Tuesday, Nov 20 2012 05:00 AM

MargieOwens: a pioneer descendent and Tehachapi hometown girl

Related Photos

Margie Owens and her daughter Kathy Owens Bassler inside Kelcy’s Cafe last year. Photo by Jon Hammond

Kelcy and Margie Owens in Branson, Missouri when the hard-working couple took a rare vacation. Photo courtesy Owens family

Margie Marchand Owens at about the time period that she was a student at Tehachapi High School. Photo courtesy Owens family

Margie and Kelcy Owens in the waning days of their long life together. Photo courtesy Owens family

The Owens family included (from left) Kathy, Jeff, Levi, Kelcy, Helen, Margie, Elizabeth, Scout and Jennifer. Photo courtesy Owens family

A well-known and well-loved Tehachapi citizen left us recently with the passing of Margie Marchand Owens, who died on Nov. 13 following a prolonged illness. Margie's roots went deep in Tehachapi as both a descendent of the pioneering Leiva family and as co-owner of the landmark Kelcy's Cafe. Margie and her husband, the late Kelcy Owens, operated the Tehachapi Boulevard restaurant since they purchased it from Ray and Velda Trusty in 1969.

Margie was a devoted family person who took care of her relatives, including having her great-uncle Joe Leiva live with her and Kelcy for several years, and later she tended to her husband as he dealt with Alzheimer's disease at the end of his life. Margie suffered from a debilitating stroke herself but fought to regain as much function as she could.

Margie's great-grandfather, Antonio Leiva, was a respected cowboy for the sprawling Tejon Ranch in the 1870s, and he and his wife Piedad are recorded in Kern County in the 1880 census. Both Antonio and Piedad are buried in the little known Cove Cemetery, which sits just outside the gate at CCI in Cummings Valley.

One of Antonio and Piedad's children was Ernestine "Ernie" Leiva, who took care of her younger siblings when her mother died. Ernie eventually married John Yorba, and they had a daughter named Elizabeth, who was Margie's mother. Tragedy struck the family when Elizabeth died of complications from surgery in 1933 when Margie was only about six months old, so it fell upon Ernie and John Yorba to raise their baby granddaughter.

Losing your mother when you're just an infant can have a huge negative impact on a child's life, but fortunately for Margie, her grandparents loved and doted on her, as did a big circle of friends and relatives. The Yorbas lived in the heart of old Tehachapi, on E Street across from Tehachapi Hospital where a fourplex apartment unit stands today.

Scattered in a block or two area of E and Green Streets were the Yorbas, Grace Errea, Margaret Sola, Margie's aunt Grace Yorba, and other Tehachapi residents who either didn't have children of their own or whose children were grown, and little Margie was loved and welcomed by all of them. "She was the town baby doll," Margie's daughter Kathy Owens Bassler explained, "She knew all the oldtimers and they knew her." So despite losing her mother, Margie had a happy and secure childhood and grew up with the confidence of a youngster who knows she is cherished and loved.

Margie went straight from her grandparents' home to a little married household when she wed Kelcy Owens in 1949. The two of them moved into a small house on Curry Street that was located across from Jake's Steakhouse, where the hospital parking lot is now, so Margie stayed in the same close-knit neighborhood where she grew up.

Kelcy was a hard-working, motivated man who was raised in Antlers, Oklahoma but he decided there wasn't enough opportunity in Oklahoma, so he made the decision to move to California -- at the ripe old age of 14. "I'm going to California," he informed his parents, Ruben and Mae Owens, "If you want to come, you'd better get packing." They packed.

Kelcy worked as a machinist at the Monolith Portland Cement Company, as well as driving a truck hauling powdered cement for Brown Trucking, and he and Margie had three daughters: Elizabeth, Kathy and Helen. Margie worked at the Burger Spot for Jewetta Rankin, and also helped Velda Trusty when she had the concession to run the restaurant at the long-shuttered Golden Hills Country Club.

When Velda and Ray approached Kelcy and Margie about buying their diner on Tehachapi Boulevard, which was located in a building that has housed a Tehachapi cafe since Vaughn Squires first opened one in 1933, the Owens agreed and the family has run Kelcy's Cafe ever since. Kelcy would open the restaurant every morning on his way to work at Monolith, and then Margie would run the diner during the day. Kelcy would stop back by the restaurant on his way home from work at 3 p.m., then go home, clean up and go back to work at the restaurant until closing. All three of the daughters worked at Kelcy's while growing up, and Kathy took over her mother's share of running the restaurant in 1975.

Kelcy, a former mayor of the City of Tehachapi, retired from Monolith in about 1981, and then he could always be found at the restaurant. Margie was very active with St. Malachy's Catholic Church, and she helped care for many of the longtime residents she had known since childhood.

Since Kathy was a single mom, Kelcy and Margie also helped raise her son Jeff, who repaid his grandparents' love and devotion by taking care of them in their old age -- the role of caregiver and the role of cared-for change within families as time passes, as it should. Margie's life is a good example of this circle of caring: when she was a little girl, she was looked after by her grandparents and other oldtimers, and she later cared for them in their old age; then she raised her girls and grandchildren, and then they took care of Margie in her declining years. These are the essential bonds of devotion and caring upon which human society is based.

Margie Marchand Owens was as local as you can get -- she was born in Tehachapi Hospital on June 8, 1932, and she lived her entire life in the Tehachapi Valley. She was proud of her hometown and loved Tehachapi, and Tehachapi loved her.

Have a good week.

Jon Hammond has written for the Tehachapi News for over thirty years. Send email to:

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