DOWNEY – The theme of this year’s Downey Christmas parade is “Christmas of Giving,” and there are few who embody that message more than this year’s grand marshal: Martha Sodetani.
You’ve definitely seen or heard of Sodetani in the community at some point in time; it’s almost impossible to miss her with how active she is in several of the city’s volunteer and philanthropic organizations.
She’s been a president of and is still currently a member of Assistance League, and Gangs out of Downey. She’s been a member of PTA, and held several positions. She’s a common helper at the PTA H.E.L.P.S. food bank. She’s connected to the Downey Sister Cities. You may even find her at Downey Coordinating Council. That’s just to name a few things.
Then consider her nearly 13-year-old tenure as part of the Downey Unified School District.
And despite all that, she says she doesn’t feel that she “does all that much.”
“I feel that where my value is a lot of times that I am made aware of someone in need and that I connect that need with an organization or a group that offers help there,” said Sodetani. “That’s where I feel that I’m of value.”
“Every organization to which I belong is really about safety, peace, outreach, and plenty – you know, where there’s plenty of things for people – empowerment, full self-expression…my stand in life for children, that then was a natural progression to run for school board…”
Sodetani won her seat on the board of education in November of 2005, and was sworn in December of that same year.
“I’m not a politician. I’m not pushing a particular agenda,” says Sodetani. “I’ve just been a parent.”
Sodetani has lived in Downey since the 1970’s when she and her husband Gordon moved into the city. She and Gordon married in 1997 and fostered and adopted several children. They were married until Gordon passed away suddenly in 2006.
Sodetani keeps her family life more private than others, not out of secrecy but out of respect to her children, even if their last name tends to be a dead giveaway.
“Being a person who’s out in public so much, I just want my children to feel that they can go about their life and not have a microscope on each part of it,” says Sodetani. “It’s amazing – we have a small town, it’s a connected town – people hear the name and they say, ‘Are you related to?’ and that’s how things happen.”
Sodetani says that her family celebrates diversity, as it is made up of every ethnicity from African American, to Japanese, to Hispanic, to Native American, to Caucasian.
“All of those races and all of those ethnicities make us stronger,” she said.
Last year, Sodetani rode in the Christmas parade as part of the School Board, with her son Gordon sitting by her side. This year, however, she may keep things a surprise as to who will join her this year.
She says that she is humbled having been named the Grand Marshal.
“I feel that so many do so much more,” said Sodetani. “There are so many people who do so much. I’m so thankful to be able to serve. Serving does not mean you have to do everything…
it’s just looking around and doing one thing with a happy heart.”
The Downey Christmas Parade will be held on December 2.