It's been a little more than a month since long-time educator Ruth Sendejas passed.
Sendejas, who leaves behind a legacy as a beloved teacher who taught thousands of students within Stanislaus County, died on Dec. 19, 2012 due to health problems.
She was 86.
Sendejas is survived by her husband of 66 years, Reuben Luis Sendejas of Modesto; son Reuben R. Sendejas of Modesto; and, daughter Lynn Sendejas of Carmichael.
"My mother was open and friendly. Few people were strangers to her," said Reuben, 55, of his mother.
Sendejas was born and raised in Turlock and is a graduate of Turlock High School. She went on to complete her Bachelors in Education and teaching credential from California State University San Francisco.
"She was a dedicated professional educator respected by her colleagues and friends and taught for 44 years in regular education and special education as a learning handicapped teacher and a resource specialist teacher," reads her obituary.
Sendejas taught at multiple levels and schools: Hughson elementary, and Modesto City Schools District that included Burbank, Lincoln, and Enslen elementary schools, Beyer High School, and Elliot Continuation High School. She was also a bilingual coordinator for Modesto City Schools, and a migrant education teacher advisor for student teachers. She was also an adjunct instructor at Modesto Junior College and California State University Stanislaus.
When asked what impact his mother's work have on him and his sister, Reuben said: "This was just normal behavior from my standpoint but I would have to say it gave me an appreciation and respect for the needs of others, especially when they have special needs. I learned that some people are 'normal' and some aren't, but we are all people with a soul and emotions deserving of compassion and love."
Reuben Luis and Ruth married right after World War II. Their first child, Beatrice 'Betsy' Elizabeth, was born with disabilities.
"That was the emphasis for my mom's interest in special needs children since she had one of her own. At that point she was already teaching," said Reuben.
Betsy passed away 10 years ago, and Ruth started the Beatrice 'Betsy' Elizabeth Sendejas scholarships fund at CSU Stanislaus for college students who were going to school to become special education teachers.
Because of her dedication for her work, Sendejas met and touched the lives of many leaders in the community.
Maggie Mejía was one of them.
"Ruth was a personal friend. As her daughter with special needs got older, she was struggling with education and transportation and so forth but Ruth knew how to reach out because she spoke English," Mejía said. "But she kept thinking about all the other families out there that had children with special needs that couldn't communicate, so she started advocating for children with special needs. She became very active and it became one of her projects in getting information to the Latino community. All I can say is that I'm going to miss her. A beautiful, beautiful person. Un corazón tremendo (a tremendous heart)."
According to her son Reuben, many of the condolence cards they received described his mother as "a very special lady," "always smiling," "warm caring friend," "wonderful lady," "warm and welcoming," "friendly smile," and "love for her family."
Community leader Dale Bulter also had fond memories of Sendejas.
"I knew and respected Ruth as an exceptional pioneer educator in Stanislaus County, who passionately championed causes that improved our community. Helping children with special needs, promoting disability awareness, and her involvement in Latino organizations. Ruth will be sorely missed," Butler said.
While in retirement she continued her passion and love for teaching, and combined with her devoted faith, prepared and guided children for their first holy communion in the Faith Formation Program at Saint Stanislaus School/Parish.
She was an active member of Delta Kappa Gamma, an educational sorority, and Young Ladies Institute in the St. Stanislaus Catholic Church parish in which she has been a parish member for over 50 years. She was recognized as one of the first top 10 outstanding women in Stanislaus County in 1981. Her affiliations include, Mental Health Developmental Disabilities committee, a bishop appointee to the Diocesan Pastoral Council, worked on the master plan for the handicapped advisory board of Modesto City Schools, California Rural Legal Assistance Advisory Board, Hanot Foundation for the retarded planning committee, Stanislaus Association for the retarded, member of Mujeras Latina, and the Mexican American Political Association.
"What didn't I learn from my mother? But really, a passion for learning and education," Reuben said. "Mom made sure my sister and I had music and dance lessons, so you could say she thought us an appreciation for culture and the arts. Mom always liked musicals. She also taught me how to properly make a bed, so when I went to basic training for the Air Force I had no problems... She passed on her faith and Catholic traditions. She was the center of gravity for our family.
"She loved her family very much, above all else! She awaits the day when we will all be together again."