Although only two years old when she arrived in America, Magdalena Maurer Ecke never entirely abandoned her Swiss roots and was often asked to speak at women’s groups about her native country, dressed in national costume. One very special memory for her grandchildren is being taken to Switzerland the summer after each graduated high school to go hiking in the Alps. In an era when wives stayed at home, Ecke happily proved the old adage that behind every successful man is a clever woman. She was a true workhorse, looking after her husband and children while raising chickens, acting as bookkeeper and secretary, feeding the ranch hands, and caring for her German mother-in-law. In fact, Ecke was happier staying in the background: during the Depression years, she quietly dropped off homemade casseroles at the local community centers. And long after the California economy had bounced back, she remained deeply involved with a Mexican orphanage, driving across the border once a month, her car stuffed to the roof with as many essentials as she could squeeze in. Despite all the other demands on her time, Ecke loved to cook. Her baking was legendary, especially her cookies, and Tak Sugimoto, now in his 80s, still remembers sitting in her kitchen after school, being fed warm cookies and milk. Both Paul Sr. and Magdalena Ecke grew up in an era that believed strongly in being involved in the community. During the Depression, the Eckes gave each of their workers a plot of land to grow vegetables and slaughtered cattle to provide beef for their families. When their Japanese neighbors were forced into internment camps during the war, only they and one other family offered to store their possessions. Paul and Magdalena instilled this same sense of obligation in their children—which has in turn been passed down to the present generation. Magdalena will always be remembered as someone who liked to help others, quietly doing good by stealth, and it is fitting that her name lives on in the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA on land donated by her son. (Courtesy of the Ecke family.)
There is nobody in Encinitas who doesn’t know the story of the Ecke family – how one man with vision, talent and daring turned an obscure field flower into the world’s most recognizable indoor plant and put Encinitas on the map as the Flower Capital of the World. But what about the woman behind him? I have always been fascinated by Magdalena – possibly because her unusual name runs through my family from generation to generation – but I could find very little about her, mostly because she was always so unassuming in everything she did. And yet she must have been a very determined young woman to have defied her parents so young and elope with the farmer next door whose future was still so uncertain. I always enjoyed talking to Lizbeth Ecke about her Oma and in so doing, captured a strong sense of the real Magdalena.