Splash pad at Merced park named after former longtime Sun-Star photographer

The splash pad park at Stephen Leonard Park in Merced was named after longtime Merced Sun-Star photographer Marci Stenberg during a ceremony on Saturday afternoon.

A large plaque picturing Stenberg was unveiled during the ceremony, which was attended by Stenberg’s family, friends, co-workers and community members.

“Our family is truly grateful that the community my mom so loved and cherished chose to honor her memory in this way,” said Stenberg’s son Eric.

Marci Stenberg worked at the Sun-Star over 20 years before her death in 2012, capturing crime scenes, fire scenes, sporting events, graduations, parades, celebrations and much more in Merced and Mariposa counties.

“Marci Stenberg documented the daily lives of local residents and was often called the “eyes of Merced County,” the plaque reads.

Stenberg was known for her kind nature and ability to connect with everybody she came across.

“Marci knew every journalist in Merced County and the whole region, but she didn’t stop there,” said Merced city spokesperson Mike Conway, who worked with Stenberg at the Sun-Star. “She knew every law enforcement member, she knew every firefighter, she knew every member of the court system. She didn’t just know them on a first-name basis, she knew their spouses, she knew their kids, she knew their dogs, she knew their cats, she knew their fishes, she knew everyone.

“And it wasn’t just because it helped her in her occupation, she knew them because she was a people person. She loved people and that’s why we’re here today because we all loved Marci and she loved us.”

Nick Gomes, representing the office of Rep. Jim Costa, presented a congressional recognition to the Stenberg family.

Former Merced Sun-Star photographer Marci Stenberg was honored with a plaque at the splash pad at Stephen Leonard Park in Merced on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. Shawn Jansen Sjansen@mercedsun-star.com

“I played football for Merced High and Golden Valley when it opened, and it was always something that a player knew or a team knew, that if Marci was talking to you after the game and taking pictures, it was a big deal,” Gomes said. “So that was always something as players, as students, as members of the community, we had the connection to Marci, knowing that it was going to be something that the community could recognize because she made the effort to be there.

“I’m sad that she has passed, but I know that this will be something that will remember her always. That’s something great for the community.”

Stenberg was known to sleep with her police scanner nearby, always ready to grab her cameras and head to a scene. Late at night, early in the morning, Stenberg was always ready.

“I don’t know how many times I would be standing there at a police line or fire line, and there was some big, burly guy who was keeping me on the one side, and Marci would come out of a fire scene or police scene and she would be strapped down with all the cameras and stuff, and she’d have this big grin on her face and she’d say, ‘Hi, Michael,’” Conway said.

“The thing about it, a lot of times it was because she had beat the first-responders to the scene. It was that simple.”

Her friends and co-workers shared stories of Stenberg that showed the dedication she had to the newspaper, community and her friends.

There was the time Stenberg passed out from heat exhaustion while trying to get photos of Michelle Obama at the UC Merced graduation ceremony. Stenberg had to be taken to the hospital via ambulance. There was the time she made an early morning trip to Mariposa to get photos of the Pizza Factory on fire. There was the time she came back to the office late at night with photos after Tao Rivera was arrested in connection with the killing of Merced police officer Stephan Gray.

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Sun-Star photographer Marci Stenberg holds baby Sophia Bowers at the Kiwanis Kiddieland during the Kiwanis Club of Greater Merced annual Easter egg hunt at Applegate Park in Merced on April 7, 2012. Christopher Winterfeldt Merced Sun-Star file

Those who knew her said the plaque is sitting in the right place at the splash pad, because Stenberg loved children.

“I always wondered what it was like to see the world as she did,” Eric Stenberg said. “Her love of nature, her love of people and children. She had a compassion for strangers and a loyalty to her family and friends. What I’ve discovered was through my mom’s photos we all get a chance to experience the world the way she did.

“My mom, she wasn’t about herself. She was about everyone else. I know she would be smiling, but she would be blushing at this. She always wanted to be the one taking pictures. I don’t think she ever thought she’d be honored like this.”