Ms. Vásquez, 89, passed away Dec. 13, 2014 at Toledo Hospital. She was born in La Serena, Chile, but moved to Lima, Perú, at a young age with her mother. She later married Jorge Vásquez Gutiérrez and they raised a family of six children in Lima.
Ms. Vásquez remained in Perú after the death of her husband in 1975 to care for her elderly mother. She came to Toledo on one of her many visits over the years to celebrate her 80th birthday, and two of her children convinced her to stay in the Glass City for good: Hernán Vásquez and Elsa Nakashima Vásquez.
“We knew she would be happier here. She went through the troubles in Perú when Perú had tremendous instability in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” said her son Hernán. “After 20 or 30 years of dictatorship and military governance, the economy improved and outside investors came in and it has changed drastically. But we wanted my mother to be out of that environment.”
Four of her six children are still living, along with nearly 30 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. Dozens of family members traveled from far and wide and packed the first few rows of pews for the memorial Mass, which included a blessing of her ashes, followed by a family luncheon for parishioners and friends.
“I thought it was very nice. I think she would be very happy,” said Hernán. “She loves Saints Peter and Paul, which was her Spanish Mass. She could understand and follow the Mass and Father Molina is very dynamic and he reached out to her like he does many of his parishioners, so she felt very comfortable. She enjoyed his touch.”
“What kind of spirit takes possession of me?” asked Father Juan Francisco Molina, who presided at the memorial Mass. SS. Peter and Paul was the home parish to Ms. Vásquez for the last decade of her life.
The 75-minute memorial Mass took on a tone of celebration rather than sadness. The smell of incense permeated the church throughout the Mass. A manger scene adorned with blue and white lights still decorated the altar. Spanish folk songs accompanied traditional hymns during the service. Linda Alvarado-Arce, Anita López, Linda Parra, Arturo Quintero, Joe Balderas, Robert Torres, and Gary Johnson were among the community leaders in attendance at the memorial Mass.
Her son Hernán paid tribute to his mother during the memorial Mass, even calling her a bit of a jokester. “She loved to have fun. She loved to laugh and make people laugh. She would always manage to find something that as funny to come back with an answer,” he said. “She loved laughing. She would find enjoyment in anything-- nature, people, whatever we did. She was always smiling and laughing.”
Hernán stated his family spent time over the holidays reminiscing about his mother's life, including frequent walks together in Toledo Metroparks. He stated Wildwood was her favorite place to go.
“She loved this country. She loved the beauty of this area, the changing of the seasons,” he said. “She loved nature. We would go through the trails, go through the boardwalks. She just loved nature there.”
“’I love this community’, many times she told me,” said Fr. Molina, whose sermon traveled back and forth between English and Spanish for the benefit of the bilingual congregation. “Pray for Elsa Vásquez.”
Hernán stated his mother adjusted quite well to living in Toledo, even taking English classes well into her 80s so she could better understand the local language. Hernán had left Perú in the mid-1960s to study engineering at the University of Toledo.
“She just fell in love with this country and said this is paradise,” he recalled. “The style of living, having the freedom and safety, the warmth of the people in Northwest Ohio amazed her. It amazed her people could be so friendly and welcome her. She thought she had already died and gone to heaven. This was heaven to her.”
Daughter Ines Vásquez, who still lives in Perú, attended the memorial Mass and will deliver her mothers’ ashes to rest next to her husband and mother at the British Cemetery in Lima. Ms. Vásquez also is survived by 20 great-grandchildren from across the globe, including Italy, Perú, Maryland, Ohio, and Michigan.
Family members are suggesting tributes to her fund at SS Peter and Paul Church for the preservation of a 25-foot mural of the Virgen de Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas, which Ms. Vasquez always had admired as a sign of motherly love and hope to all who visit the neighborhood.