A unique part of Lemon Grove's immigrant heritage died on Feb. 2. Lucia Ionescu Kanchenian, 85, who had fled the medieval horrors of life under the Soviets in 1963, led a life rich in scholarship and intellectual accomplishment, yet scarred by tragedy.
Lucia's husband was imprisoned and tortured for six years under the Soviet reign of terror. She campaigned successfully for his release in the early 1960s. The couple bribed officials for exit visas that led them by boat to Beirut and then by plane to Paris, and, ultimately, to Providence, Rhode Island in 1963, where other Romanian exiles provided friendship and comfort.
Her husband worked in construction while Lucia obtained a grant-supported teaching post at Brown University, 1964 - 1971. When he was killed by a cement truck that overturned on him at a construction site, Lucia, grief-stricken and her teaching post expired, sought help from a British ex-patriot realtor to find a home away from heartbreak, in a new beginning in California.
In the strange way of fate, the realtor found her a home on Eldora Street in Lemon Grove in March, 1973.
In tribute to her new-found refuge among friendly neighbors, and happy in a second, albeit, short-lived marriage, Lucia designed and installed on the property a classic steel and shingle fence and arches typical of those found all over Romania.
Decorated with protective symbols drawn from folklore and the Eastern Orthodox church, the fence symbolized both safety from intruders and hospitality toward friends. The fence's bucket motif represents the prophet Elijah, the bringer of nourishment, water and well being.
Lucia bequeathed the fence to the Lemon Grove Historical Society, which hopes to work with the City of Lemon Grove on installation in Civic Center Park near the H. Lee House, a building she greatly admired for its old world style.
Born June 21, 1927 into an ancient family whose lineage she traced back to the Middle Ages, Lucia was educated at Bucharest University, where she became assistant professor of Romanian Literature and Folklore, 1949 - 1952. She was a literary and ethnographic researcher at the Romanian Academy, assisting its director, Prof. George Calinescu, from 1951 to 1961.
While teaching at Brown University, she became a U.S. citizen in 1970. Her numerous writings about the origins and meaning of Romanian folk art, folk tales and symbols shed light on the link between Christianity and paganism, and the nature of human creativity. The Lemon Grove Historical Society is fortunate to have copies of her notebooks.
A devoted Catholic, she volunteered at 10 nursing homes in San Diego County and continued to supported orphanages and the distressed elderly in her native Romania. Many will recall Western news reports of the shocking mistreatment of orphaned children, retarded populations and helpless seniors under the Soviets and, later, under the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
But Lucia's lasting legacy to her American home was the gift in 2008 of her spectacular collection of Romanian folk art to the Mingei International Museum of World Folk Art, Balboa Park. From August 2010 to February 2011, the museum exhibited the treasures as "Between East and West: Folk Art Treasures of Romania." A copy of the handsome catalog is in the Lemon Grove Historical Society.
She is survived by a diaspora of relatives in Europe, Canada and the U.S., and by many devoted friends. Lucia will be memorialized on Mar. 6 at 2 p.m. at Skyine Church, 11330 Campo Road (Highway 94) at Jamacha Blvd.
True to her philanthropic nature, in lieu of flowers she requested donations to the Blind Veterans or Wounded Warriors' Project.