Zenolia Blakey, a longtime North Highlands resident who raised 12 children – including a Vietnam War hero – with hard work and traditional values, died Aug. 30 of heart disease, her family said. She was 90.
Mrs. Blakey was a divorced mother of four children when she arrived in Sacramento in the late 1930s. The daughter of a Choctaw Indian father and an African American mother, she fled racial discrimination and poverty in her native Oklahoma for better opportunities in California.
She took a job as a waitress at the Momo Club downtown. Lively and attractive, she earned good tips and met performers at the legendary jazz club, including Nat King Cole. She also met Clarence Ollie Blakey, whom she married in 1945.
The couple had eight more children and lived in the New Helvetia and Del Paso Heights neighborhoods before settling in North Highlands in the 1950s. Refusing to accept welfare, she worked as a housekeeper and later as a convalescent home aide, while her husband did odd jobs and “whatever he had to do to take care of the family,” her daughter Carolyn said.
“There were times we didn’t have enough money for Christmas, but my mother was very creative,” her daughter said. “She taught me how to pick out the best toys from Toys for Tots. We always got a tree – sometimes the day before Christmas, when they were cheap. She never allowed her kids to do without.”
Mrs. Blakey, whose schooling ended early, was proud that all of her children graduated from Highlands High School. She and her husband, a World War II veteran, were patriotic Americans who supported their son Michael’s decision to join the Army and serve in Vietnam.
Michael Blakey, a top athlete at Highlands High School, earned a Bronze Star for crawling through enemy gunfire to drag a wounded buddy to safety. Two months later, on Jan. 14, 1969, he was killed in a mortar attack. He was 19.
The loss devastated his mother, who visited the cemetery every Mother’s Day for many years to lay flowers on her son’s grave.
“You never get over it,” Mrs. Blakey told The Bee in 1987. “Time hasn’t healed it. I’m waiting for that day.”
Zenolia Havard was born Sept. 22, 1922, in Sulphur, Okla. As a child of mixed race, she suffered discrimination by African Americans, American Indians and whites. She attended a segregated school for American Indian and black children that allowed students to go only as far as the eighth grade.
“She wanted to be a teacher,” her daughter said. “She was a very good student. But they told her she would probably just be a housewife.”
Mrs. Blakey and her husband socialized with close friends and enjoyed going to formal dances at the Elks Club. A strict but devoted and protective mother, she stressed the importance of education and helping others.
“She raised us to believe that whenever you go out to eat, you leave a generous tip, because you never know how many people that person is working to support,” her daughter said.
Mrs. Blakey’s husband of 43 years, who worked at McClellan Air Force Base for a time and later in construction, died in 1988. Besides her son, she was predeceased by her daughters Zenolia, Sheila, Priscilla and Megan.
She is survived by three daughters, Carolyn, Jackie and Victoria; four sons, Benjamin Tapscott, Rico, Anthony and Richard; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A memorial service is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Lombard & Co. funeral home, 1550 Fulton Ave., Sacramento.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916)321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.