By Juan Reyes
Catherine Milias Dabo turned 100 years old during the COVID-19 crisis, but the pandemic didn’t stop her from celebrating in style.
On April 9, Dabo’s birthday, a parade of cars filled with friends and local residents passed by her home on Fifth Street, honking their horns and wishing a Happy Birthday to one of Hollister’s longtime residents.
“Never in my life could I have imagined any of this,” Dabo said.
Dabo planned out her outfit with the matching hat, down to the white gloves and shoes.
She sat on a wooden chair but in that moment it seemed more like a throne as she waved at all her admirers that passed by.
“It’s been so fun to see her excited about something,” said Mitch Dabo III, who made the drive from Palmdale to celebrate his grandma’s birthday even if it was from across the street.
“All of the parties that we had planned were cancelled and we didn’t know what to do,” Mitch said.
Catherine Mifsud Heller said they were hoping to have a large party to celebrate her grandma’s birthday. But they had to put those plans on hold out of concern for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mifsud Heller’s mom, Pauline Dabo Mifsud, came up with the idea of having the parade for Baba.
Mifsud Heller’s brother, Bill Mifsud, along with fellow cousins Jenna and Jonelle Cruz also teamed up to help create the celebration.
“I said alright, we’re a small enough town that I think we might be able to garner some support from the community if we put the word out,” Mifsud Heller said.
Mifsud Heller, 40, said there were people in the parade who had no affiliation with the family but wanted to support something good.
“I think that’s where our spirit is at right now,” she said. “What we really need to be doing right now is celebrating what is good.”
Dabo has four children starting with Pauline, who was born in 1943, followed by Jane Dabo Cruz, Mitchell Dabo and Ann Marie Dabo.
Dabo has 11 grandchildren–seven who were present on Thursday–and 27 great-grandchildren. Fifteen of her great-grandchildren were present for her birthday.
Dabo was born on April, 9 1920 in Konavle, Croatia. She immigrated to the U.S. in October 1938 where she first resided in Gilroy.
She married Mitchell Dabo of Stravča, Croatia about a year later in August 1939. They both moved to Alaska, where Mitchell had a restaurant and worked as the head chef.
They moved back to Hollister in 1942 and purchased ranch land that they lived on. Shortly after, they purchased a hotel and restaurant.
The Dabo Hotel sat on Sixth and San Benito Street in downtown Hollister. Inside was the Rainbow Café restaurant and a bar called the Towne Club was connected to the building.
“Most people would just say they were headed to Dabo’s for dinner,” Mifsud Heller said.
The Dabos ran the property as Mitchell was the head chef and Catherine split her time between the hotel and restaurant.
In 1961, the hotel and restaurant were destroyed in an earthquake. Today, Wells Fargo bank sits on the same land that is still owned by Dabo.
Both entrepreneurs then ran Dabo Liquors and other properties in Hollister until Mitchell died in 1972.
At 51 years old, Catherine assumed responsibility for the properties and became a savvy businesswoman who in return has given back to her community, including Sacred Heart Catholic Church and Sacred Heart Parish School.
“She’s a staple in the community,” Mitch said.
Mitch, 43, made the trip with his family, which included five of the great grandchildren.
“I want my kids to remember this,” Mitch said. “I love the legacy that my grandmother has made and all my kids get to be a part of it. It’s fantastic, even with this crazy time.”