105-year-old Dominga Espinoza Leyva de Lujan offers advice for
having a long, active life
Morgan Hill’s historic Madrone area is noted for the rodeo, a zoo and strong, determined residents.

Dominga Espinoza Leyva de Lujan only lived in Madrone for a few years but left an indelible impression on people she helped and those who helped her when the need arose.

Born in 1899, Leyva de Lujan turned 105 on Sept. 3 at her home in Willow Glen where she is looked after by her children.

“She’s lived in three centuries,” said Frank Leyva, Dominga’s son, who is usually called Paco. “When she was young, people drove oxen for transportation,” he said, “and now she has a grandson who flies commercial jets.”

The world has come a long way in her lifetime.

Along the way, Dominga traveled to a new country, raised five children by herself, touched the life of an internationally known artist, learned English and became a citizen. John F. Kennedy’s likeness overlooks her dining room. And she married a second time – to Francisco Lujan who, Paco said, was her reward for past troubles.

“He was a lovely man and a wonderful husband,” Dominga said. “He was good to the children, a good provider and was everything but tall,” she joked. “I was very happy with him.”

Dominga may rest quite a lot and use a walker but her memory and her wit are sharp.

She also collected 30 grandchildren, 37 great-grandchildren and five – so far – great-great-grandchildren.

Dominga was born in Baja, California, married Juan José Leyva in 1920 and moved to Tempe, Ariz., in 1922 where her family worked as hard rock miners. Family members also worked the New Idria and Sutter Creek mines.

Later she came to Madrone in the early 1920s, the area along Monterey Road just north of Cochrane Road, to be with her extended family. Juan José left sometime after the fifth child was born, leaving Dominga to raise Dave, Jessie, Frank (Paco), Connie and Richard by herself with the help of friends and family.

The tight-knit Madrone community mostly spoke Spanish. Elena Oberg Moreno, who knew Dominga as a child, said she and her friends learned a little Spanish from the community.

“We heard it all the time from workers picking prunes (on the Oberg ranch) and I learned to love the language,” Moreno said.

Moreno kept up with Dominga over the years and has visited her several times in Willow Glen.

“She’s a very strong lady,” Moreno said.

Paco, who grew up to have a successful career as an Interpol operative, said he didn’t learn English until he went to Burnett School, though his younger sister, Connie, did. Dominga learned her English later after she moved to San Jose in the 1930s.

“She worked so hard to keep us together,” Paco said. “A WPA job in San Jose helped. We rented a house for $12.50 a month and mother walked across town to save 5¢.”

The Workers Progress Administration (WPA) was a federal program to provide jobs during the Depression years of the 1030s.

During this time Dominga went to Woodrow Wilson High School in San Jose to learn English.

“It was hard to learn,” she said, “but I did it.”

In 1943 she became a citizen, an achievement of which she is proud.

Besides working for the WPA, Dominga worked in a cannery and as a nanny, a job she had held before. While still living in Madrone she cared for the infant Robert Moesle, who grew up to be an artist. His realistic and serene watercolors of California and Europe are in private collections in the U.S. and Europe and in museums and universities in the United States.

“He was born in Madrone and studied in England,” Moreno said, who enjoys his work and knew his mother well.

Moesle married a French woman and lives with his family in France. His paintings can be seen at Zantman Art Galleries in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Gallery Americana and others.

The walls of Dominga’s house on Coe Avenue aren’t covered with Moesle’s paintings, but with family pictures, plus several certificates and letters of congratulations on her 100th birthday in 1999. There is hardly room for another set, marking another five years.

Better than certificates, though, are her friends. Many of them are from the neighborhood where she has lived for 60 years. Paco said the neighborhood children just drop in.

“Can I see Dominga?” they ask.

To what does she credit her long life?

“I tried to be sensible,” she said.

That and a grandmother and aunt who lived past 100. It’s a family tradition she has obviously passed on to her children. Paco and Connie don’t look their ages either.

Her rules to live by?

“Work hard and never buy on time,” Dominga said.

Carol Holzgrafe covers City Hall for The Times. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] or phoning (408) 779-4106 Ext. 201.

Previous articleElection Results
Next articleHouse of Thunder helps
A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here