CLEAR LAKE — To the rest of the world, Ritchie Valens is a rock ’n’ roll icon.
To his siblings — older brother Bob Morales of Prunedale, Calif., and younger siblings Connie Lemos of Arnolds Park, Irma Norton, Las Vegas, and Mario Ramirez, Watsonville, Calif., he was family.
When he died in a plane crash on Feb. 3, 1959, after the Winter Dance Party, Valens was just 17.
Still, “he was a father figure,” said Lemos, who was 8 years old when her brother died.
“He took care of us when our mother and father were gone,” she said. “It was up to Ritchie to take care of us from the time he was 15 years old.”
On Friday, his siblings loaned to the Surf Ballroom & Museum personal memorabilia from Ritchie Valens including a wallet their brother carried at the time of his death and a bow tie.
“We don’t have much of Ritchie’s things,” Lemos said. “My mother kept his wallet with her for years. We’ve kept these things put away. We decided it was time to share them.”
Norton, who was 6 when her brother died, remembered how he used to sing to his little sisters. She also remembers that he was gone a lot.
“One Christmas we finally heard Mommy say ‘Ritchie’s here,’ ” she said. “He used to give us the best kisses.”
“He was always singing to us,” Norton said, “and he would make tortillas using our mother’s recipe.”
When Ritchie died, it broke their mother’s heart, Lemos said.
Morales, who was 22 when Ritchie died, had a very difficult time dealing with his brother’s death. It was years before he decided to come to the Surf Ballroom’s annual tribute to Ritchie, Buddy Holly and J.P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson.
“I’m glad I finally did go,” he said. “I love you all very much for keeping his memory alive.”
Ramirez, who was 18 months old when his brother Ritchie died, said he has learned about his brother through stories told to him by others.
Today, Ramirez has his own band, Backyard Blues, that plays “all the original rockin’ blues,” he said.
People who knew their brother have told them that Ritchie never forgot who he was or where he came from, Lemos said.
Yet, because of him, his brothers and sisters have had the opportunity to meet many famous people, she said.
“One of my favorites was Carlos Santana. One of the things he said was that we carry on Ritchie’s spirit. His spirit lives in all of us. You can tell that we are all very different, but yet we are all very close. Our mother taught us to take care of each other and that’s what Ritchie always did for us.”
Lemos, who moved to Arnolds Park in October 2012, said visiting the Surf was something she had to do.