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Long-time resident Ortega to celebrate 100th birthday

By Greg Cote’ Maria Ortega was born in Trona, Ca, on August 15th, 1923.  At the time, her father was making a living as a sheepherder, and the family just happened to be ‘passing through.’  She is a first-generation American, as her parents and even her older brother were proud immigrants from the Andalusia region of Spain.    Sadly, her mother died while she was still a child.  Her father remarried a lady who spoke mainly Italian.  Since he spoke mainly Spanish, it made for an exciting home life.  She grew up in Bakersfield and graduated from East Bakersfield High School in the class of ‘41, where she was a member of the ‘International Circle’ and the ‘Newman Club.’

During this time, she was a passenger in an automobile involved in a fatal accident.  Luckily, she escaped with only a large cut to her leg, but it has bothered her ever since.

Maria Ortega

After High School, she worked for a while in Bakersfield and then joined the Navy serving from April 1944 until August 1946, which makes her a World War II-era veteran.  While in the service, she had several new experiences.  For training, she was sent to both the Bronx, NY, and Cedar Falls, Iowa, and so had her first exposure(s) to air travel.  It was ‘interesting’ enough to make her swear off any further flying in her civilian life.  However, the secretarial training she received was instrumental to her long-term career.  Later on, she was sent to China Lake, where she was one of the first four WAVEs assigned to what was then the Naval Ordinance Test Station (NOTS).  She also had further assignments in San Diego.

After the Navy, she became a Civil Servant at NOTS.  She worked as a secretary in several technical groups where she met some brilliant scientists and engineers.  She also worked on publications, presentations, and award certificates in the Technical Information Department.

She spent time dancing and socializing with the International Folk Dance group at China Lake in her spare time.  She was still working at NOTS when it officially became the Naval Weapons Center (NWC).  It was also there that she met Bobby Kochman.  He was a curly-haired rascal who had transferred in from Corona and the two of them soon fell in love, were married in 1949, and had a daughter, Cindy.

Strangely enough, Cindy was also born in Trona though they lived on the base at China Lake.  When they were on the base, they lived in three different houses, all of which have since been demolished.  Bobby was an athlete, considered by many to be the best fast-pitch softball pitcher in the high desert and a stand-out at bowling and golf.  Maria was with him every step of the way, traveling to the games, cheering him on at the games, and being the ‘hostess with the mostest’ at many of the resulting parties.  In addition, she competed as a bowler in her own right.  When the base decided to ‘get out of the housing business’ and started ‘encouraging’ civilians to move off the base, Bobby and Maria quickly responded.  They had several different houses in Ridgecrest, just as they had on the base.  (However, none of these have been demolished.)  During this time, they also started a family tradition, a yearly trip ‘to the beach.’  The beach in question was in Del Mar, where Bobby would go to the horse races, and Maria would take Cindy to play in the sand and surf.

In 1977, Maria joined Bobby in retirement from NWC, and they moved to Sun City, CA, a 55+ community where Bobby could play golf regularly.  Being one of the younger and more talented golfers, he was in high demand as a team member.  However, despite the new circle of friends that they made and visits from their long-established friends from Ridgecrest, Maria couldn’t see spending all her time at home.  She soon became a medical records clerk at a local private clinic.

In 1983, things changed again.  Cindy had settled and married in Ridgecrest, and a few years later, Maria became a grandmother.  Within six months, she and Bobby lived in Ridgecrest again.  They had a house built in Heritage Village where Bobby spent hours (between his golf games) growing and tending flowers.  In the meantime, Maria was splitting her time between her granddaughter, being a money counter at church, and her job.  Yes, she was working again, this time as an office manager at what was then VITRO Services, located on Inyokern Road.  During this time, she first developed a love-hate relationship with a computer, having to regularly communicate with ‘the big-wigs’ in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.  She also had adventures involving snakes and scorpions in the building.

Eventually, she retired from VITRO and became ‘just’ a housewife.  Even so, she managed to keep busy.  She and Bobby continued taking trips to visit family and trips to the beach (now with the granddaughter).  They often financed these trips with the tax refund they received due to her many charitable donations.  She continued her money-counting at church.  In addition, she picked up a new ‘job’ as a volunteer at the local Adult Day Care Center, often helping to care for people considerably younger than herself.  She continued this work through several management changes until the center ceased operations.  She also acted as coordinator for several support groups in town and volunteered at the information desk at Ridgecrest City Hall.  In addition, she continued polishing her baking skills.  She seldom had a doctor, hairdresser, or any other appointment where she failed to bring a little something on the side.

Sadly, in 2001, Bobby passed away.  Since then, she has remained a significant presence in her family members’ lives.  She drove a car and lived alone well into her 90s—she is now in an assisted living facility here in Ridgecrest.  On August 15, 2023, she becomes 100 years old.