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By Karen Pearlman | Source |

Buddy Rabaya

SANTEE — Senior citizens living in mobile home parks in Santee have lost their most passionate supporter, and the city of Santee is going through a collective mourning with the passing of one of its most involved citizens, Buddy Rabaya.

Rabaya, a Santee resident since 2007 who last year was named the Santee Chamber of Commerce’s “2018 Citizen of the Year,” died on April 28 from complications related to a hemorrhagic stroke. He was 58.

He leaves behind his husband, John Hossick, 49, of Santee, and a son, Buddy Shane Rabaya, 39, of Las Vegas, from a previous marriage, as well as his sister, Shelly Tampon of Vista.

Hossick said that Rabaya had a stroke on March 25, and was put on a ventilator shortly thereafter. He said Rabaya’s kidneys were donated to two individuals.

Born on May 14, 1961, Buddy Al Rabaya was a Brawley native who moved to Oceanside with his family when he was a toddler, graduating from El Camino High School in 1979.

Tampon said her older brother was a star tennis player and on the speech team at El Camino, and that he went on to study various subjects at Palomar College when he was in his 30s. Rabaya eventually became executive vice president of the community college’s Associated Student Government in the late 1990s.

That background at Palomar helped him become the leader in 2015 of the Santee Mobilehome Owners Action Committee, a group that lobbies for residents’ rights, including rent control.

He and Hossick have been instrumental in bringing a variety of programs to youths, families and seniors through SMOAC.

At Rabaya’s urging, the group has organized backpack giveaways for East County schoolchildren, brought holiday joy and companionship with a “SMOAC Elves Adopt-a-Senior” program, held Mother’s Day Luncheons, gave away Easter baskets to needy families, and worked with several grocery stores and other volunteer groups to bring a food pantry to Meadowbrook, one of the city’s mobile home communities.

Rabaya was also the regional manager for the Golden State Manufactured Home Owners League, a statewide group that sponsors legislation related to mobile home parks.

Judy Baxter, a senior living at Meadowbrook, said “Buddy was one of those folks that the minute you met him, you liked him. He had a zest for life and love for people and his biggest desire was to help seniors.”

Baxter said Rabaya endeared himself so easily just with his smile and “what can I do for you” attitude.

A problem-solver, Rabaya became “a sounding board for everything from ‘she looked at me wrong’ to ‘I can’t make my car payment,’” Baxter said.

Rabaya was a familiar face on social media, wishing his friends and families a good day with a positive affirmation in the early hours of each morning on Facebook, and giving his followers virtual “big Buddy bear hugs” every night.

Santee Chamber of Commerce CEO Kristen Dare said Rabaya’s “power of contagious love” and unique ability to put programs in place that benefited nearly every member of the community needs to be acknowledged, and that she hoped people would continue along his path — to “Be Like Buddy.”

“He wanted people to give where they can, when they can, to make us all stronger, as we are all obviously better together,” Dare said.

A regular at City Council meetings, Rabaya didn’t speak often publicly, but when he did, the 6-foot-1 “gentle giant,” Dare called him, made sure the elected officials knew they were appreciated. At the same time, Rabaya also held them accountable on behalf of some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

“If you live in Santee, your life has been touched directly or indirectly by Buddy,” City Councilwoman Laura Koval said. “Buddy’s passion, some might say obsession, was to help seniors. Whether it be to feed those with food insecurities, find resources for medical or financial issues, or just simply lend an ear and give a hug, Buddy was there. Buddy and John were the dynamic duo, the ‘Git-R-Done’ dream team in our community. I will miss his laugh and his smile.”

Santee City Councilman Rob McNelis officiated the marriage of Rabaya to Hossick in 2015. The pair had been together since 1999 and lived in a the Town & Country Mobile Lodge Mobile Home Park in Santee since 2007.

“Buddy was one of the few people who did what he said he would do,” McNelis said. “Many people talk to me with grandiose ideas; very few people follow through. Buddy always followed through, with a servant’s heart. He is one of those people that has the heart of an elephant, an eternally giving person you don’t come across often.

“It is often when you lose someone like that you realize how much you had in them and how much you will miss them. It is easy to see how big of a loss this is for the community as a whole.”

A friend of Rabaya’s since 2014, Lynda Marrokal, whose family is one of the city’s pioneers, said his passing “feels like a nightmare.”

“We’re all in The Twilight Zone,” Marrokal said. “I can’t believe we lost Buddy. I’m just so heartbroken. He always amazed me on how many lives he touched and wanted nothing in return. He did it all from his heart because he truly cared for other human beings.”

Rabaya’s cremated remains will be buried at Eternal Hills Mortuary in Oceanside, where his parents, Alfonso Rabaya and Dolores Stockert Rabaya, are buried.

Tampon said a celebration of Rabaya’s life will be held at a later date, and said in lieu of flowers, donations could be made to SMOAC to help seniors in need.

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