Education advocate Muriel Owen dies at 95

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Muriel Olita Palmer Owen was a fixture in Sonoma Valley schools for decades, honoring local youth for their citizenship and essay writing skills. She passed away on Jan. 3 at the age of 95.

According to her family, Owen suffered a devastating stroke the last week of December.

Owen was born in Los Angeles and she grew up in Eagle Rock, a suburb northwest of the city. She graduated in 1940 from Eagle Rock High, and in 1942 she met a young flight student, Earl Owen, who was recuperating from injuries incurred at Pearl Harbor.

They married after two years of dating and settled in Kentucky in 1943. He served on more tours in the Air Force and earned a Purple Heart before returning home in late 1945.

The Owen family moved to Sonoma in 1961 and she lived in El Verano until shortly before her death. All five of her children graduated from Sonoma Valley High School.

“She was one tough lady,” said her son, Cliff Owen. “Toward the end of her life, we talked to her about moving closer to one of us and she said that there was no way she was leaving Sonoma. She moved around a lot with my dad and always said that she never felt truly at home until she moved to Sonoma.”

She sang in several local churches and was active in the Methodist community.

Owen was best known around town for her involvement with the Daughters of the American Revolution, a nonprofit which promotes historic preservation, education and patriotism in communities across the nation. She was passionate about history and each year presented DAR’s annual awards for best topical essay to hundreds of students in several local school systems. The American History Essay Contest was established to encourage young people to think creatively about the nation’s history and learn about history in a new light. According to her sons, her work with DAR and local students was perhaps her proudest accomplishment in a very full life.

“She lived to give out those awards,” Cliff said. “As she got older, we suggested that she stop driving all over to the schools but she loved it and said, ‘Who’s going to do it if I don’t?!’”

Altimira Middle School principal Will Deeths said that Muriel Owen had been been a fixture at promotion ceremonies in the Sonoma Valley for as long as anyone could remember.

“She, as a representative of the Daughters of the American Revolution, has bestowed awards on literally hundreds of students in our District,” he said. “She was a treasure in our Valley.”

In 2017, the Sonoma Valley Unified School District established the Muriel Owen Citizenship Award at each of its schools in her honor.

Owen was also very active in Eastern Star, a branch of the masons open to women. The Order is based on teachings from the Bible, but is open to people of all religious beliefs. She was also active in the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls (IORG), a Masonic youth service organization which teaches leadership training through community service projects.

“We loved Mrs. Owen,” said Sonoma Valley High School parent Lynn Curry. “She always had helpful advice about everything from how to apply to college to grade improvement, and of course her longtime presentation of the DAR awards. She was a special mentor.”

Owen is survived by three sons, Clifford, Paul and John, and a daughter Margaret, and grandsons Peter and Patrick and great-grandchildren Drake, Nathan and Madelynn. Her son Ken passed away from a rare genetic disease in 2005 at the age of 54.

Services in her honor will be held at Duggan’s Mission Chapel on West Napa Street in Sonoma at 10 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 22. Her burial will be private.

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