Martha P. Zambelich
Aug 16, 1915 - Feb 12, 2018
It’s impossible to summarize a person like Martha Zambelich in so few words. Martha was a woman who lived life by her own rules and constantly spoke her mind — sometimes to the chagrin of mixed company. But she was also warm and kind, always offering to take care of her family and friends any way she could, never hesitating to offer advice or a well-needed kick in the pants. Martha had a quick wit and a sharp sense of humor that persisted even as her body aged. She often liked to brag about how her doctors said she had the health of someone 15 years younger, and reveled in the astonishment of strangers when she revealed her true age.
On her 102nd birthday, the manager of the restaurant where she was celebrating came out with a birthday cake, surprised to read the numbers on the candles. “What’s the secret to living so long?” he asked. Her reply, with a chuckle: “Don’t get married, and don’t have kids!”
Martha was born on August 16, 1915. She was one of six children — Olga, Donna, Helen, JoAnn, Robert, and herself. Though Martha didn’t have children of her own, she didn’t lack in family. When asked about why she didn’t opt for a more traditional path, as many of her siblings and friends had, she simply said she wasn’t interested – she had other things to do.
She lived a full life, one that could be considered enviable to some. She continued to golf well into her 90s, and only ceased driving in the last few years of her life. She learned to pilot a plane in the 1940s, opting for lessons at a time when women weren’t often presented with those kinds of opportunities. Martha used to share a favorite story, explaining how she wanted her pilot’s license just to prove to her friends and family that she could do it. She liked to tell how once, while she was working on her flight hours, she flew her plane over the family’s house, coming close enough that she could see her mother frantically waving a dishrag in her direction.
In the later years of her life, Martha acted as an unofficial matriarch of the Zambelich family in the United States, maintaining the family tree and sharing stories of growing up during the Great Depression — including swimming in the American River on hot summer days, and several unverified accounts of the family’s stint in moonshining.
Martha lived in Sacramento her entire life. A child of immigrants from Yugoslavia, she often traveled to her parents’ homeland to maintain ties with her family, split apart in later years due to the Bosnian War. She eventually moved from the family’s home on Q Street to share a house on 45th Street with her mother, sisters JoAnn and Donna, and Donna’s son, Keith, who she helped raise. After JoAnn moved to get married, and the subsequent passing of her mother and Donna, Martha stayed at that little pink house, where she spent time in the backyard gardening, and feeding a wild blue bird that came and perched near her every day.
She also worked for the State of California in the Employment Development Department, as an Accounting Supervisor for her team of “kids,” as she called them. It was a job she was proud of, and a place where she met some of her lifelong friends – friendships that persist to this day.
Martha passed peacefully in her sleep on Monday, February 12, 2018. She leaves behind generations of family across the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and the world.