Helen Jurich, an irrepressible free spirit with a love of people and a flair for wearing playful costumes that won her lifelong friends and local celebrity as the “chicken lady of Fair Oaks,” died Dec. 26 of cancer, her family said. She was 82.
“Anything for a laugh” was Mrs. Jurich’s motto, her family said. Vivacious and extroverted, she collected files of jokes that she told at regular luncheons for Bank of America retirees at the Dante Club. She spent more than a week decorating her Citrus Heights home every Christmas and hosted a holiday gathering for family and friends, whom she greeted dressed as Rudolph the reindeer, a Christmas tree, a snowman and the Virgin Mary.
“She was our resident storyteller,” Bank of America retiree Elaine Nelson said. “It wasn’t just the stories themselves, but the way she told them – the drama, the inflections. She always came in full regalia at Halloween. She was a very colorful, warm, loving woman who liked to have a good time.”
Mrs. Jurich’s wardrobe included more than 30 hats, feather boas, gaudy jewelry and outlandish outfits that she made herself and wore in public as a member of the Delta Divas chapter of the Red Hat Society. Her fame grew after she appeared in a photo in The Bee dancing in a faux bikini in the 2009 Sacramento Jazz Festival parade.
In 2009, she stitched yellow boas to a T-shirt, donned yellow tights and glued feathers to shower shoes to create a chicken costume for the Fair Oaks Chicken Festival. Parading through Fair Oaks Village, she handed out candy to youngsters as festival-goers crowded for pictures with her. She became a fixture at the annual event, with her image on festival posters and T-shirts and a martini on the house at the Stockman Club.
“People didn’t know that she wasn’t part of the official program,” her daughter Terri Howard said. “They just wanted to have their picture taken with her.”
Fun and laughs helped Mrs. Jurich through tough times – including divorce, a 2000 fire that destroyed her home, and breast cancer. She supported breast-cancer-awareness efforts and participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, in which she wore a pink boa.
“When things came along and knocked her down, she got up and got through it with a sense of humor,” Howard said.
A Sacramento native, Helen Ann Dazzo was born April 20, 1931, to Italian immigrants and graduated from McClatchy High School in 1949. She defied convention early, joining about a dozen friends who skipped the traditional senior dinner to enjoy their own night on the town at the Senator Hotel.
Since then, the women have worked around weddings, births and vacations to meet on the same date for more than 60 years for lunches, dinners and even a cruise to Mexico.
“Helen was always very outgoing and a lot of fun,” classmate Jean Kelly Riley said. “More than anything, she liked to have fun.”
Mrs. Jurich worked most of her life, starting as a teenager at the Mademoiselle dress shop in downtown Sacramento. She took a job processing fingerprints for the state Justice Department and retired after 30 years at Bank of America, where she was a dedicated employee and stylish woman who dressed “like she stepped out of a fashion magazine,” Nelson said.
“She was a very classy, educated woman and a wonderful mother and grandmother to my children,” her daughter Pamela Mann said. “She loved to read to them.”
Besides her daughters, Mrs. Jurich is survived by two sisters, Marie James and Patricia Seabury, and four grandchildren.
A celebration of her life is set for noon Jan. 25 at the Dante Club, 2330 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Sacramento Chapter, 9310 Tech Center Drive, Sacramento, CA 95826.