ENCINITAS — From helping to build a poinsettia plant empire to her many types of charity work, the late Elisabeth Joan “Jinx” Kenney Ecke, was a force to be reckoned with.
Ecke, a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend, died peacefully on March 23 at the home of her daughter Lizbeth Ecke in Encinitas due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease, according to her family.
“She was a child of the Depression and was raised as someone without a lot of means, but she was a very strong and wonderful person,” said Paul Ecke III, the eldest of her three children. “She put herself through school at San Diego State and we are all proud of her for doing that. She earned a degree in speech pathology in 1953, but she never really carried it on into a career because she got married, had kids and tended to the family. Times were different back then.”
“We grew up on a flower ranch,” he said. “Encinitas was more rural then, and it was a great childhood. In those days we rode our motorcycles and horses in the back country. It was a great place to grow up and we even rode our horses on the beach.”
Despite all the changes, the family remains in Encinitas except for Sara Ecke May, who lives in North Carolina with her own family. The siblings remain close and run the real estate business as co-partners.
“My mother was indeed a great woman,” Sara said. “She had a wicked sense of humor which she was eager to share and loved to dance whenever given the chance. She truly made the most of her life and worked hard to help others, especially most in need, do the same with theirs.”
Born the oldest of four children in Bloomington, Indiana, on July 20, 1931, to William Weden Kenney and Rhobie Alura Bready Kenney, Jinx spent the early part of her childhood living all over the state of Indiana while her parents looked for work during the Great Depression.
When Jinx was 14, her mother made the decision to move the family west in search of a better life … and better weather. It was on the road trip to California that Jinx came up with her nickname, after spying a movie marquee featuring a film starring Jinx Falkenberg.
She reasoned that she needed a more exciting name than “Elisabeth” (or “Susie” as many in her family called her) in order to make an impression on her new classmates at La Jolla High School.
The family said Jinx was a hit from day one, becoming involved in many aspects of the school, including her stint as a baton majorette.
She kept in close contact throughout her life with high school friends, fundraising for the school and chairing many events, including the50-year reunion.
During her San Diego State years, she joined the Alpha Phi sorority, among other organizations.
A sorority sister was engaged to a lieutenant in the United States Navy and set Jinx up on a blind date with her fiancé’s friend from the ship, who had specified he would like to meet someone “short and with a sense of humor” while on leave in San Diego.
That friend was Lt. Paul Ecke, Jr. of Encinitas.
Following their first blind date, Jinx and Paul corresponded throughout her remaining time in college and his time on tour with the Navy.
They were married on Oct. 4, 1953, at the La Jolla Presbyterian Church, and were married for 40 years before they divorced.
Jinx joined the Paul Ecke Poinsettia Ranch family in Encinitas and made her mark alongside her husband and in-laws in growing the Ranch into a worldwide business and the largest of its kind for poinsettia plants.
Jinx moved into the Ranch house designed by San Diego architect Lilian Rice and there she raised their three children, Paul III, Lizbeth and Sara, amidst the hustle and bustle of a large agricultural enterprise.
“Our house was in the middle of a thriving business until I decided to sell the business in 2012,” Paul III said. “My granddad started growing poinsettias in Hollywood in the 1920s then moved to Encinitas and bought up a lot of land because agriculture was moving out of that area. He got a good deal on the land in Carlsbad where the Flower Fields are now.”
Charities and such
In addition to helping with the family business, Jinx involved herself in the betterment of North County and San Diego through countless volunteer and civic leadership roles.
Some highlights include serving as president of the Children’s Hospital San Dieguito Unit and serving on the Children’s Hospital Charity Ball Committee, chairing the Mustang Circle of San Dieguito High School, serving as president of the San Dieguito Camp Fire Girl Leaders, chairing the successful 1971 school bond campaign to build Torrey Pines High School and much more.
She had a lifelong interest in promoting equal rights for women and founded the Isabella Fund through the San Diego Foundation to that end.
She served on the board of trustees of Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside counties and helped found the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
The Isabella Center in Vista is named for her and is one of her proudest achievements.
“Our mother was as comfortable delivering baby pigs on our ranch as she was chairing a gala. She was a very versatile and talented woman who was a great role model,” according to daughter Lizbeth.
In addition to her role as a corporate wife, mother and grandmother, community volunteer and civic leader, Jinx also enjoyed her memberships in the Wednesday Club and the Colonial Dames of America.
She was blessed with loyal and lifelong friends and engaged in many fun endeavors with them.
Jinx came from a close family and enjoyed a loving relationship with her three siblings and appreciated their help and support during her later years, just as she supported them along the way on their journeys.
She considered her own three children as her “greatest works of art” and unfailingly put her family first.
Jinx was predeceased by her parents and by her brother, David Wells Kenney, DVM. She was also predeceased by her former husband Paul Ecke, Jr. She is survived by her children Paul Ecke III (Julie Hampton) of Encinitas, Lizbeth Ecke (David Meyer) of Encinitas and Sara Ecke May (Andrew May) of Raleigh, North Carolina, along with her grandchildren Max and Polly Ecke, Matthew and Lillie Meyer, and Corinne, Vanessa and Carolyn May.
She is also survived by her brother William Bready Kenney, M.D., and her sister, Meredith Kenney Maler, both of San Diego along with several nieces and nephews and extended family.
Her family is grateful to Bonnie Briglia for her many years of excellent service and companionship.
Gratitude is also given to the staff at Glen Brook in Carlsbad, as well as Hospice by the Sea, A Passion for Care and Dr. Bob Uslander of Integrated MD Care.
Donations in Jinx’s honor may be made to the San Diego State University Library Fund, Office of the Dean, SDSU Library and Information Access, 5500 Campanile, Drive, San Diego, CA 92182 or to Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside counties, 1075 Camino del Rio S., San Diego, CA 92018.
If you are inclined, send flowers to someone you love in Jinx’s honor. She would love that.
A Celebration of Life will be held on May 26 at 2 p.m. at The Flower Fields in Carlsbad with a reception immediately following. All who knew and loved Jinx are invited to come share in the memory of this wonderful woman.