Sadly, Mrs. Belardes has lost her battle to the deadly disease.
She passed away at 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Jonathan Volzke reports in The Capistrano Dispatch. She was 62.
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Her roots in town go back about as far as her husband's, Mr. Belardes told me at the time. In fact, they were distant cousins on one side of their respective families, according to the longtime Juaneno leader.
As the Weekly reported at the time, Belardes was embroiled in blood feud with the mission over his Native American heritage in general and burial grounds where countless Juanenos are buried in particular. And yet, his wife worked at Mission San Juan Capistrano for 26 years, most recently as one of the ambassadors who teaches guests and schoolchildren about the cultural resource's rich local history. Mission officials estimated Cha Cha Belardes welcomed 7.8 million visitors during her time there, Voltzke reports.
The mission's pastor, Monsignor Art Holquin, expressed to the Weekly his sympathies for Mrs. Belardes despite the bitter and, as the priest put it, disappointing disagreement with her husband. The day before her death, the mission put in a request for prayers and cards to help lift her spirits.
"This is a huge loss for us, and I beyond words as to what to say," wrote Mechelle Lawrence-Adams, the mission's executive director, in email announcing the lifelong Capistrano resident's passing to mission employees. "May she rest in peace."