(By Grace Starr | Special to The Sun) 1914 was a big year. The Panama Canal opened, World War I began and, in Virginia, Minnesota, Mary Hlaca was born. Mary, now a resident of Vintage Sonoma, celebrated her 100th birthday on Monday.
One of eight children born to Serbian immigrants, Mary indulged in her favorite sport, baseball, as well as hide-and-seek with other kids in the neighborhood. After graduating from Virginia High School, she went to work for a family of Irish farmers on their ranch, tending to household chores for up to 12 hours a day. After three or four years, Nancy, her sister, married and moved to Santa Rosa — with Mary in tow.
She soon found work as a laundress at the Piner Laundry, also in Santa Rosa. It was while employed there that Mary met and wed Jean Brochier, a Frenchman who was also in the clothes cleaning business. Together, the couple raised two children and many grand and great grandchildren. “He didn’t like to dance,” Mary recalls. It was a notion she didn’t quite share. Mary loved to cut the rug whenever possible, dancing up a storm every Saturday night. When not moving gracefully across the floor, she stayed home raising the couple’s children.
Along the way, Mary developed quite an affinity for the golden city of San Francisco. She describes her favorite places, such as North Beach, amorously. She worked in one of the city’s troop hospitals, once again as a laundress, supporting the war effort.
“San Francisco is fabulous,” she says. “You can see everything under the sun!”
If you really want to see this Minnesotan light up, just mention those Giants. “They do their damndest!” Mary exclaims about her favorite boys of summer.
After the war, the Brochiers moved back to Santa Rosa where her husband re-trained as an electrician, and they spent their retirement years their until Mary joined the Vintage Sonoma family four years ago.