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Quincy woman graced 1936 Rose Parade

At 16, Grace McManus (standing, third from left) represents the city of South Gate in the 1936 Rose Parade.
Photo courtesy Grace McManus
Mona Hill
Staff Writer

In 1936, when she was just 16, Grace McManus, nee Nelson, was a princess in the Tournament of Roses Parade — the theme was History in Flowers.

She and five other South Gate beauties were part of the new city’s Rose Parade entry that year: a flower-covered fire engine drawn by a team of Percheron horses. The royals walked alongside holding yellow streamers, while the runners-up rode the three-mile parade route on the float.

Grace said the four were footsore and had blisters by the end of the parade. She dismissed the honor as a popularity contest, and seemed embarrassed by the attention now.

I met Grace for lunch at the Senior Nutrition site with her regular dining companions. Site manager Marleen Langrehr had called the paper to tell me about Grace and invite me to a nice lunch of meatloaf and baked potato so that I could visit with Grace.

Following lunch, Grace distributed hats and scarves she had knitted and crocheted to the other seniors. She carefully selected styles and colors for each recipient, including me. Handing me a hat and scarf, she said, “You look like a purple sort of gal.” And, indeed I am.

My usual interview practice failed me as she gave brief answers to my best leading questions. Usually, people are more than happy to talk about themselves and I just let them go.

Grace preferred otherwise, giving such short answers that I began to sound like I was interrogating her.

The only time during our lunch conversation that she spoke freely was when she spoke of her late husband, Lawrence McManus.

During World War II, Grace served in the Navy as part of the WAVES —Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. She was stationed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay, with a job in communications.

One day as she was sending a message, McManus came in and laid his hand on her shoulder, where he kept it until she finished sending her message. He asked her out to dinner that evening.

Describing Larry, who was a transport pilot along the eastern seaboard, as a gorgeous hunk, she pulled a photo from her wallet saying, “He’s been gone forever. It was love at first sight. I’ve never got over it.” McManus died of leukemia in 1985.

The couple came to Quincy in the late 1960s, following her brothers who had moved here. Orrin Nelson owned the Deerwood Lodge on Highway 70. Andrew was a deputy sheriff in Plumas County.

Grace and Larry had one son, Mark, who died in Vietnam in 1969. Posthumously, he received the Bronze Star for carrying ammunition to his buddies caught in a firefight on the Cambodian border.

With Grace’s parents, they bought a large house on Jackson Street, where they all lived. Grace and her husband lived on the top floor, while her parents lived on the main level.

When I went to her house to return her photos, I had one of life’s serendipitous moments: Grace lives in the same house I did when we first came to Quincy. In fact, the family must have bought the house shortly after we moved out.

When I mentioned this to Grace, I began to find out more about who she is. We toured the house together, her dog Baby at our heels, I telling her what it looked like then and she explaining the changes made.

In my younger siblings’ bedroom, I saw how industriously Grace has knitted and crocheted. The room is filled with carefully folded and stored afghans, blankets, scarves and hats.

In the basement where we played as children paintings hang on the wall, with dozens more works leaning against it.

It turns out Grace belonged to an artists’ group in Southern California and she is a very accomplished artist. Most are portraits in oils and pastels that capture the models’ characters quite well. She traded with other artists in the group for some of their paintings.

Also in the basement is her silver-working equipment — she took a jewelry class at Feather River College. Her woodcarvings, also from an FRC class, line the stairway.

Her organ stands next to the dining room table and the piano next to the stairs. She said she rarely plays anymore. A pity, because I’m sure she was also quite accomplished at that.

Although she didn’t share the information with me, I found out she’s a poet too, and still enjoys writing poetry.

Grace lives alone now, mostly on the main floor, keeping up herself, the house and Baby.

Her driver license is good until 2013 and she drives herself. Until last year, she drove her small RV to Prattville where she and Baby would spend a month every summer.

Linda Kosheba-Leonhardt, whom Grace calls her stepdaughter, checks in with her three times a week. Linda said they became friends and family when she was dating Chris Leonhardt and Grace was dating Ernie Leonhardt.

Grace and Ernie married, but divorced three years later. Linda said her relationship with Grace has endured and deepened: “She’s amazing at nearly 92. She will not even take aspirin on a regular basis. With her it’s a matter of mind over matter.”

Aptly named, the 91-year-old is indeed a gracious, quietly spoken woman of many talents and generous spirit.

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