Obituary: John R. Serpa and Margaret R. Serpa

Married 66 years, they died two days apart

Longtime Claremont residents John R. Serpa, 91, and Margaret R. Serpa, 96, died within days of each other, peacefully in their home, on June 21 and June 23, respectively. They were lovingly married for 66 years.

John, whose father immigrated from the Azores Islands, was born to Manuel and Wilhelmina Serpa in Riverdale, California. He spent his childhood in Hanford, California where he was active in the Boy Scouts, played the trumpet in his high school band, and worked at his parent’s seafood distribution business.

Family vacations were spent on the coast at Pismo Beach or Cayucos where clamming was a favorite pastime. In 1951 he enlisted in the United States Navy, and was responsible for maintaining, supporting, and supplying U.S Navy submarines while stationed at bases in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and the North Atlantic. It was during his lengthy submarine assignments that he began building model ships, a hobby which he continued throughout his life. He went on to earn his B.S. in engineering from San Diego State University, and upon graduation began his 35-year career with General Dynamics, with an expertise in evaluating the productivity and efficiency of various manufacturing processes and systems.

Margaret (Marge), the eldest of two sisters, was born and raised in Millburn, New Jersey, to proud Italian immigrant parents Lawrence and Emma Monaco, owners of the town’s grocery market. She entered kindergarten speaking only Italian but soon learned English. She studied the piano and often reminisced about her beloved piano teacher who would take her and her sister to New York for the opera or Radio City Music Hall performances. Her family often attended productions at Millburn’s Papermill Playhouse, spawning her lifelong love of live theater.

Upon her graduation from Rider College, she worked for Hahne’s Department Store, but after a few years decided to change careers and returned to school to earn her teaching credential. Seven years later she made another bold move to leave New Jersey and applied sight unseen for a teaching position in San Diego, California. She bought herself a new car and along with her parents, drove across the country to begin a new life. Ironically, her travels via Route 66 routed her through Claremont, which would later become her permanent home.

Soon after arriving in San Diego she met John Serpa at a church young adult dance, and within the year they married, in 1957. In 1960 his General Dynamics employment brought them to Claremont, where they chose to raise their five children, all of whom attended Claremont public schools. They provided leadership to myriad organizations to support their children’s activities: parent teacher associations and senior grad night party committees, youth scouting organizations, and as AYSO soccer referees.

Both engaged in the civic discourse of Claremont, socially, culturally, and ideologically. He served for eight years on the Claremont Planning Commission, and later, from 2004-2008 as a member of the Citrus College Citizens’ Oversight Committee. Both were involved members of Active Claremont. She was a dedicated supporter of the League of Women Voters and numerous city council and school board candidates, at one point running herself as representative for Citrus Community College Board of Trustees. She was a member of AAUW, the Rembrandt Club of Pomona College, and the West End Opera Guild, for which she often sang in the chorus for staged productions. One of the couple’s last volunteer commitments was as weekly tutors for the Youth Wellness Center at Saint Ambrose Church.

They were devoted members of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church community,  serving on parish fiesta committees, teaching religious education classes, and leading adult Bible studies. In 1979 they were first elected members of the OLA Pastoral Council and members of the welcoming subcommittee. They cherished the hours volunteering with friends in the OLA Italian Catholic Federation Branch No. 319, and for many years they jointly served as Eucharistic ministers/pastoral care ministers to the sick and homebound. In 1978 she became the first president of the National Council of Catholic Women, which later became the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, continuing a leadership role in the OLA Women’s Council until its closure in 2016.

The couple loved to travel, whether it was towing their travel trailer on cross-country summer road trips to the East Coast or camping with family and friends at various California beaches, mountains, and deserts. During their retirement years they traveled the world, visiting Western and Eastern Europe, Canada, Mexico and Central America, Asia, Russia, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Middle East. They also enjoyed many excursions throughout the United States.

He was an accomplished craftsman with wood, making numerous toys, decorations, and practical household items in his spare time. The couple kept fit in their later years by participating in weekly square dancing and line dancing classes. As a couple they hosted many gatherings and holiday celebrations for family and friends, always remembering to include those who were alone. For many years they organized their neighborhood block party.

They are survived by their children Catherine D’Emilio (Frank), Michael Serpa, Diane Reed, Daniel Serpa (Donna Soohoo), and Elaine Hill (Kevin); grandchildren Joseph, Michael, and Lara D’Emilio, Dessa Avila (Danny), Kerri Reed, and Kevin and Emmersen Hill.

They were predeceased by their sisters Mary Serpa Childs, and Florence Monaco Bentivegna.

A rosary and visitation will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday, July 17 at Todd Memorial Chapel, 570 N. Garey Ave., Pomona.

A funeral Mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 18 at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, 435 N. Berkeley Ave., Claremont, CA 91711.

In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made to VNA Hospice at, or by check to 2151 E. Convention Center Way, #100, Ontario, CA 91764; to CLASP at, or by check to1111 N. Mountain Avenue, Claremont, CA 91711; or to a charity of one’s choosing.


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