At the farewell party for 50-year Mammoth resident Lonnie Newbry held at Giovanni’s Restaurant on March 23, attendees not only put names on their name tags, but also described their relationship to Lonnie.
And as Lonnie’s daughter Kama said, so many of those tags said, “Like a Mother.” Or “Longtime Friend.”
Because Lonnie Newbry has always enjoyed serving and taking care of others.
And these days, those others are taking care of her, as she fights her battle with Alzheimer’s – a battle that no one ever wins.
But spend some time with Lonnie these days, and she betrays no self-consciousness about it. No bitterness. As she says, “I’ve always been pretty happy. I liked helping people. I like knowing everyone in town.”
The toughest part of the disease, quite simply, is that it has robbed her ability to work.
She had worked as the Night Supervisor at Vons Mammoth for 19 years before retiring in 2018 – in part because the disease had begun to impact her work.
“I woulda worked ’til the day I keeled over if I had the chance,” she says.
Vons was just part of her daily routine.
For many years, she also managed the Sierra Holiday Mobile Home Park.
And led a Girl Scout troop.
And devoted two weeks every summer to volunteering at the Showboat Youth Theatre productions that her children participated in.
She has four children. Three daughters (Kama, Keeli, Kayla)and a nephew (Dylan) who became a son.
But every child was special to her. She said she would help the hispanic children with their homework at the Mobile Home Park – many of their parents could not help because of the language barrier.
And while Lonnie’s higher education consisted of one year at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, her three daughters all have four-year degrees.
When asked if that was important to her, or if she took pride in it, Lonnie demurred. She is a proud parent, but blissfully, not one who’s rushing to take credit. “That was their choice,” she said.
She said all her girls were fairly well-mannered, but did have a playful streak. Daughter Kayla, she said, liked to park at Vons, place a baby carrier on her roof, wait a few minutes, and then drive off – to mess with alarmed tourists.
Lonnie Newbry grew up in Anaheim living around the corner from Disneyland, the third of four children. Her father worked for Rockwell, working on space-related electronics projects.
When NASA curtailed its program and her father got laid off, Lonnie said her parents decided to attend a motel/hotel vocational program, and ultimately found a job opportunity in Mammoth.
Lonnie, who moved here at age 11, recalls one of her chores as cutting firewood with a crosscut saw with one of her siblings.
She ran cross-country, skied every day after school, and was part of the first group that attended Mammoth High School when it opened in 1974 (she says she started the school year going to class at Warming Hut #2 – Canyon Lodge – and when they moved into the high school in November, they initially sat on the floor because the furniture hadn’t arrived yet).
She was also crowned Miss Mammoth at the 1977 Queen IMA (Inyo Mono Alpine) Pageant.
After her year at college, she returned to Mammoth and went to work at Mammoth’s Bank of America branch.
It was there she met her children’s father Greg Newbry.
He had started a maintenance company in town and came to the bank one night to wax the floors. Lonnie was the night manager and had to wait around until he was finished. They struck up a conversation, went out together afterwards to dance at Rafters, and were pregnant within three months.
At Lonnie’s farewell party on March 23, old friend Lee Ann Wood presented Lonnie with a copy of a letter she had sent to the Mammoth Times in 1995:
A Mammoth Point of Light
My family is celebrating its one-year anniversary as Mammoth residents this month. My husband and I feel so fortunate to live and raise our two young children here.
One of the many things that makes our town so special is its community spirit. A person who represents that wonderful community spirit, and one of the first people I met when we moved here, is Lonnie Newbry. Every time I turn around, there’s Lonnie, volunteering for something – from washing cars with her girls in order to raise money for the school, to helping out at the Jazz Jubilee, to assisting in the Showboat Youth Theater productions, to giving immeasurable amounts of time and energy to the Girl Scouts, Brownies and Daisies of the Eastern Sierra.
Lonnie helps coordinate all the Girl Scout troops in our area, provides loads of advice and help to new troop leaders, organizes cookie and calendar sales and puts together fun events throughout the year for the girls, including the week-long summer Camporee.
These are only the things I’ve witnessed and I am sure there are many more. Lonnie is truly one of Mammoth’s own “points of light” and we are lucky to have her and others like her in our community.
One thing about meeting Lonnie – she’s vivacious and is not shy about telling you a story, and the stories are not directly about her and she’s not trying to tell you how wonderful she is – that part sort of spills out when you start pressing for details.
For example, she told one story about a trucker who was backing into the loading dock when some young kids decided to use the truck as a challenge obstacle and they all decided to duck and skateboard under it. The driver thought he’d run someone over, and even though he hadn’t, he was severely shaken up and just didn’t feel like getting back in his truck after the delivery.
So Lonnie told him he could sleep on her couch that night.
On another occasion, a woman had an accident in the restroom (let’s just say she didn’t get to the seat in time). And she was painfully embarrassed and the restroom was a mess.
So Lonnie discreetly helped the woman clean herself up, and discreetly summoned maintenance, and discreetly ushered the woman out of the store.
This is a person of empathy, of kindness. And that does draw like souls.
As her disease has progressed, one of the frustrations for Lonnie is that she is hindered by limited boundaries. In short, she can only walk so far on the town walking paths before she has to turn around, lest she got lost.
So friends like Teri Stehlik and Diane Crunk have stepped in as “walking buddies,” allowing Lonnie to venture further afield.
She is also grateful to Neil Whittaker, whom she describes as one of her “best friends of all time.”
Lonnie is leaving Mammoth Lakes because her rental condo is being sold and she can’t find another which can accommodate herself and a full-time caregiver.
So she is moving to an assisted living facility in Arvada, Colorado, which is located near a daughter and grandchildren.
The move is a little scary, a little difficult.
“It’s hard for me to sit still, and sit alone.” And hard to leave behind her remaining friends (she says many friends have already left a rapidly changing Mammoth).
The only thing she won’t miss: the shoveling.
When asked what she deemed was the biggest change in town over the past half-century, Lonnie said simply, “The diversity [of race, of ethnicity, of background and perspective]. It’s a lot more interesting place [than when I moved here],” she said.