Lois Ontiveros kept a home where everybody felt welcome.
When someone dropped in, they might receive a slice of her delicious pound cake or apple pie. Suppertime visitors could look forward to homemade spaghetti and meatballs or oven-fried chicken. Those who sampled her Mexican rice and enchiladas said they were the best they ever had.
Her favorite times were when her grandchildren and great-grandchildren came by.
“She’d make a meal, and then they’d watch old movies,” said her daughter, Sue Ontiveros, an editorial columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.
They’d cuddle on the couch and view DVDs of Bette Davis classics like “Now, Voyager” and “All About Eve” or maybe the latest Sandra Bullock film.
Mrs. Ontiveros, who with her husband, Daniel, raised four children in the house where they lived for nearly 60 years on 93rd Street in Calumet Heights, died Saturday of angiosarcoma, a cancer of the lining of blood vessels. She was 86.
Sometimes, they took in neighborhood kids having problems at home, or relatives who needed a place to stay between paychecks.
“People just kind of stopped by,” her daughter said. “They’d call up and say, ‘Hey, how about if I come over for lunch today?’ ’’
Mrs. Ontiveros’ kitchen was the family’s central nervous system, where everyone could get the latest neighborhood news. She steered comments toward kindness, saying, “Say the best, keep the rest.’’
As her health failed, she was proud that the generations she had raised rallied to visit her, bringing meals and tidying the house.
She was born Lois Marie Flores in 1929 in Angus Township, Minn. Her parents, Elizabeth Flores and Frank Marmelejo, called themselves “pickers” — migrant workers who followed the crops to harvest them. When they heard steel mills were booming, they headed to Chicago, where her father went to work for Wisconsin Steel. With the salary from the mill, the Flores family bought a home near 87th and Mackinaw.
Young Lois went to Phil Sheridan grade school and Bowen High School. Even during the Depression, she managed to go to “the show” at the Gayety Theatre at 92nd and Commercial.
She learned to sew in home economics courses at Bowen and through Chicago Park District classes — a handy skill when a teenage girl wanted a new dress during World War II.
Fully grown, she stood about 4 feet 10. She considered her older brother, Jonias, her protector. He joined the Marines in WWII and was killed at the Battle of Iwo Jima. Her mother was shattered, and it was up to young Lois to craft a telegram to her father — himself serving in the Navy — to break the news that his son would never be coming home.
Mrs. Ontiveros worked as a switchboard operator for Illinois Bell and also was employed at R.S. Owens, the company that used to manufacture the “Oscar” statuette.
In the early 1950s, she married Daniel Ontiveros at Our Lady of Guadalupe church. Back when they were both just 4 years old, “He used to throw rocks at her from across the street,” said another daughter, Diana Capporelli.
After returning from military service in the Korean War, he worked as a manager at Kinney shoe stores on the South Side.
A true city girl, Mrs. Ontiveros never learned to drive. And she didn’t always feel comfortable with flowery outpourings. If someone told her “I love you,” she might respond with, “Now, what am I supposed to do with that?” She did her shopping by walking five blocks to Commercial Avenue, where she loaded groceries into her red wagon.
Mrs. Ontiveros enjoyed the singing of country star Charley Pride and Mexican tunes by vocalist Vikki Carr. Every birthday, she liked receiving thrillers by Mary Higgins Clark. And she delighted in hunting for treasures at resale shops. Thanks to her sewing skill, she could spot a high-fashion item and make it look new again.
“My mom might have only graduated from high school, but she always knew what was going on in the world,” reading several newspapers and watching MSNBC and Tavis Smiley’s show, Sue Ontiveros said.
In her later years, when she had difficulty getting out of the house, she never failed to arrange to vote via absentee ballot.
Mrs. Ontiveros wore a gold Our Lady of Guadalupe medal around her neck.
Her husband died in 2013. She is also survived by two sons, Russell and David; a sister, Margaret Perez; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. She didn’t want a viewing or funeral. Mrs. Ontiveros will be cremated, and her family will celebrate her life at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Steve’s Lounge, 13200 S. Baltimore Ave.