By Jim Shilander
Bertha Henry Taylor, who created the La Cristianita pageant, the fireworks show on the San Clemente Pier and planted the palm trees along El Camino Real, died Monday, a family spokesperson said. She had turned 101 earlier this month.
Henry came to San Clemente in 1957 and immediately set about making her mark on the city. She fought to keep the Pacific Coast Highway open between Dana Point and San Clemente, even as Interstate 5 was being opened.
“I was so irate,” Taylor recalled in a 2010 SC Times article. “I shook my finger at them and said ‘Listen, we are keeping Coast Highway open.” Henry was open to the big freeway too, however. She rode in the first car to drive I-5 when it opened in the early ’60s.
She worked as a realtor in town for a number of years, winning awards for Community Saleswoman of the Year, Realtor of the Year, Woman of Achievement and was named Citizen of the Year in 1978.
City Councilmember Lori Donchak worked with Henry throughout the last year on an effort to move the La Cristianitas Historic Marker from City Hall to the Casa Romantica. Henry, she said, had not lost any of her personal force and will and was an energetic leader of the effort, even at 100-years-old.
“She was as sharp as a tack,” Donchak said. “She would hold committee meetings in her home and she ran the whole show with energy and class. She was such a presence.”
Jim Dahl, who was the longest serving member of the council before his fourth term ended earlier this month, called Henry “a wonderful lady who contributed so much to the community. She was just an all-around wonderful person.” He noted that his wife’s grandmother sold real estate with Henry.
Council member Jim Evert said he and the city had lost a good friend.
“She was an inspiration to those of us in San Clemente, and she will be missed,” Evert said.
Wayne Eggleston, another former longtime city council member, credited Henry with helping to inspire his own work on the Marine Monument at Park Semper Fi. Henry had set up a “Hospitality Center” for Marines at the corner of Rosa and El Camino Real in San Clemente, which eventually led to her appointment to the governing board of Camp Pendleton, the first civilian to be so installed. She was also the first woman to serve as president of the board of the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce.
Eggleston also recalled one of Henry’s favorite quotes: “There is a destiny that makes us as brothers; none walks their way alone. What we put into the lives of others comes back into our own.”
Donchak indicated that a service for Henry would take place January 5 at 10 a.m. at Calvary Chapel in San Juan Capistrano. The burial will be private.