With so much pain and so much sadness in the landscape, there is one spot on Washington Boulevard, right in front of La Ballona Elementary School, that commemorates so much love. The statue of Leo the Lion is covered with flowers and notes, mourning the loss and celebrating the life of Stella Smith, the school’s librarian of 20 years. Tributes from students, from teachers, parents and administrators all reflected the deep appreciation of her connection with the community, and the sorrow of her loss.
“Stella was, in my view, the heart and soul of the school for all of those years. She did so much for all the students,” noted her friend, Julia Taslimi, who teaches fifth grade at the school, “She had poetry clubs, writing clubs, and Black History clubs. She held these clubs during lunch times, often personally publishing their poetry and writing. She also would have parties for students to celebrate milestones in their school lives, providing the pizza, ice cream, chips. She attended countless birthday parties, quinceñeras, and bar & bat mitzvahs. If she was invited to a celebration – she went. I calculate that in her 20 years at La Ballona, [at least] 2500 students passed through her library, and the vast majority of them were touched by her, and most of them loved her dearly.”
Marti Paez, the head of the PTA, reached out to let the students offer their commemorations at the statue. Flowers, notes, candles – all offered gratitude for Smith’s career and her support for the children.
Smith’s son, Damon Hines, offered, “To fulfill my Mother’s wishes, we will be postponing her memorial until a time emerges that we can all commune in her presence. I am determined to make sure her memorial is done right, and bring her the recognition she so deeply deserves.” He plans for a “Celebration of a Life Well Lived” in late July or early August.
“As a bridge to my Mother’s memorial, I’d like to request that [everyone] please consider making a donation to the following caregivers group: USC Family Caregiver Support Center. My mother found peace and support at the USC Caregiver Support Center, so I’d like to honor her by directing donations to this organization.”
Luis H. Ramirez, the principal at La Ballona, noted that “The memorial around our lion is growing as families continue to contribute to her memory.”
Checks should be made payable to: USC Leonard Davis School