- Terelle Jerricks
By Gretchen Williams, Contributing Writer
Editor’s Note: In correction of the print edition of this story, Peter Ljubenkov is John Lubenkov’s nephew.
Hurricane Gulch was gusting 20 knots at Cabrillo Beach. I headed up the hill, using the stairs at the foot of 39th Street to hoof it to Pacific Avenue. I did not know that I was about to encounter another hurricane in human form. It was the summer of 1968, and I was 13–a volunteer at Cabrillo Beach Museum.
John Ljubenkov was a one-man picket line in front of tiny Point Fermin Market, representing Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union demonstrating against scab table grapes and lettuce. John was studying biology and zoology at Long Beach State but his natural exuberance and insatiable curiosity made classes his own forum for discussion, as he had absorbed the information long before. He was interested in everything, including politics and was known throughout his lifetime for his outspoken opinions. He supported the farm workers drive to organize the UFW and wanted his neighbors to support them as well. Point Fermin was a small but vital part of the grape strike effort.
John was the firstborn son of Peter from Kastel Gomilica, and Lucille from Brac in what would become Croatia. Peter was actually born in Chicago, but returned to Croatia as a small boy, coming back to the U.S. in the 1930s. Peter came to San Pedro after World War II. He worked initially as a commercial fisherman but was ultimately hired on as a rigger at Todd Shipyard in 1959. His powerful opinions on labor and politics helped to shape his son’s consciousness about the world.
John was a naturalist, a biologist and a scientist who was always of the symbiotic relationships between communities in the natural world. But he was also a true aficionado of classical music, and particularly baroque music. He maintained a collection of vinyl recordings long past the time that current electronic alternatives came along. He enjoyed the “textured” sound of vinyl.
It was tough to attend concerts with John. His physical enthusiasm for the music would cause the entire section of seats to sway as he felt the music along with the conductor. Early mornings in Point Fermin flowed with his musical selections, turned up to maximum volume. His little apartment over the garages moved with the orchestra as he wielded his baton and directed Saint Martin in the Fields. No rock and roll fan could equal the affection John felt for his music.
Ljubenkov was a marine taxonomist, analyzing ocean water and determining what was living within it. His microscope was his tool and his weapon. He was a whistleblower in the 1980s via Random Lengths News, exposing toxic contamination of local waters with PCBs and DDT. His specialty was marine invertebrates. In work with mary megan Daly off the coast of California, John discovered and named eight new species of ewardsii sea anemones, including one named “Edwardsia Olguini” in honor of John Olguin.
John was strong in his views, especially on politics and the environment. He was acutely aware of the erosion of rights in the U.S. and the deterioration of education. Respect for nature and the environment was the key to his worldview, with a foundation of the science that was his passion.
John is survived by his loving wife julie Schneider Ljubenkov, brother George Ljubenkov and his wife Glen, nice Tiffany and family, nephew Peter and sister Evon Ljubenkov. A memorial gathering for John will be held on Saturday, June 22 at 5:30 p.m. at the John Olguin Auditorium of the Cabrillo Marine Museum.