Pacific Beach resident Ellen Citrano volunteers with caring and compassion
Ellen Citrano is matter of fact about the matter. “I died four times,” Citrano said.
She hesitated then continued, “Maybe it was three.
“It just wasn’t my time.”
Pacific Beach residents should be thankful for that as Citrano is an important and impressive local volunteer supporting the PB community in many lines of service.
Citrano came to Pacific Beach from London in May 1992.
She became a Navy nurse on active duty in January 1977 and served at U.S. Naval bases throughout the world. She continued on reserve duty from July 1986 through July 1997.
She met her husband, Bob, while they were in the Navy stationed in Okinawa, Japan. Their deployments allowed them to travel.
“We still like to travel around and enjoy life,” Citrano said.
Of course, as a nurse, Citrano knows a lot about life and death. Citrano’s death and resuscitation experiences trace back to 2005, when she contracted an inflammatory heart virus that took her health on a downhill trajectory over six weeks. Consequently, she was forced to retire from nursing earlier than she had anticipated.
That is when she greatly increased her time devoted to community volunteerism. Here are some highlights of her activities.
Starting in 1994, Citrano served as an office volunteer for the Pacific Beach Town Council, coinciding when her husband was a council board member. In 2021 she joined the council’s board of directors.
In September 2014, she joined the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club. She is also still active in the Navy Nurse Corps Association of Southern California.
To honor all her efforts, in January 2021 the Pacific Beach Town Council created the Ellen Citrano Caring and Compassion Award.
“They thought I was going to die,” Citrano said. “But I told them I wasn’t going to.”
Citrano’s heart condition worsened drastically over the following months. Ultimately, Citrano needed a heart transplant, which she received in May 2021.
“I feel like I’m 30 again now,” Citrano said.
From her training and background, Citrano has a unique perspective to offer about Pacific Beach, military service and compassionate intervention within PB.
What is Citrano’s take on the challenges and changes confronting PB during the time she has lived here?
“The biggest problem I’ve seen is the cost of living increase,” Citrano said. “There is limited beach property available, and the property values have gone up so much that people who want to live by the beach can’t.”
The second difficulty Citrano mentioned was the status and rise in number of homeless persons in Pacific Beach.
“We earlier saw this with Vietnam veterans who had PTS (post traumatic stress). Now we see homelessness in conjunction with mental illness and drugs, people with no family support,” she said, adding, “Nobody has the answer.”
She and her husband used to feel safe staying out for late nights in PB. She laments that change.
“It’s unfortunate, now we feel unsafe to be out walking by ourselves at night,” she said. “We’re usually at home and in bed by midnight now.”
Citrano said she has a soft spot for San Diego Fire Station No. 21, the PB firehouse. She reconnected with one of the firefighters who responded to revive her, a firefighter nicknamed “Cheesy.” He seemed misty-eyed, Citrano said of their meeting.
“We never know when we answer a call whether you live or die,” Citrano recalled Cheesy telling her.
Citrano said she considers hers a “special relationship” with Station 21, and she and Bob frequently take snacks and pop-up lunches to the firehouse.
Another problem for PB Citrano mentioned was a need for better coordination of bicycles, skateboards and cars in traffic. Citrano often uses her golf cart to traverse PB streets.
“We need to have everybody working better together,” she said. Citrano noted that she has encountered bicyclists and skateboarders running through stop signs as she was entering intersections.
“I told one guy, I could have killed you,” Citrano said, “What are you thinking?”
As far as concerns about local military veterans, Citrano noted that the Chula Vista Veterans Home has put together a wish list for items requested by veterans living at the facility, including lounge wear, socks, books and video games.
Citrano also mentioned the recent sale of the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club facility on Hornblend Street. The PBWC now meets at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5985 on Turquoise Street. Citrano said she views this as a good progression from devoting scarce financial resources into property maintenance for a greater contribution to direct community service efforts. But this has been controversial, she noted. Membership declined from 65 to 42 since the property sale and relocation.
“We used to have showers available there for homeless people,” Citrano said. “We got complaints about that on Nextdoor (the social media site). We let the police know and asked that the officers not drive patrol cars by, because the homeless people would feel threatened.”
Citrano said there is a good partnership with the veterans organizations at the VFW Post.
“We had our first Toys for Tots with Pacific Beach American Legion Auxiliary Unit 552 in December.”
What are Citrano’s favorite venues in PB?
She spoke highly of the great Mexican food and margaritas at Pueblo’s. She enjoys the fish fry at PB Alehouse. And she loves the sushi at Zen 5.
What is something that nobody knows about Citrano that she’s willing to share?
She grew up in Wisconsin. Her father used to flood the family’s backyard during winter to create a rink and teach neighbor kids how to ice skate.
“I was about 8 when he started that,” she said. “But I never learned how to skate well. I always had to use double-bladed ice skates so I wouldn’t fall down. He was the best dad, so caring.”
Like father, like daughter.