Mary Yonkers, 58, of San Mateo, was killed by a truck driver while riding her bicycle to work on Shoreway Road in Redwood City last week.
That stale description of her death belies the incredible impact she had on a countless number of people during her life. Not even her closest friends had grasped the breadth of that impact. During her daily routine of running, bicycling, and walking with her beloved dog, Moe, Mary got to know so many people that no single friend of hers realized how many other friends there were.
Yonkers was headed to work last Wednesday when the crash happened shortly
before 8 a.m. as a truck driver was turning right onto Holly Street from
Shoreway Road, Redwood City police said. Sgt. Eric Stasiak said their
investigation had concluded that Yonkers tried to pass the truck on the right, while she may also have been turning right, but was struck and killed, based on eyewitness accounts. The driver later
claimed he was unaware he had hit her.
Ken Stecklein, Mary’s roommate for over 20 years, said the response to her death made him realize how little he really knew about her in some ways. After 25 years, Stecklein said, "you’d think you know everything about a person. I found I knew very little about her. She’d come home and tell me about all these people, but it’s amazing. Now, I walk on the streets and they see Moe, and the response is unbelievable. People are crying, and they’re telling me these stories about her. One lady said she was ‘an angel on earth.’"
Stecklein said about 20 people have stopped by in the past week to express condolences and share stories about Mary, but the number of people who ask about her when he’s out walking Moe on the streets and on the extensive trails she frequented positively dwarfs that.
"I’ve been walking him three times a day and half-hour walks have been turning into two and three hours because I’m constantly running into people that are just now hearing about it," said Stecklein. "I’m not sure they even knew her last name, just that she was the lady that was always out there, always had time to stop and talk, very friendly."
"I passed out flyers Wednesday. Anybody with a dog, I’d say, ‘excuse me, but this lady…’ Then they would start crying, they have stories to tell me. I just cannot believe the reaction I’m getting."
Just a minute into our phone conversation, the proof of that response came in the form of an interruption. A friend of Mary’s was at the door.
There was further proof in the comments to the first two reports of the crash on Streetsblog. Comments started pouring in from neighbors she’d babysat pets for, friends from the biking and walking trails, a childhood friend, her roommate, and her sister-in-law, Cindy Yonkers.
A friend, Karen, wrote:
Her name was Mary. She rode her bike to work everyday for the last 15 years unless it was pouring down rain like it did yesterday. It’s too bad it didn’t rain today. What Mary did everyday when she came to work was care for people, she was one of the most naturally compassionate people I’ve ever known. She also loved to listen to people and their concerns, she truly cared about them … We drove out to the intersection today and tried to make sense of it. From the looks of that intersection I can’t see how she survived the last 15 years. It is my understanding that Mary feared this intersection, I can see why.
Shelley, a friend from the Foster City bike path, wrote:
I was stunned to read today that Mary is gone. I have seen Mary running and biking on the Foster City bike path for more than 10 years, most recently with her adorable dog, Moe. She always gave me a cheerful greeting and often we spent a few minutes chatting. My heart goes out to those who were close to her, her coworkers and roommate … I am sure that my husband, my running partner and I are just a few of many bikepath "friends" who would love to pay our respects. We will miss Mary.
Another friend from the bike paths wrote, "From what we knew, Mary lived a life of kindness and compassion … We knew her as ‘mom’ to an energetic toddler dog named Moe, who did not always appreciate Mary’s early morning running routine. Moe lost his best friend yesterday."
Mary worked in San Carlos Monday through Thursday as a dental assistant, biking to work most days. On the weekend, said Stecklein, her routine involved a nearly mind-boggling feat of stamina. "She’d sleep in until six, she would take Moe for a six-mile run, she’d come back, she’d work out with the weights, hour and a half, hop on her bicycle, ride 40 miles, 20 miles each way, come back, take a shower, put her backpack on, and walk to Safeway with about 50 pounds of food coming back, and a couple of grocery bags."
"Then she’d take Moe, and they’d go for a ten-mile walk, he’s getting tired by now, so she’d bring him back and she’d take off again, come back about five," said Stecklein. After dinner, she’d head back out for another walk with Moe.
Mary grew up in Cicero, IL, a suburb of Chicago. After living in San Francisco’s West Portal neighborhood briefly, she moved to San Mateo, and quickly became a fixture of the trails, the sidewalks, and the neighborhood. She took care of people’s pets, even donating money to an elderly woman she knew to help her feed her rescued cats. With Stecklein’s help, she rescued her own dog, Moe, who had been abused. Countless people she met on the trail confided in her. When she was younger, Stecklein said they rode their bicycles to Yosemite three times. "She was a jock," he said of her with awe.
Tomorrow, friends will have a chance to come together and share stories at a Celebration of Life for Mary. Her running friends, her walking friends, her pet friends, her grocery store friends, her work friends are welcomed to gather at the Laguna Vista Clubhouse at 3324 Kimberly Way in San Mateo from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. Friends can bring an appetizer to share for a potluck table. In lieu of flowers, Stecklein requests that people donate to the Peninsula Humane Society/SPCA in Mary’s name.