Santos Cromwell, 80, longtime Waverly resident

December 25, 2003|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Santos Cromwell, a woman so well-known in her Waverly neighborhood that for years she would get letters addressed simply to "Sunny on Greenmount Avenue," died Friday at Union Memorial Hospital of complications from heart disease and diabetes. She was 80.

Santos Marie Holguin was born in Yuma, Ariz. Her mother died when she was 2 years old, and she grew up in a Catholic orphanage in the San Bernardino Mountains in California, where she received her education.

At 18, she left the orphanage and headed for Los Angeles, where she got her first job, said her daughter, Joan Leyrer of Hampden.

She soon married Thomas Dewey Abshire and moved to his home state of West Virginia. They had a child, but while Mr. Abshire was serving in World War II, she felt so isolated that she decided she had to leave, Mrs. Leyrer said.

She hopped on a bus and told the driver to take her to the closest big city, which was Baltimore.

She divorced her husband and briefly worked for the Social Security Administration before meeting and marrying John Cromwell, who served in the merchant marine. They settled on Greenmount Avenue. In the 1950s, her daughter said, the police would sometimes ask Mrs. Cromwell to come to the station and translate for them if they had arrested a Spanish speaker.

In the 1960s, Mrs. Leyrer said, Mrs. Cromwell bought a new station wagon, even though she never learned to drive. It became the neighborhood car. Anyone who needed it could borrow it.

"She was always known for her friendliness and her kind heart," Mrs. Leyrer said. "No one was ever hungry around her. If they needed a place to stay, she'd put them up. That's the kind of person she was. She lived for the moment. She was just so happy to be alive."

Her nickname, "Sunny," came from her upbeat attitude and personality, family and friends say.

"She had an amazing ability to rise above adversity," said the Rev. James P. Farmer of St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church in Hampden. He knew Mrs. Cromwell for 12 years and presided over her funeral Monday. "When you went to visit her, you felt better when you left. She had a lot of difficult occurrences with which to deal. She never became embittered or gave up hope."

Mr. Cromwell died in 1976. She lost two children -- Thomas D. Abshire Jr., who died last year, and Stephanie Marie Cromwell, who died in 1971 at age 12 -- and she had her legs amputated because of complications from her diabetes. In recent years, she lived in Hampden with Mrs. Leyrer, who took care of her.

In addition to Mrs. Leyrer, she is survived by another daughter, Monica Napier of Locust Point; a son, John W. Cromwell Jr. of Hampden; 13 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

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