By Rachael Rifkin
Ethel Mae McCallen, a 56-year Signal Hill resident, businesswoman, and wife of former Signal Hill Councilmember Marion “Buzz” McCallen, passed away on July 15, 2010. The 88-year-old California native will be remembered as an outspoken figure who was deeply dedicated to her community.
Born in Long Beach on July 8, 1922, Ethel Mae grew up in a strict, religious family. “She was raised real, real strict. She was a good girl,” said her daughter, Sharon McCallen. “Of course, she also grew up during the Depression, and I think that explains a lot about her personality and work ethic as well.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean she didn’t have some fun anyway. “My mother loved to dance and, boy, did she have boyfriends. There are lots of pictures of her with different young men, soldiers, etc. She loved to dance, and she loved pretty clothes. Anyone who knew my mom in the last 20 years would know that,” said Sharon.
Ethel Mae and Buzz met through his brother, whom she was dating at the time. They married in 1949. Buzz already had three daughters from previous marriages: Rebecca Lynn, Diana Kathleen, and Sharon. Sharon’s birth mother died when she was a baby. She went to live with her father and Ethel Mae when she 8.
“She was very hard on me, but she made sure I had paper dolls, playhouses, books. I had the things that made me happy. She never had children, but she liked other people’s kids,” said Sharon. “You could hear that at the testimonials at the funeral services. People who were kids then talked about their memories of her.”
During the war, Ethel Mae worked as a riveter at Douglas Aircraft, and in the 1950s she drove a cab. When Buzz got into real estate, they worked side by side. Eventually she got her broker’s license.
She also loved antiques and collectibles, and nearly opened an antiques store. In addition, she was very active in the Signal Hill community. She was a member of the Collectors Club, the Begonia Club, and the Long Beach Historical Society.
Signal Hill Councilmember Mike Noll and Ethel Mae were both involved in the Long Beach Historical Society and served on various service committees together.
“Ethel was a very unique person,” said Noll. “She was very, very direct. You always knew what Ethel’s thoughts were– good, bad, or indifferent. She was a very interesting woman.”
Sharon echoes that sentiment. “She was outspoken. You knew where you stood with her on any subject, and she was a staunch Republican. She was a character,” said Sharon. “My mother was fiercely independent. Right up to the end in her hospital bed. When I asked her if the nurses were good to her, she said, ‘Yeah, but they don’t understand.’ She pointed to her chest and said, ‘I’m the boss of me.’”
Ethel Mae McCallen is predeceased by her husband and former Signal Hill councilmember Marion “Buzz” McCallen and brother Myrle Randall. She is survived by her brother Raymond Randall and family, as well as her daughters and many grandchildren. Services took place Saturday, July 24 at Rose Hills Memorial Park Rainbow Chapel.