Obituary: Billie Marie McKenna
Great-grandmother, volunteer, artist
Billie Marie McKenna celebrated her 103rd birthday on May 21, in Claremont, her adopted home of 20 years. She had survived the pandemic year in good health and was looking forward to the first gathering with her bridge group in June.
An unfortunate fall on May 30 became her final life’s challenge, but she didn’t give up the fight until July 24. Although an only child, she leaves an extended family including five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
She was born in Washington D.C., to Edwin and Grace (nee Cain) Walker, who were working for the war effort in 1918. After her mother narrowly escaped death from influenza, Billie moved with her parents to La Junta, Colorado, where her father worked in a railroad roundhouse as a machinist.
At about the age of five or six, she took a momentous trip to California in a Model T, camping along the roadside with her parents; they had to repair 22 tire punctures due to unpaved roads.
The family settled in Southern California, where she enjoyed a happy childhood. She attended Huntington Park High School, but was displaced for two years due to serious damage from the Long Beach earthquake of 1933, returning for graduation.
She started her college career at UC Berkeley, transferred to UCLA for one year, and then returned to Berkeley with straight As for a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1939. She then began a long career as an accountant for local banks and small businesses.
Just before the start of World War II, she met Donald L. McKenna, who was originally from Cincinnati, Ohio. Their marriage, postponed briefly when she was injured in a bus accident, took place April 11, 1942, at Mission San Juan Capistrano. After Don was drafted, they travelled the country to various U.S. Army bases as he was trained to operate the new radar technology; he was never deployed overseas. She eventually returned to California for the birth of their first and only child, Michael, in 1944.
Postwar, the couple settled in Whittier, California, where she resided for 54 years. Mr. McKenna became a successful real estate broker there until his death in 1991. They were members of the Friendly Hills Country Club.
She was an active member of the Association of American University Women in both Whittier and Claremont, and volunteered with Meals On Wheels. She was an accomplished artist in ceramics, watercolor and oil painting. She was actively engaged in tennis and golf into her eighties, and played bridge with friends into her nineties.
She was a lifelong reader, an avid gardener, and maintained an independent lifestyle until her last decade. This included several trips with Elderhostel to destinations in the U.S. and abroad. Her favorite activity was entertaining her family poolside through the years.
“Billie was certainly a member of the ‘Greatest Generation,’” her family shared. “She read the newspaper daily to stay informed, voted in every election, generously supported good causes, lived modestly, worked hard and saved for the education of the next generation. We will always remember her indomitable spirit, her financial acumen, her affection for dogs and hummingbirds, and her signature scarves.”
She is survived by her son, Michael McKenna, and his wife Jean; grandchildren Erin McKenna (Jon Hokanson), Matthew McKenna, Stephen McKenna, Keri (McKenna) Caldwell and Lauren McKenna; and great-grandchildren Caitlin, Rachel and Dylan Hokanson, and Alexia and Ethan Caldwell.
A memorial service will be conducted at Claremont United Church of Christ, Billie’s spiritual home, at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 4. Internment in a private service will be at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier.
Donations may be made in her name to CUCC at https://claremontucc.breezechms.com/give/online; or to World Vision International at https://www.wvi.org/donate.