Vera Pavelec was the kind of mom whose energy and effervescence could embarrass her kids. Case in point: She insisted on creating fantastical Halloween ensembles every year, ignoring their pleas for the mass-produced super hero costumes worn by friends.
And her two children could not possibly exit a get-together without good-byes dragging on for an hour.
“‘She was a social butterfly,” said daughter Lisa Pavelec-Martinez, 45. “She had to hug this person and chat with that person. My brother and I were like, ‘Mom, let’s go.’”
Pavelec died at age 71 on July 27 from complications of COVID-19. The Huntington Beach native came down with symptoms a few days after attending a mid-June birthday celebration at a hometown bar. Four of the six friends would become sick, as well some of their family members.
Among the buddies who ended up fighting coronavirus was Dominic Menaldi, a colorful Surf City character. Over the years, Menaldi has transformed his head-turning “castle house” into a haunted mansion on Halloween. The bodyguard also grabbed attention two decades ago in a “Man Vs. Bear” wrestling match.
Her close friend Maria Lupita noted that Pavelec did not fit the stereotype of an “elderly” person succumbing to the disease.
“She was very healthy,” Lupita said. “I’m 48, and she could outdo me any day of the week. Vera lit up a room.”
A graduate of Marina High, Pavelec raised her family in Garden Grove and later lived in Santa Ana. Her social reach extended throughout Orange County, including at Legacy Faith Fellowship in Buena Park and the Mission Viejo Elks Club.
“The woman was always doing something, dressed to the nines – painted nails, false eyelashes, rings on every finger,” her daughter said.
Pavelec worked as a clerk for 17 years in the Santa Ana Unified School District. More recently, she sold skincare products for Nerium.
The ultimate PTA mom, Pavelec pushed her son and daughter to participate in clubs and sports.
“She was my Girl Scout leader, she got me into cheerleading, you name it,” Pavelec-Martinez said.
Pavelec, who was divorced, then busied herself with the next generation.
“She went to all of my games and everything else I did,” said Lauren Pavelec, 21, one of three grandchildren. “She paid for my senior trip to Italy. She wanted me to have it all.”
For months, Pavelec took the risks of contracting coronavirus seriously – staying at home, for the most part, and wearing a mask when she ran errands.
But then she started letting her guard down a bit, her daughter said.
Pavelec posted a video and photos on Facebook of the June 12 birthday gathering at Tumbleweeds in Huntington Beach. This was an interlude when Gov. Gavin Newsom briefly allowed restaurants to reopen for indoor dining at reduced capacity.
In the images, Pavelec and her friends enjoy the night – dancing, arms draped over one another’s shoulders, no face masks.
Tumbleweeds owner Frank Tahvildari said he learned about the group’s fate weeks later on Facebook. None of his employees have tested positive for COVID-19, he said.
“We have a policy: Our employees must wear masks at all times,” Tahvildari said. “People make comments to them like, ‘You don’t have to wear that thing.’ Yes, they do.”
Tahvildari was not at the restaurant on the night in question but said signs were posted asking customers to wear masks and stay off the dance floor.
“People don’t want to listen,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tumbleweeds, a popular spot that has been around for 30 years, is now unfairly connected with the posse’s exposure to coronavirus, he said.
Menaldi announced his illness on Facebook June 25. The previous weekend, on June 20, he took part in a counterprotest at a Black Lives Matter rally in Huntington Beach. Claiming that protesters deliberately spread the virus, he wrote, “If I die, it’s murder.”
On July 30, Menaldi posted that he had recovered – describing in detail his horrific experience with coronavirus as well as his grief over the loss of Pavelec.
He did not return requests for comment.
A group of Huntington Beach residents have taken to Facebook to criticize Menaldi for partying during a pandemic – and then attending a protest maskless.
They also question why the Orange County Health Care Agency doesn’t do more to inform people who have been in contact with potential carriers – especially given the degree of information readily available about COVID cases on social media.
Filmmaker and Facebook activist Vince Crandon has taken it upon himself to research the steps of where infected people have been, and with whom, using an app that identifies faces. He makes spreadsheets of coronavirus cases – family trees, of sorts, linking locals who reveal on Facebook they suffer COVID.
“Why can’t the government follow these breadcrumbs?” asked Crandon. “Coronavirus is incredibly contagious. Contact tracing is the best tool we have right now for controlling its spread.”
Marc Meulman, acting director of Orange County Public Health Services, said in an email that coronavirus is too omnipresent for continual monitoring of interactions.
“We are well beyond containment at this point,” Meulman said.
The agency does not routinely keep track of restaurants visited by someone who later tests positive for coronavirusm, he said: “We’d have to list countless public places every day and that just doesn’t make sense.”
Because so many carriers don’t show symptoms, Meulman said, “For every confirmed case, there are likely 10 cases not confirmed. COVID transmission should be assumed to be everywhere.”
When Pavelec became sick, she had not seen her loved ones beyond Facetime conversations since the stay-at-home orders last March.
“We didn’t want to risk giving her the virus,” Pavelic-Martinez said, her voice cracking.
The last time her family visited her in person was through a window at Sea Cliff Healthcare Center two days before her death. Apparently on the mend, she had been transferred from a hospital to the nursing home before taking a turn for the worse.
“I am so thankful for that moment,” Pavelec-Martinez said. “She was so happy to see us. She seemed to be doing well.”
But Pavelec-Martinez would never return, as expected, to bring her mother home.
“There’s a false sense of security in going out with friends and having fun,” Pavelec-Martinez said. “She had been careful. All it takes is one mistake.”
Vera Pavelec’s family created a gofundme page to help cover medical and other expenses.
Source: Orange County Register