COLUMBIA — Lorna Perez kept an elaborate garden in front of her house. When neighbors asked her what types of flowers she was growing, she would give them seeds. Her flowers spread across the neighborhood.
"Her favorite flower was a rose," her husband, Eli Perez, said. "She had Virgin Mary in her front yard with a small pond with roses."
Lorna Grace Navarrez Perez of Columbia died Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, after battling with multiple system atrophy, a rare disease that causes part of the nervous system to shut down. She was 61.
She was born April 15, 1951, in Ozamiz City, Philippines, to Sergio Navarrez and Carmen (Estrada) Navarrez.
She married Eli Perez on Aug. 30, 1976, in the Philippines. The couple moved to Columbia in 1979.
Mrs. Perez began housing foster children when her sons and daughter were in elementary school. She raised foster children until becoming too ill from her disease, her son John Paul Perez said. She fostered up to five children at a time, with ages ranging from infancy to 17.
"We didn't understand why there were kids in our household calling our mother 'mom' and wearing our old clothes and playing with our old toys," John Paul Perez said. "But we slowly began to learn and realize the opportunities we've been given, and what these children were lacking."
Eli Perez said he was reluctant at first when Mrs. Perez decided to foster children while they were raising their own. But when Mrs. Perez decided to do to something, it was "very difficult to stop her," Eli Perez said. "She really loved her children."
John Paul Perez was inspired by his mother's example to work for a children's psychiatric unit in a hospital and for Rainbow House, a shelter for children and teens in Columbia.
"That's completely inspired by what I have seen from my mom," he said.
Mrs. Perez was a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. She also co-founded the Filipino-American Cultural Society of Mid-Missouri to help other Filipino immigrants settle in the United States.
"My mom decided, 'Hey, there are a lot of people out there like us, and let's make this association and welcome people from Philippines and do events and still maintain our heritage here,'" her daughter, Loreli Wilson said. "Every Filipino family came here with the same idea of having something better for their children."
Besides gardening, Mrs. Perez loved to decorate her house. She would watch house decorating shows every night and would change the look of her house on the spur of the moment.
"She was very artistic," John Paul Perez said. "I can remember that I wake up in the morning and the whole house, all the furniture, would be completely moved around and repainted overnight."
Mrs. Perez is survived by her husband, Eli Perez; two sons, Carl Perez of Columbia and John Paul Perez, and his wife, Angela, of Columbia; her daughter, Loreli Wilson, and her husband, Eric, of Columbia; two grandchildren, Lincoln Wilson and Arden Wilson, both of Columbia; her stepmother, Sixta Navarrez of California; five brothers, Sergio Navarrez Jr., Sergio Navarrez III, Paul Navarrez, Joji Navarrez and Pyke Navarrez, all of California; and three sisters, Carmen Elliot, Jocelyn Patterson and Arlene Faith Stepp, all of California.
Her parents, Sergio Navarrez and Carmen (Estrada) Navarrez, died earlier.
Visitation will be from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at Memorial Funeral Home, 1217 Business Loop 70 W. A funeral Mass will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, 903 Bernadette Drive.
Memorial contributions can be made to Fil-Am Sinulog fund, 2509 Ridgefield Road, Columbia, MO 65203.
Condolences can be posted at memorialfuneralhomeandcemetery.com.