Maria Esper Obituary (2021) – Las Cruces, NM


Maria Elsa Esper, 90, of Las Cruces, New Mexico, formerly Michigan City, Indiana, passed away peacefully at her home in Las Cruces on Monday, November 8, 2021 at 8:05 a.m.

The Christian funeral will be held on Saturday, December 4, 2021 at 10 a.m. at Queen of All Saints Catholic Church, 606 S. Woodland Ave., Michigan City, Indiana. The burial takes place in Greenwood Cemetery. The tour is from 4pm to 8pm on Friday, December 3rd; and 8:30 am to 9:30 am Saturday at Ott / Haverstock Funeral Chapel, 418 Washington St., Michigan City, Indiana.

She was born on December 22, 1930 in El Paso, Texas, to the late Luis and Martha Leutgardita (Pedragon) Rosales. She married Louis Joseph Esper on November 9, 1952 in El Paso, Texas, who preceded her in death on March 11, 2018.

Maria Elsa has two surviving daughters, Dr. Rossanna (Dr. George) Massey of Las Cruces, New Mexico and Diana (Harrel) Davis of Santa Fe, New Mexico; and surviving son Michael Esper of Michigan City, Indiana. Her son Louis Michael Esper also preceded her in death on March 29, 1981.

She has five grandchildren, Erika (Jeff) Wright from Petaluma, California, Anastasia (Amza) Moglan from Los Angeles, California, Sophia Esper from Michigan City, Indiana, Arianna Esper from Chicago, Illinois, and Austin (Katie) Massey from Sheridan. Oregon; two great-grandchildren, Starla Rose Wright and Coco Rosales Wright of Petaluma, California; four sisters, Martha Gonzales from El Paso, Texas, Elma (Gustavo) Rodriguez from El Paso, Texas, Nira Garcia from El Paso, Texas, and Diana (Raymond) Arias from El Paso, Texas; and four brothers, Jaime (Alicia) Rosales from El Paso, Texas, Jose A. Rosales from El Paso, Texas, Armando (Norma) Rosales from El Paso, Texas, and Bobby (Kathy) Rosales from El Paso, Texas. She was also preceded by her eldest brother, Luis A. Rosales Jr., in death.

Maria Elsa was a graduate of El Paso High School. She was a gifted musician who learned to play the piano “by ear” for her father at the age of 4. As a young adult she worked as a Spanish translator for a law firm handling the Mexican “quickie” divorces in Juarez. Mexico, for the most famous actors in the Hollywood film industry in the 1950s, including Elizabeth Taylor, Shelly Winters and Edward Everett Horton.

In 1952 she married Louis Esper and moved to Michigan City, Indiana, where she eventually became the leading attorney for the Mexican people of Michigan City, earning the title of Doña Elsa.

On November 4th, 1982, her wish for the light of love and compassion to burn in every home in the city became a reality. She received a standing ovation when she was named “Humanitarian of the Year” for her role as an important communication bridge and civil rights activist between Spanish-speaking residents and the general public.

She was called in at any time of the day or night to translate for Hispanics, including medical emergencies, police battles, legal conferences, business conferences, and in civil courts.

She fought for better working conditions for the Mexican people. With the help of her private group of loyal attorneys who made their time available, she personally engaged with restaurant owners and other local businesses to advocate the ethical treatment of their Mexican employees.

Out of love, she volunteered to teach English to Spanish speakers at Michigan City Area Schools Adult Basic Education School.

As a member of the Sacred Heart Church, she arranged the first-ever Catholic mass in Michigan City in 1981, which was held entirely in Spanish for Christmas. With the help of Father Dennis Blaney of Sacred Heart Church, she was responsible for opening doors for Hispanic children of Michigan City to receive religious instruction through catechism, including baptisms, first communion, and confirmation. Doña Elsa was of course her esteemed religion teacher.

As a founding member of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Maria Elsa has been named LULAC’s Woman of the Year at both local and state levels and has served the League in official state positions.

She was also a member of the Michigan City Human Rights Commission; served as assistant director of civil defense for Michigan City; and was nominated for a Presidential Citation for her community service.

Maria Elsa Esper was solely responsible for bringing Our Holy Virgin of Guadalupe to Michigan City first. Thanks to Maria Elsa, the devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe has gained momentum, bringing more Hispanic Americans together every year with a special mass and festival in her honor.

The gap left by such a mighty force of nature as Maria Elsa Esper can never be closed. May God bless a life well lived and give our humble servant of the people a well-deserved eternal rest.

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Published by La Porte County Herald-Dispatch on November 29, 2021.

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