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Amorita Treganza: Lemon Grove’s Renaissance Woman

Dr. Treganza was a force for positive change in the world.

If you could go back in history, who would you want to meet? Another name has just made my list, which includes Socrates, Samuel Clemens, and Snorri Sturluson. The addition is Lemon Grove’s own Dr. Amorita Treganza. She was born in 1912, and died at the family’s homestead on Kempf Street in May 2002.

The hard part of this column is figuring out where to start to describe this remarkable woman. At 14, Treganza was a trained professional dancer in Florida, and was on the verge of a world tour before her parents had to move back to Lemon Grove for financial reasons. At 16, she was crowned the first Miss Lemon Grove, and rode on the float premiering our sacred giant lemon in San Diego’s Fourth of July parade in 1928. Her father, Alberto Treganza, was the noted architect who designed the Grove’s enduring icon.

Treganza graduated from Grossmont High School with honors in 1929, and then had to work in a factory as a fruit packer during the depression. Arriving at San Diego State in the early 1930s, she earned degrees in Education and Speech Arts and fell in love with theater. She appeared in many productions, and was even president of the Drama Guild at the college.

Her affection for the dramatic arts continued with the formation of the Lemon Grove Theatre Guild, which produced plays for three seasons in the mid-1930s. Treganza went on to star in many productions for the Old Globe into the 1940s. The photo of her accompanying this article is the publicity shot from her 1941 role at the Old Globe as the villain in "Mad Hopes." During this time, she acted with and was directed by  San Diego theater great Craig Noel, who became her lifelong friend.

As an actor, Treganza was receiving good reviews—and probably could have continued with a stage career but for the harsh realities of life. She had an early marriage that produced a son, and then found herself a single mother. Economic decisions needed to be made. She found her answer when she began working in the office of an ophthalmologist who dealt with children’s eyesight.

Treganza went back to school to become an optometrist, and passed her exams at the College of Optometry and Ophthalmology at USC. She married ophthalmologist Dr. Lloyd Adams, and they began working together.

Their joint practices in San Diego and Lemon Grove specialized in pediatric vision problems. They were very successful and became leaders in their field. Treganza apparently had an almost-magical calming effect on children. It must have been her theatrical training that gave her patience, because you do not learn that in medical school.

The pair began doing charitable work in Baja California, offering free eye services in impoverished villages. Even after her husband’s death, Treganza continued to provide for poor families. She was San Diego’s Woman of the Year in 1964, and became a founding member of the . She retired in 1989, but continued with her charitable and community work until her death. A life very well lived.

I heard Treganza’s fascinating story by attending the Historical Society’s “History Alive” presentation. This continuing series is presented the first Thursday of every month (except July and August) at 7 p.m. in the H. Lee House. The lectures are free and are open to the public.

There is much more to the story. Helen Ofield, Historical Society president, will again be presenting her fascinating presentation and slideshow on Dr. Amorita Treganza on Thursday, May 12, at 10 a.m. in the Lemon Grove Library.  The library is hosting the event as part of National Senior Citizens' Month.

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