She was born during the Great Depression to a truck-driving father who didn’t support his family, and a waitressing mother who was not able to make ends meet. Donna Garcia (at the time Donna McKain) and her two sisters were placed in the care of the Mercer County Home for Children in Illinois.
There, the infant girl would spend the next eight or nine years of her life. When her mother came back, Donna McKain was outspoken and mature beyond her years. “I learned to speak my mind at the home,” she recalled. “And I learned to make do with what I had. We knew how to accept both good times and bad and how to keep going.”
When she was only 11, the youngest of the McKain girls decided to go visit her father who had opened a place called Mac’s Café in Belen. While working there as a waitress, she met a photographer named Steve Garcia. His family had been in the area for generations. He was 18 at the time. When she moved away shortly after that, she began to write to him, and they maintained a regular correspondence for six years.
“I couldn’t imagine what it was like not to have two parents and a stable home,” Garcia said. His father owned the Garcia Livery Stable, where he rented out horses and carriages. During the Depression, the senior Garcia had to give up his business but the family continued to sell eggs and apples.
On a pretty day in September of 1953, Garcia and McKain were married at the Catholic Church in Belen. They have been married for 64 years.
“My mom was married seven times. I always said I would only marry once, and that’s the way it is,” said Donna Garcia, now age 79.
“I’m outspoken and Steve is easygoing. So we balance each other,” she said.
She remembers that when she was in her 20s, her mother told her she was pregnant again. “My mom said she was going to give up that baby. She said she was too old to be raising more children. So that baby remained a mystery for a long time.”
About 20 some years ago, Donna Garcia was watching an Oprah Winfrey program about finding missing relatives. “I started writing really fast. They said they could help you find people who you were separated from or family you never met,” she explained. “I knew my mom’s name, the year and the hospital where she gave birth. That was all.”
A few years ago, as a result of a phone call to Oprah Winfrey, Donna met her half brother, Gary Nixon, who was then living in Wichita. He has since moved to Albuquerque and the siblings are happy to be family to each other.
The Garcias moved to Edgewood in 2000 to be closer to one of their sons. They have five children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. When Steve Garcia was young he had rheumatic fever, which resulted in heart issues. As a young man, he went to school at night and worked during the day to care for his family, earning $1.25 an hour, $50 a week. “I worked days and Donna worked nights,” he said.
Nowadays, Steve Garcia volunteers at Bethel Community Storehouse in Moriarty, when he is not in his woodworking shop. Meanwhile Donna Garcia creates detailed quilts for family members.
“We remember times when there was rationing of food. People back then knew what was important. My dad never met a person he didn’t treat as a friend,” said Steve Garcia, smiling.
His wife added, “Tell kids to appreciate what they have. Find a goal and work hard for it. And above all treat others with respect. That’s what life is about.”