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Mourning Don Adan, an ‘unsung hero’ who ‘gave himself totally from his heart to the UFW’

Adan Ramirez Ascension, 89, affectionately known as Don Adan, was one of those selfless but little known heroes who spent decades relentlessly laboring and sacrificing for the United Farm Workers. “The UFW was his world—it was his life,” stated his daughter, Maria Ramirez. Don Adan passed away on Sunday, Nov. 4, following a car accident in Watsonville.

A memorial service and reception in Salinas for Don Adan is set between 4 and 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9 in the Central Coast Farm Worker Center hall at 118 East Gabilan St., Salinas, CA 93901, and a second reception for family and friends in Watsonville is scheduled from 2 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10 at Ave Maria Memorial Chapel, 609 Main St., Watsonville, CA 95076.

Don Adan was born on Sept. 17, 1929, the oldest of three brothers and three sisters in Tituitatlan, Jalisco, Mexico. He first came to the United States as a bracero farm worker during the early 1960s, laboring in California and Texas. He migrated, working the seasons in California and returning to Mexico in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Meantime, Don Adan married Guadalupe Torres and they had 15 children.

He lived his last four decades in Watsonville where his children were raised and his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren were born. He labored in strawberries, nurseries and mushrooms, including many years under a UFW contract at Monterey Mushrooms in Watsonville.

His fearless activism with the union on the Central Coast and in the Central Valley began in the 1980s. Wearing his characteristic cowboy boots, cowboy-style shirts and hats, he became a backbone of the UFW at union organizing, legislative and political campaigns, as well as strikes, boycotts and marches across California.

Don Adan was in his 70s when he marched 175 miles every step of the way from Madera to Sacramento in 2002, to help win a landmark law letting farm workers use state mediators to win union contracts when growers won’t negotiate them. He was in his 80s when he marched the entire 135-mile route from Merced to Sacramento in 2011, to win another state law strengthening the bargaining and organizing rights of farm workers.

During both marches, Don Adan would take off his boots to expose feet that were terribly blistered. But he never complained. Don Adan remained stoic, constantly cheering everybody on and urging support for the union. For him, Si Se Puede! was more than a slogan. His daughters were alarmed by his damaged feet when he returned home, but he insisted, “I’m okay,” and only expressed how satisfied he was to have walked the entire way, daughter Maria said. “My dad was so strong both physically and mentally.”

He did much more than march. Don Adan spent countless days picketing supermarkets in Watsonville in support of UFW boycotts or campaigns, patiently speaking with passers-by or confronting the police. He fought at the state Capitol in Sacramento in 2016, to help California farm workers win overtime pay. When Ventura County strawberry workers walked out on strike in 2008, Don Adan made the long journey from Watsonville and spent three days with UFW organizers, giving animo and courage to the strikers. He was one of the most effective picketers ever seen at supermarkets and other protests. Once in motion, he wouldn’t stop his encouragements and shouts for justice until the day was done even if others dragged their pace. Don Adan expected his lead to be followed, and it was. He spread joy and supported others around him.

For years he emptied trash, cleaned rest rooms and set up and took down chairs at the union’s Salinas office, making sure it was a place workers felt respected because it was so well taken care of. He did the same at the new Salinas Farm Worker Center that opened in June.

Don Adan was also part of a broader union family, going to far-away events such as the 2006 wedding of UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez and Sonia Rodriguez at the National Chavez Center in Keene near Bakersfield. “The people he met in the union treated him like a member of his larger UFW family,” Maria said.

Sometimes Don Adan would be gone from home for weeks at a time. His family wouldn’t know where he was or what he was doing. One granddaughter observed, “If you want to find my grandpa, look on the TV news or newspapers covering UFW activities and you’ll see him.” “We knew he was happy and doing what he wanted to do—and he enjoyed it,” Maria added.

“Cesar Chavez was always uncomfortable being recognized in public,” Arturo Rodriguez noted. “Cesar knew there were so many men and women who made big sacrifices and achieved great things, but whose names were mostly unknown. Don Adan was one of those unsung heroes.”

“My dad believed in giving himself totally from his heart to the union,” said his daughter Maria Ramirez. Some relatives worried he was still working so hard non-stop for the UFW as he got older. They urged him to slow down and relax. “’No,’” my dad said. “’If I die working for the UFW, I will die happy.’” Although they were not jealous of the union, Maria said, some members of the family wished he would spend more time with them.

Guadalupe, Don Adan’s wife, passed away in 2012, and he lived by himself in a senior’s apartment in Watsonville, proud to receive his monthly union pension check from his years at Monterey Mushrooms. He was struck by a car in an accident while crossing the street in Watsonville on Thursday, Nov. 1, and passed away on Sunday, Nov. 4.

Adan Ramirez Ascension is survived by his children Rosa, Delia, Olga, Maria, Ruby and Irma; 22 grandchildren; and 41 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his children Saul, Gustavo, Elva, Antonio, Israel, Jose, Noel, Abel and Perdo.

His body will be returned to Mexico for burial in Tituitatlan, Jalisco. First, the UFW will honor Don Adan with a memorial service and reception in Salinas between 4 and 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9 in the Central Valley Farm Worker Center hall, 118 East Gabilan St., Salinas 93901. Another reception for family and friends is scheduled in Watsonville from 2 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10 at Ave Maria Memorial Chapel, 609 Main St., Watsonville 95076.