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Elaine (Ekberg) Lopez lived her life according to three guiding principles: devotion to faith, dedication to family and a commitment to help those less fortunate. What resulted was a life that blossomed with endearing love and friendships.
Elaine died yesterday after a lengthy illness. She would have been 65 this Tuesday.
Survivors include her husband of 43 years, Dave Lopez; son Matt (Carrie) Lopez; daughter Tami (Scott) Cooper; grandchildren Cassie, 7, and Abagail, 23 months, with a third granddaughter due this October; cousin Alicelynn (Jerry) Cockrill; and numerous nieces, nephews and other family.
Born Aug. 20, 1948 in Huntington Park, she was raised in South Gate and graduated with a master's degree from UC Santa Barbara in 1966. Smart and studious, she attended the university on a full scholarship.
She met her future husband, Dave, while in high school. As he remembers it, Elaine tapped Dave on the shoulder and asked to copy his physiology homework.
Dave obliged (of course) but was surprised the following day when she got an A and he a B, despite turning in identical homework.
"I went to the teacher and said how could she have gotten an A and me a B when she copied my homework?" Dave laughs. "And he says to me, Miss Ekberg would never copy someone's homework!"
After college, Elaine went to work for the Long Beach Unified School District. After four years of courtship, she and Dave married on June 20, 1970 at Redeemer Church in South Gate. The couple moved to Downey in 1977, the same year Dave started work as a reporter for CBS 2 news and also the same year they joined Messiah Lutheran Church, where Elaine would teach Sunday school.
Elaine put her teaching career on hold after the birth of their son, Matt. When she decided to return to the classroom nine years later, it was with the Downey Unified School District. She spent 15 years teaching in Downey schools, including Alameda and Maude Price elementary schools.
Elaine's civic involvement flourished as the kids attended school. She joined the PTA, volunteered in classrooms, acted as a chaperone on field trips, coordinated grad nights and even established the Scholarship Club at Downey High School. This was in addition to her volunteer work with the Assistance League of Downey, the Downey Junior Woman's Club, the Downey YMCA, DJAA, Delta Kappa Gamma and other organizations.
Even after retirement four years ago, Elaine found herself back in the classroom, devoting one day a week to granddaughter Cassie's kindergarten class.
In all her involvement, she always made an impression with an upbeat personality and infectious smile.
"A lot of times people die and you hear how nice and kind they were, but many times it's not true," said longtime friend Jackie Zapata, who met Elaine when their daughters took dance class together more than 30 years ago. "But Elaine really was. She smiled and she was happy - always cheerful. You won't find a person say a bad thing about her."
Bobbi Samperi said she would remember Elaine for always being so positive.
"In your life you meet a lot of people," Bobbi said. "But she was the sweetest, nicest person I've ever known. She never had a bad word to say about anyone."
Elaine battled illnesses most of her adult life, although she never complained. In February she was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis and was hospitalized 71 days. She made it home in April but relapsed July 10. She died peacefully at 6:53 a.m. on Aug. 14, in her husband's arms.
"She had an infectious smile that would just melt people," Dave said. "She was very aware that we were blessed and God gave us more that we ever needed, and she shared. She was a very special woman."
A viewing will be held Sunday, Aug. 18, from 1:30-4:30 p.m. at Messiah Lutheran Church, 10711 Paramount Blvd., in Downey. The funeral is Monday at 11 a.m., also at Messiah Lutheran, with burial to follow at Rose Hills.
The church will host a reception celebrating Elaine's life following burial services.