Maureen Gabriel, a World War II veteran and longtime resident of Elk Grove, died at her home on Nov. 28 at the age of 102.
As a proud U.S. Navy veteran, she cherished her participation in Elk Grove’s Veterans Day Parade in 2019 as one of the highlights of her life. During the same year, then-Mayor Steve Ly presented Gabriel with a Key to the City of Elk Grove, in recognition of her 100 years of life.
In her interview with the Citizen in 2019, Gabriel was asked about her secret to longevity.
“I always told everybody (that) my longevity is because I never got married and didn’t have any kids,” she said.
Instead, she dedicated herself to caring for her mother.
Gabriel’s father died when she was about 10 years old, and she developed a close relationship with her mother, ultimately becoming her caretaker.
“My sisters and brothers all got married and I couldn’t leave my mother alone,” Gabriel told the Citizen in 2019. “I took care of my mother after everybody left.”
In 1987, Gertrude died in Elk Grove at the age of 92. She and Gabriel moved to Sacramento in 1973 and then to Elk Grove in 1978.
While growing up in Connecticut, Gabriel and her five siblings were raised by their mother and one of their aunts.
Gabriel told the Citizen, in 2019, that her mother was her family’s sole financial provider during the Great Depression.
“My mother was a wonderful woman, very tough,” she said. “She would walk to work, come home at noon to feed us, walk back to work and then come home at night.
“We didn’t have money for buses or trolleys or anything.”
While attending high school in Connecticut, Gabriel was hired to work at a five-and-dime store.
At the age of 25, she made her decision to enlist with the Navy.
Gabriel explained, in 2019, why she chose to join the Navy during World War II.
“My sister, Betty, went into the Navy, and she was stationed out here in San Francisco,” she said. “She was calling up all the time. She was lonely, so I told my mother, ‘I’m going to go into the Navy to take care of her.’ So, I went down and enlisted.”
Gabriel later took a train to San Francisco, where she was stationed at Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard. She worked there in the planning department.
Because of her love for San Francisco, Gabriel would continue to work at the same shipyard following the war. She stayed there for the Navy until 1946 and as a civilian until 1975.
In 1953, Gabriel and other female shipyard employees participated in the California Women’s State (bowling) Tournament in San Bernardino. She was awarded a trophy for having the best score with a handicap in that tournament.
Gabriel moved to the Rosemont area of Sacramento in 1975, and was hired to work for the state Department of Corrections, a job she would maintain for five years.
She moved to Elk Grove after listening to an acquaintance who often spoke about the town. After falling in love with Elk Grove, Gabriel remained there for the rest of her life.
With her storied past as a World War II veteran, Gabriel was a patriotic woman, noted Gabriel’s niece and goddaughter Mary Thorpe.
“You did not disgrace the (American) flag, never,” she said. “I mean, that flag just was something that you didn’t burn, you didn’t let it touch the ground. She didn’t approve of people that even wore clothing that resembled the flag. The flag was to be honored, because there were people that died for our freedoms.”
Gabriel’s patriotism also extended to her membership in American Legion Elk Grove Post 233.
She was also a founding member of Sacramento Executive WAVES – an organization for local female veterans – and a volunteer for Loaves & Fishes, the American Cancer Society’s Discovery Shop, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and St. Joseph Catholic Church.
Gabriel was additionally a member of a local group of about 22 women who referred to themselves as the “Tuesday Lunch Bunch.” They met every Tuesday to try different restaurants and socialize.
Mary mentioned that she was very impressed with the great number of experiences her godmother had throughout her life.
Among those experiences was watching the Hindenburg zeppelin airship fly above her a short time before it burst into flames and crashed in Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937.
“(Gabriel) said (the Hindenburg) flew so low over her high school and then it was gone,” Mary said. “And that night – they didn’t have a TV – she heard over the radio that it crashed in New Jersey. She couldn’t believe it, because it was just a few hours before that she saw it.”
Mary’s husband, Bruce Thorpe, also marveled at the many experiences Gabriel had during her life.
“The main thing is she lived through the Depression, and she lived through World War II and then you’ve got the Korean War and you’ve got the Vietnam War, and you have all these things that she experienced,” he said. “I mean, in her lifetime automobiles were new, and (there was) man landing on the moon, just everything.”