Who is Magical Marcia?
If you ask 67-year-old Marcia Lee Harris yourself, she'll tell you that answer depends on who you ask.
On paper, she's a three-time published author, award-winning magician, retired LBUSD teacher and self-professed professional community volunteer.
She trains guide dogs for the blind — in fact one of her books is about this — is a longtime member of Long Beach Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), has been a member of AAA for more than 70 years (because she joined on her father's card) and is a recipient of the Presidential Fitness Award for coaching her son's basketball team to a winning season decades ago.
But notably around Rancho Los Cerritos, she's Fanny Bixby.
"If you don't see me with a dog or in a costume, people don't recognize who I am," Harris said. "People recognize me more for being Fanny than being Marcia."
Fanny Bixby was the youngest of nine, her parents were Jotham and Margaret Hathaway Bixby, and she lived at the Rancho Los Cerritos until she died in 1930. She was a philanthropist remembered for giving away her money to those in need, as well as Long Beach's first policewoman — and she didn't like to dress too girly.
"I'm wearing a dress but for the time it was more functional than what the ladies would typically wear," Harris said, pointing to a replica Long Beach Police badge pinned to her blouse. "She was a cop after all."
Rancho Los Cerritos provides tours with volunteers dressed as historical figures from the rancho's past. That's where Marcia/Fanny got her start.
Like Fanny, Harris said that she's dedicated her life to helping others in any way she can, and she doesn't think she'll be stopping anytime soon. Between her volunteer time at the Rancho and just about everywhere she can in Long Beach, Harris said she can't say for sure how many volunteer hours she's clocked, but she certain that it's a lot.
"I received by 1,000-hour badge from Rancho Los Cerritos in 1996," she said. "I can't remember if I got another badge since, but I have still been volunteering."
It all started when she was in the third grade when she helped a neighborhood kid with cerebral palsy play baseball by helping him use a stick for a bat (because it was lighter), allowing him to play with the rest of the players, she said. The boy was from her school and the son of the physical education teacher, and she was offered a few cents an hour to spend time with him every day.
"That is my earliest memory about doing community things, but I did it because I didn't think that he should be doing anything but playing with us," she said, adding that she has always felt compelled to help others, largely because she was always thankful to be alive and not dead, she added.
Harris was diagnosed with diabetes in the 1970s, she continued, and her diagnosis was made even harder to deal with because she was allergic to insulin. But that all changed in the ’90s when she was able to use an insulin pump, and that's helped keep her sugar regulated ever since. Today she even has a support dog — a black lab named Felicia — that will notify her if her sugar levels get too high.
"They thought that I wasn't going to make it past 35, but I guess there were other plans for me," she said.
And like Fanny, Harris added that she still volunteers at hospitals and neighborhood events hoping to make the city just a little bit happier one person at a time, as she takes everything in stride, and with plenty of humor, and that makes her even more magical.
As a professional magician registered with the International Brotherhood of Magicians, she still volunteers at the Veterans Memorial Hospital "just to make people laugh," she said. And a few days a month she spends time at senior living spaces to socialize with the tenants or to help prepare meals.
But right now she's recovering from a recent eye surgery, and said that she's forced to take at least some time off to let her body rest.
"For the longest time I was volunteering here and there maybe 60 hours a week," she said. "I love it but the doctor said that I have to take it easy with the eye surgery. And I had to learn to say 'No' to things sometimes, but that's probably okay. I can follow orders sometimes."
You can find Harris still volunteering at the Rancho Los Cerritos, sharing Fanny Bixby's story alongside her service dog and carrying her "basket of stuff." She still plans on guiding guests during events and tours, but maybe on a smaller scale until the doctor says otherwise.
"I've done just about everything there is to do here," she said. "One time when the window washer was out, I washed all the windows because, well, I couldn't leave them dirty.
"But I'm happy doing it because I would rather be where people need help."
More about Marcia Lee Harris, including a list of her three published books, as well and other pieces, can be found at magicalmarcia.com.
And for those who would like to join Harris as a part of the Rancho Los Cerritos's fourth grade field trip program called Adobe Days Revisited, volunteer training begins on Thursday, Sept. 12. Go to rancholoscerritos.org/supportgive-now-hub/volunteer-hub to sign up.
Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.