Obituary: Mary Jo Esquibel

Grandmother, private investigator, aikido enthusiast, chef

The Mary Jo Esquibel matter …

“In the dimly lit corners of Southern California’s Inland Empire, where shadows danced with secrets and whispers lingered like cigarette smoke, Mary Jo Esquibel, known in the underbelly of the city as Mary Schildmeyer, made her mark. Born on a stormy night in ‘54 in the heart of Hutchinson, Kansas, Mary’s life echoed the enigmatic twists of a cinematic noir detective tale.

“As children, Mary and her younger brother were no strangers to the nomadic life, moving from place to place under the cloak of darkness with their parents, mysteriously leaving behind only speculation and unanswered questions. Yet, amidst the uncertainty, Mary’s keen eyes saw beyond the facade, her intuition cutting through the fog of ambiguity and uncertainty. Eventually the reunited loving family came to thrive in the San Dimas area, in time for Mary to graduate from Bonita High School.

“A freshly fledged adult, she longed to spread her wings and adventured with friends to the desert southwest of New Mexico. Mary’s heart found it’s rhythm, entwining with the soul of Michael Esquibel. Together, they navigated the labyrinth of marriage and family, weaving a tapestry of love and devotion which lead them to a home in Pomona, former jewel of the citrus rich Pomona Valley.

“But life’s script took a dark turn when betrayal whispered its venomous secrets, and Mary found herself alone, a mother wolf with pups navigating the urban jungle. Yet, her spirit remained unbroken, her resolve unshakable as she raised her children with grace and resilience.

“In the mesquite smoke haze of a West Covina fish house, Monterey Bay Canners, she found work. It was here Mary found an unlikely ally in Jana Maccabe, a friendship forged in the crucible of shared struggles. Mary’s path (with Jana’s encouragement) also intersected with John Schildmeyer, an idiosyncratic bartender whose eccentricities drew her like a moth to a flame.

“Together, they embarked on a journey of partnership and camaraderie, navigating the murky waters of business and love. Choosing to leave the haunting memories of her nomadic past behind, Mary found the solace and security of her forever home in Claremont, where she carved out her niche as the owner of Arrow Attorney Assistance, private investigations and process serving.

“Her office, sanctuary for the lost and the desperate, bore witness for 40 plus years to her unwavering determination and unyielding compassion. Her gift lay in, ‘finding the un-findables’ with her gumshoe’s keen perception and sharp wit, disarming smile and comforting demeanor, and her tenacious pursuit of succeeding in doing the job right.

“But Mary’s story was not confined to the dimly lit alleys of the Inland Empire. Beneath her tough exterior beat the heart of an artist, her hands weaving magic in the form of countless intricate quilts and beautiful garments. She was also an accomplished cook and loved feeding friends and family — and anyone who would come through her doors. She loved to prepare and share food, for just one friend up to feeding an entire convention or seminar of hungry folks. Mary and John remodeled their home around the commercial kitchen they installed in service of her mantra: ‘spreading the love, making meals for millions.’”

“It was in the quiet sanctuary of the Musubi Dojo that Mary found refuge from life’s storms, where she was fortunate enough to learn the martial art of aikido. Her body previously damaged by a self-absorbed judo guru, she encountered healing in the gentle embrace of aikido. The dojo’s senseis Susan Perry and Ron Ruben were the embodiment of the philosophy and practice of aikido.

“Mary formed a lifelong friendship with both Susan and Ron, eventually becoming a member of the board of directors of AIKO Institute, under which the dojo functioned. Mary enjoyed being involved with many aspects of the dojo from daily operations to seminars, special events, art shows, building tea houses, sewing room sized curtains and banners, authoring a magazine article, housing and hot tubbing Tibetan monks when the opportunity arose … and so much more. Here, amidst the soft rustle of bamboo and the scent of incense, she found kinship and purpose, her spirit soaring with each graceful movement and new adventure.

“Mary’s exit came on March 30, painlessly and comfortably amongst family; as the night’s gentle rain whispered its final lullaby she slipped quietly into the night. Mary’s legacy etched in the hearts of those she touched, her name would linger as a tenderly spoken promise, a beacon of light in the darkest of nights. The gentle drizzle outside built to a heavy downpour sighing its farewell and thank you.

“A solitary figure sits, his silhouette blending with the darkness of the dimly lit back office, visible only by the faint light of his phone painfully glowing upon his weathered face. His thumbs awkwardly pecked out the text: ‘Mary-palooza: a Celebration of a Life Well Lived’ is in the planning stages for late Spring or early Summer’

“’In lieu of flowers or gifts,’ he murmured, his voice gravelly and muddied with held back tears, ‘please hug your loved ones … and love them hard.’

“His words hung heavy in the air, a plea born from the depths of a soul acquainted with loss and regret. In a world where danger lurked in every corner, he sat repenting his cowardly inactions.

“Mary loved helping people who needed help; feeding those who were hungry; tea, preparing and sharing steaming cups of tenderness; collecting tea pots and tea sets; ‘shodo,’ the Japanese brush calligraphy; gardening and working in the yard, especially roses, and especially her grandmother’s roses; shoes; dogs with flat faces (pugs, boxers, and bulldogs); butter: ‘Everything is better with butter’; rescuing animals: kidnapped cats, pantyhose wearing crows, radiator trapped hummingbirds, truck cab captured wood peckers; reading for pleasure; mid-pacific pet/housesitting with Jana; yard sales and real bargains; how her right hand perfectly fit John’s face.”

She is survived by her husband, John; son Michael J. Esquibel, of Claremont, daughter Melissa C. Esquibel, of Claremont, son Jeffrey Blake Esquibel, of Chicago, daughter Jian Ren, of China; brother Frank, of Claremont; ex-husband Mike E. Esquibel, of Claremont; and grandchildren Hunter Esquibel, Peter Elizalde, Penny Elizalde, Maggie Elizalde, Amanda Elizalde, Robert Elizalde, and Carson and Preston in China.

She was predeceased by her mother and father, Mary Ann and Ray Palstring; grandparents Maude and Wayne Noblit; her “best friend in the whole damned world (who taught Mary to swear), Jana Maccabe; “executive chef to Mary’s sous chef,” Rebecca Boatright; and Jackie Parkinson, “the hardest working, toughest, biggest hearted friend ever.”

“Here are some reviews”:

“Kindest, most caring, insightful and wise person I know.” C.O., Claremont.

“She was so perceptive — able to see the genuine person behind the pretense, facade, smoke screen, and hokum: for good or bad.” G.V., Independence, California.

“Always so calm, cool and collected with a heart of true gold.” L.S., Maui, Hawaii.

“I don’t know anyone who didn’t truly like her … She’s one in 8.1 billion.” J.M.S., Haleakala, Hawaii.


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