongside her pharmacist father Antonio Espejo before she turned 21.

She is said to have been a stern disciplinarian with her children, expecting them to excel in all of their studies.

Her two children excelled in music, especially in piano. Benemerito ‘s daughter, Gale Stoddard, earned success in America as a fixture in piano bars and along with her musical partner Roland Valentino is sought after as an entertainer in the southland retirement community.

The family said that the most in-demand annual invitation was to Benemerito’s birthday celebration where guests could watch and listen to Hollywood entertainers sing to Benemerito in a festive arena, where newspaper people would seek out Benemerito for answers to her longevity.

Her family remembers her as, “Living a most active and joyous life with God at the center of her being. She was a prayer warrior praying  daily for the world’s ails and non-believers in Jesus Christ.

“She had strong likes and dislikes and was very vocal about her political and religious beliefs.  America to her was paradise and when she got her American citizenship papers, she was in seventh heaven. Her passport indicated she only wanted to travel to America. There was no place else for to her and there is no country  like  America; Americans are the greatest people in the world without a doubt.”

The family said condolences are coming from all over the world and that her three address books are filled with names of people she corresponded with over the years always sending birthday cards and thinking-of-you cards.

“She collected people and knew all their names; she was incredible at only 72 pounds – it’s true that dynamite comes in small packages.

“Maraming salamat  – a million thanks in Tagalog, the Filipino dialect.”

Consolacion is survived by her daughter Gale Stoddard, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

She was preceded in death by her parents, husband Melchor Benemerito, son Raymond Benemerito,  son-in-law William Stoddard, and granddaughter Marianne Towns.

A visitation and rosary were held Tuesday Aug. 6 at Renaker-Klockgether Mortuary in Buena Park, with a funeral mass Wednesday Aug. 7, at St. Pius V Catholic Church, also in  Buena Park.

Interment was at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, in Cypress.

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