Ester Bugna, 84, a dedicated member of the Menlo Park Historical Association and Library Commission until her last days, died May 6.
Bugna was born to parents Giacobbe and Rosalia at the Palo Alto Hospital in December 1934. Her father moved to Menlo Park around 1927 and worked as a gardener on the Hahn Estate, now known as the Fennwood Estate, in Atherton.
She spent her early years living in the caretaker's cottage at the former San Francisico Children's Aid Auxiliary, located at the corner of Arbor Road and Middle Avenue in Menlo Park, near Jack W. Lyle Park. She attended kindergarten at Central School and elementary school at Fremont School and St. Joseph's Parochial School.
She continued her schooling at Notre Dame High School, where she became friends with five women whom she also attended college with at the Notre Dame de Namur University. She earned scholarships and worked as an au pair for several families in Menlo Park to help pay her way through college. She graduated with honors in biological sciences.
Bugna spent most of her career, 35 years, working at the NASA-Ames Research Center. Her niece-in-law recalled that Bugna once told her a story about how she and her friends used to make moonshine at the lab after hours, then take it to the water tower in Sunol to watch the sunrise.
She was married for more than 30 years to Ted Sorenson, a former Menlo Park mayor who died in 2006.
According to her family, she accomplished what was unheard of back in the 1960s and purchased her Menlo Park home as a single woman in her 30s. She celebrated 50 years of home ownership this past Christmas.
She loved gardens, cats, travel (especially road trips and travel of the "armchair variety"), art, theater, calligraphy, haiku, and cooking shows. Mendocino was one of her favorite places, and she embraced the Italian term, "dolce far niente" — "How sweet it is to do nothing."
Information about her life was provided by her family and a bio she wrote for the Historical Association when she joined the group.
In a statement, Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller said that Bugna was a "kind, sweet person, whose every interaction was one of sharp intellect and a rich historical passion and love for Menlo Park. She was always open and unselfishly shared the wisdom she had gained as a team with her beloved husband Ted."
"Even into failing health, she was always looking for new opportunities to contribute and help others," he added.
According to Nick Szegda, assistant library services director, Bugna served as an "integral part" of the Library Commission over the past two years, and served as vice chair of the commission until her recent illness.
"She brought her perspective as a longtime resident, historian, and library user to the commission, championing youth involvement in commission work and supporting the library’s recent efforts to towards building a new branch library" he said. "Ester was a wonderful colleague, and her insight and warmth will be missed by all of us here at the library."
(The Menlo Park City Council appointed Kristina Lemons to fill the vacancy on the Library Commission created by Bugna's passing.)
Jim Lewis, president of the Menlo Park Historical Association, said that Bugna had served as the association's program chair and had been an active member of the association for many years. At its most recent meeting, Lewis said, the association took a moment to reflect on Bugna's memory.
"My hunch is there will be more to follow, as we get used to the idea she's not with us anymore," he said.