ForeverMissed
The Story
Maria Elena Hernandez of La Center passed away December 7, 2020 at 74 in Community Home Health and Hospice, Vancouver, WA, after a long illness. She was born January 29, 1946, in Puebla, Mexico, to Francisco Tinoco and Guadalupe Gonzalez Tinoco. She graduated from Fremont High School in 1965. Later, she attended Barclay Business College earning a diploma in “Legal Secretary”. This proved to be a wise career move that benefited her immensely when the family relocated to the Northwest in the early 90s.She was known by her family and friends as “Helen.” Her grandchildren called her “Gma,” an endearment Helen was especially fond of. When her grandchildren were toddlers, she would often hold them, have them caress her face with their small hands, and repeat, “special Grama.” To this day it’s a phrase they hold dearly and remember lovingly.

Helen will be greatly missed for her sense of humor and concern for others. She was very kind, thoughtful, and compassionate. Her passion was cooking. Every holiday season she put her skills to work, not only cooking elaborate meals for the family but for others, too. Annually, she volunteered at St. Mary’s Church during the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, cooking up a Mexican breakfast for the parishioners- with volunteer help from her family, grandchildren, and church patrons.

Each Christmas it was her household tradition to make tamales. Everyone, including the four grandchildren, participated. It being a typical cold and wet Northwest winter, it was quite common for a grandchild or two to have the sniffles, so Gma kept a watchful eye that no unsightly ingredients went into the “masa”! This tamale tradition continues to this very day with her granddaughter Breanna making tamales enlisting, of course, her own 4 children and like Gma eyeing those errant sniffles as well!

Gma’s giving nature also extended to the community. She stepped forward to cook at one of the local homeless shelters in Hazel Dell with her husband and grandchildren doing all the prep work. Once again she cooked up a righteous meal that we were all eager to devour. But she forbade us to eat one morsel of it, admonishing that this was for the homeless and we could do without. We were upset! After our shift work, we would end up at a drive-through ordering burgers. But it was not the same!

It was not just cooking that Gma had a passion for. She loved to dance and during her adolescence she competed at VFW dance halls with her brother Armando. They won several dance competitions, excelling in doing their energetic Salsa. This was a dance routine that she later taught her husband Jay whom she said had two left feet. It was a challenging accomplishment! She definitely loved her “oldies but goodies” music and annually on New Year’s Eve, she would celebrate in festive style, adorning the kitchen with banners, balloons and a table cloth with a New Year’s theme. She had the grandchildren dance the night away playing her oldies. A favorite song for the youngest grandchild, Brennan, was “Blue Moon”. He would get Gma’s kitchen whisk, pretend it was a microphone, and enjoy his sing along. We all found it amusing and partied to our hearts content with dance and song.

She was preceded in death by her parents, son Xavier Padilla, and brothers Armando, Tony and Efren Tinoco. She is survived by her husband Jay of 42 years, son Richard (Cheryl) Padilla Jr.; siblings Frank (Corrine) Tinoco; Aida Hattori; and Beatrice (Alfonso) Saldana; daughter-in-law Tanya Padilla, brother-in-law, Mauricio “Mo” (Nancy) Hernandez; brother-in-law Roberto (Naty) Chevez; sister-in-law Cecilia (Jim) Monachello; grandchildren Breanna (Brandon) Hoekstra; Brandon (Alisha) Padilla; Bradley (Naomi Concho) Padilla; Brennan (Taylor Schell) Padilla and great-grandchildren: Kaylee, Kimber, Kinley, Christopher, Sawyer, Logan, Andrew, Alexander, Ava, Adrian, Scarlett, and Shelby. There are also many nephews and nieces.

Helen was a Judicial Assistant at Clark County, WA District Court when she retired.


All who were fortunate to know Helen admired her caring feelings. Her memory will forever be with us. May she be in God’s goodness and rest in peace free from all suffering.

In lieu of flowers, the family encourages donations to Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Due to Covid restrictions, private memorial services will be held March 19, 2021 at St. Mary’s Church, Ridgefield, WA.






Posted by Cecilia Monachello on April 2, 2021
Dear bro,
I will always remember Helen, her sense of humor, her laugh, and most of all her kindness. I'm so glad she was my sister-in-law and sister in my heart. I remember the times my kids and I went to visit you all in Washington and the sight seeing at the Old Saw Mill among other attractions. It was always a lot of fun being with you, Helen and the grandkids. I'm glad for the times we had together, (too few!) but very precious. We always had a lot of laughter especially when you recounted your 4th of July experience being chased by fireworks! Helen and I laughed so hard when you told me your story. Good memories to keep in my heart and that still bring a smile to my face. :)
Posted by Bradley Padilla on March 17, 2021
G-ma, where do I start? I'm going to miss you beyond words! You always made sure we felt your love unconditionally. The amount of lessons and advice you gave me are something I could never repay and I thank you for that. I love you grama and I think about you everyday. Love your Babar.q
Posted by Nancy Hernandez on March 17, 2021
A beautiful, loving tribute to a beautiful person both inside and outside. A special bond starting with a "drink" shows miracles do come in surprising ways. The devotion and love of family shines in this tribute to Helen. I bet she is dancing again!
Posted by Breanna Hoekstra on March 13, 2021
The drink is one of my favorite stories. It should be a Nicholas Sparks book and then a movie. It has been my favorite story since I can remember and I used to always make you both tell it to me. Grama’s funny side comments and you told always made me laugh.

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Recent Tributes
Posted by Cecilia Monachello on April 2, 2021
Dear bro,
I will always remember Helen, her sense of humor, her laugh, and most of all her kindness. I'm so glad she was my sister-in-law and sister in my heart. I remember the times my kids and I went to visit you all in Washington and the sight seeing at the Old Saw Mill among other attractions. It was always a lot of fun being with you, Helen and the grandkids. I'm glad for the times we had together, (too few!) but very precious. We always had a lot of laughter especially when you recounted your 4th of July experience being chased by fireworks! Helen and I laughed so hard when you told me your story. Good memories to keep in my heart and that still bring a smile to my face. :)
Posted by Bradley Padilla on March 17, 2021
G-ma, where do I start? I'm going to miss you beyond words! You always made sure we felt your love unconditionally. The amount of lessons and advice you gave me are something I could never repay and I thank you for that. I love you grama and I think about you everyday. Love your Babar.q
Posted by Nancy Hernandez on March 17, 2021
A beautiful, loving tribute to a beautiful person both inside and outside. A special bond starting with a "drink" shows miracles do come in surprising ways. The devotion and love of family shines in this tribute to Helen. I bet she is dancing again!
her Life

The Drink

We met on a Saturday night in May 1976 about a week after I graduated from college. I was still in a post-graduation festive mood. I had decided to go out with several friends to celebrate. The four of us ended up at a nightclub called the "Pasta House." The place was already filling up and the music was blaring.

I asked my friends to do me a favor and buy me a drink as I had to use the restroom. When I rejoined them, I asked if they got my drink. One of them pointed to a cocktail on a small unoccupied table in front of us. I took it and started sipping as I looked out at the dancers on the dance floor.

I noticed one young blond gal looking at me oddly. I did not know what to make of it. But when the music stopped she headed straight for me. My friends were chatting behind me in low monotones but I wasn't paying attention. I was curious as to why this gal was heading my way. She reached me and said crossly, "Why are you drinking my drink?" I was stunned. I turned to look at my friends. They were grinning from ear to ear. I had been hoodwinked!

I felt my face turn red. Immediately, I apologized. I told her I had been tricked into believing her drink was mine. I explained I had gone to the restroom after asking my friends to buy me a drink. On my return, I thought the cocktail they pointed to was the one they bought for me. She looked towards my friends and saw that by now they were giggling. Before she could say anything more, I said I would buy her a new drink. I took off to the bar and ordered a 7-7, which was what she had been drinking.

I came back and felt so foolish. I handed her the drink, apologized again, and muttered a few choice words for “the group of idiots” I had come with. She smiled and said it was okay, adding that at least she got a new drink. She recognized my so-called friends had pranked me!

So that is how I met Helen, all thanks to my friends’ practical joke and my mistake drinking a cocktail I thought was mine! Once we officially introduced ourselves, Helen and I danced the rest of the night. We c
hatted away and got to know each other.

When the night was over at 2am, we walked out holding hands. My dateless friends looked on in astonishment. I was now the one grinning from ear to ear. I walked Helen to her car. I wasn't sure if she had come with a friend or not as I never saw a girl come by to chat with her while we were in the club. It didn't matter. We stood by her car and continued to talk.

The night air started to chill so I asked if we could get in the car, either hers or mine. She wanted to see my car, which was a Camaro, one of the classic-looking sports cars with a black vinyl top and cream exterior.  I took her to my Camaro and we sat inside for several hours talking about her family, her two young boys, her mom and siblings. She was working three jobs. During the day, Helen had her regular 40 hour job. In the evenings she worked as a concession stand cashier at the local drive in theatre. On weekends she worked at a bar serving drinks. She soon realized it was way too much, even having to rely on her mom to take care of her kids. To free up her time she quit the weekend bartending job. After working so many hours a week, she finally had a free weekend to unwind and go dancing that night we met.

And so that's how it went with both of us sharing our life stories. By then it was 5am. I asked if she wanted to have breakfast. She accepted my offer and we headed to a local IHOP. I still remember what we each had: scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, a side order of pancakes, a small glass of OJ and plenty of coffee. When we were done we headed down the boulevard back to the club and her parked car.

Driving back I heard church bells ringing. I looked to my left and noticed several people walking up the steps to a huge church. I slowed down, turned and looked at Helen, and asked, "Do you want to go to Church service?" She said “Yes.” And as I parked in the church lot, I told her it was a Catholic Mass. She said that was okay since she was Catholic. So we sat there for Mass, went to Communion, and afterwards, I drove her back to the Pasta House where her car sat all by its lonesome self. I walked her to her car and thanked her for a magical night.

I then realized I did not have her phone number! I asked if I could call and take her out on a date. She said “Yes.” She wrote down both her number and address.  I asked if we could  have our first date later that afternoon --- adding, after we both got some sleep!  She smiled and chuckled and said “Sure.” So that is my story on how one mistaken drink changed both our lives for the better.


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