By Ruth Longoria Kingsland
The commandment to “love thy neighbor” wasn’t lost on Adina Mesa.
The 84-year-old Monrovia resident spends almost all her spare time helping out in any way she can at neighboring Duarte’s senior center. She was recognized last Friday night as the Duarte Senior Center Volunteer of the Year at the center’s annual dinner.
The center also nominated Mesa as Duarte’s honoree for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor’s Outstanding Older American Award. She received that award at a recognition luncheon last month in Los Angeles.
“Adina is amazing, she’s always here, doing everything,” said Peggy Diamond, director of the Duarte Senior Center.
From folding napkins, making party favors and setting up tables to cleaning up after events, cooking and making sandwiches, Mesa has a servant heart to do it all, according to staff at the center.
Diamond talked of Mesa’s dedication to her volunteerism. “She walks all the way from her home in Monrovia, whenever she’s needed at the center. It’s not so much of a walk down the hill, but when she’s done helping out, she walks back up the hill home,” Diamond said.
“And, if there’s anything that can’t done at the center, she takes it with her to do at home and brings it back done,” Diamond added.
Mesa has been volunteering at the center since shortly after she moved to Monrovia in 1995.
Mesa was born Adina Lorini, in Tuscany, Italy and grew up in the small seaside village of Follinica. She had one younger brother, Juliano, who died of lung cancer when he was 50 years old.
When Adina was a teen, during World War II, Germany invaded and flyers were posted in the town square, telling townsfolk they must evacuate within 48 hours. The Lorini family went to live in a two small rooms, used previously for grain storage, at a farm.
“We got in a truck and moved to where my uncle was living with a farmer in the country,” she said. “We had no lights, and no water. But, we learned to adjust. We lived there two years. Until the Germans left.”
One day, the farmer’s wife told Adina’s mother of a woman selling eggs at another farm. Adina, then 17, went with her mother to go buy eggs. That’s when Frank Mesa, an American soldier stationed in Italy, first saw the girl he immediately told his fellow soldiers he was going to marry.
Mesa followed Adina and her mother home and visited the young girl whenever he could get time away from his duties.
At first, Adina said, she paid no attention to the handsome young soldier. However, with time, she fell in love and Mesa asked to marry her. “My father said, “No!” she said, adding all the men in the family said “no,” but the women all said, “Yes, she can go to America!”
Her father eventually consented. “We were young, we didn’t know what we were doing, everyone was happy. I guess it was my destiny,” she said, with a smile and a laugh.
Moving to America involved some culture shock. The young war bride moved from a small town where everyone knew her and she could walk to the store safely on her own, to the traffic and big city life of New York.
Mesa said she didn’t like the crowds, she didn’t like the food, she didn’t like the water, and she spoke no English, so she wasn’t able to understand anyone.
“It was terrible. I missed my family and friends,” she said.
The young couple moved in with Frank Mesa’s parents. He was able to find a job, but Adina was home alone. She tells of a day when she was crying uncontrollably and she had a vision of God’s hands comforting and quieting her. The doorbell rang and a neighbor, she didn’t know also came to comfort her, though the two couldn’t communicate in words.
That’s when the Adina Mesa knew she would be OK and she could live in America. “Little by little, God helped me through it, but, it was very hard for me,” she said.
She eventually found a job, making costume jewelry for an Asian man, who spoke Chinese and didn’t mind she spoke no English.
Through time, she learned Spanish, as her husband’s family was Puerto Rican. When the couple got their first television, she was able to learn English by listening and imitation, she said, adding her first words in English were: “Bring me a cup of coffee.”
After several years in New York, Frank Mesa became ill. He had a heart attack in 1977 followed by several strokes. He became worried he would die with the cold weather there and the couple decided to move to a warmer climate. They moved to San Gabriel in 1984 and about six months later, Adina Mesa got a job working in the linen room at a hospital in Los Angeles. Six years later, Frank Mesa died.
When she was 67 years old Mesa decided to retire. “I went to work one day and my body said, ‘I don’t want to work any more,’ ” she said.
She found an apartment in Monrovia and gave her notice at work.
For a short while, Mesa tried to keep busy with crafts: sewing, knitting and embroidery. “It was hard to pass the day that way,” she said.
She went to Monrovia City Hall, but was told they had no senior center, and she should try the one in Duarte.
After a short while, going on trips with the Duarte seniors and attending activities, she found she could volunteer. The rest is history, she said.
“Whatever they need, they call me, and I do it,” she said, adding, “No job is too big or too small.”