North Street is often called “Mavis’ House” around town. If you need to find us, just ask anyone to point you in the direction of “Mavis’ old place.” You’ll see her portrait on the movie theater and feel her spirit on the dance floor in the pub.
Indeed, say “Grandma Mavis,” and immediately the quintessential imagery of the cookie-bakin’, quilt makin’, and unconditionally-loving face of Mavis Bromaghim still comes to mind in so many Willits residents who knew and loved her. Born March 13, 1918, on a farm in Shevlin, Minnesota, Mavis was the oldest of seven children born to August and Lottie Marsh. Mavis marryed Cy Bromaghin in 1938. With jobs scarce because of the war, Cy took a job at the Richmond Shipyards in California. Mavis moved with him, and quickly became a journeyman sheetmetal worker; her name is proudly displayed on “The Rosie Memorial” that honored all the “Rosie the Riveters” who worked at men’s jobs during the war.
After the war, Cy was transferred Willits. Soon, he was offered a job by Joe Farley, who was building a sawmill just north of Usal along Jackass Creek on the Mendocino Coast. Wolf Creek Timber Company needed a heavy equipment mechanic and someone to run the two huge diesel engines that powered the mill and the homes for the 30 families that called “Wolf Creek” home. When the mill closed in 1960, the Bromaghim family, now numbing seven!, was the last to move from the coast. They relocated to Willits and bought the oldest home on the market at the time. Cy and Mavis lovingly restored the North Street home. Mavis loved her street number 350–she would say, “The same as the temperature you bake cookies.” They brought their old redwood barn with them, which still stands today in the backyard at North Street.
The next few years were tough for Mavis and Cy. Their oldest son, Lyle, died in a car accident in 1964, and Lyle’s three children came to Willits and lived with them for a few years. In 1971 Cy died of cancer, leaving Mavis, in her early 50s, with four kids and a household to care for on her own.
Despite several proposals, Mavis never remarried. Her children recall her comment many times, “Once you’ve had the best, you don’t settle for second best.”
Mavis became a daycare provider with North Coast Opportunities. She held multiple licenses, allowing her to care for foster children and provide emergency care for Child Protective Service cases, as well as general daycare. She continued to provide daycare until she retired in the early 1980s to officially become “Grandma Mavis” to the whole community.
She was always involved in local activities and had more creative energy than practically the whole town put together. When her boys were small, she was a Willits Cub Scout leader. She worked to start a Sunday School while at Wolf Creek, and loved to plan activities there. She would later be named “Mayor of Jackass” at a reunion she planned for Wolf Creek residents.
Mavis also belonged to the Willits Arts Council, PTA, Willits Garden Club, and was on the board of directors for Magic Mornings Preschool. She helped with the props and costumes for the Willits Players, Willits Community Theatre, and Willits High School musicals, including making outrageous hats for the school’s performance of Hello Dolly. She spent many hours at the Mendocino County Museum. She had a bit part in the locally produced movie, Heartwood, and was always eager to help with the Roots of Motive Power.
Most of her energy was directed towards children. The Police Activities League provided her with a tremendous opportunity to make a difference. But she also gave time to the schools, making special treats, and guided tours during the annual Baechtel Grove Middle School seventh-grade trips to Branscomb’s Nature Conservancy.
It has been said her legacy was her quilts. Mavis pieced and hand-quilted cozy and fancy quilts from scraps of materials she had on hand. Perhaps the quilts that made the most impact were the ones she made from worn-out jeans. She would cut, piece, and hand tie these quilts with various backings, making a machine washable and durable “Cuddle Rug.” Many area residents would bring her their old jeans, as well as fabric.
Mavis would sometimes work well into the night crafting her quilts, then give them to anyone she felt needed one. Many local organizations would receive quilts to raffle. All they had to do was ask.
Her kids estimate community organizations raised thousands of dollars from raffling her quilts. Asked how many quilts she had made, Mavis replied, “I lost count at around 2,000.”
Mavis also loved to dance, and would spend most Wednesday nights at Shanachie Pub, where owner Pete Swanton would always buy her a glass of wine. “She never paid for a glass!” laughed daughter Kati. “He was always such a good host to her.”
Mavis will be remembered for so many things, but she had an uncanny ability to make whoever was with her at the time feel like her very favorite. She was often heard saying, “I only do the fun things,” and lives on in one of her favorite quotes, clipped long ago from the pages of a TV Guide: “On Judgment Day, if God should say, did you clean your house today? I will say I did not; I played with my children, and then I forgot.” (excerpted from the Willits News, February 4, 2011)