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Head Start honors Mary Anna Gonzales
Apple Pie and SalsaMarch 13, 2013 2,534 views Post a comment
My friend and former coworker at Head Start, Mary Anna Gonzales, was given a prestigious award on Nov. 3, 2012, at the annual Central District Reunion of the Mujeres Metodistas Unidas (United Methodist Women) in Dallas. Mary, as she’s known to all, was unable to attend the reunion because of her husband’s failing health. (Fidel is my second cousin and God willing, will turn 95 in April.) The theme of the reunion was Mujeres Impactando Nuestras Vidas (Women Impacting Our Lives). Mary was awarded a certificate that read “Special Mission Recognition.” In the program book for that day, two pages were dedicated to her, listing all the different ways she has served the women’s organization. Others from La Unidad attended the reunion in Dallas and presented the program and the certificate to Mary at a Sunday service at El Mesias with her family present. Mary has been a member of the organization since 1954 and has served as membership coordinator, treasurer, secretary, and president. She has served her church community in many ways.
But her service has not been limited to her church community. Mary has made an impact in the lives of many children. She was there from the beginning of the Head Start program here in Floresville. She remembers well one day in 1965 when three well-dressed men walked into her classroom. She was teaching a class of 5-year-olds sponsored by El Mesias under the title Susana Wesley Kindergarten. Her son, Rudy, and our daughter, Sara, were members of that class, as were many children of El Mesias members. It was Mary’s second year of teaching 5-year-olds. Others that had helped with that project were the late Lucy Garcia and the late Beatrice Toscano.
The men had been observing her and liked what they saw. They explained to her that they were representatives from Washington, D.C., and were looking to open a Head Start center right there at El Mesias. They asked if she would be willing to work for Head Start. She candidly informed them that she had no formal education, not even a GED. They told her that Head Start would pay for her education. She was to continue doing what she was doing but to consider herself a part of Head Start on a volunteer basis until the beginning of the next school year.
The Susana Wesley Kindergarten had its graduation in May 1966. By then, Josephine Garza had joined Mary. She had been recruited by Cipriano Villarreal, chairman of the church council. He was also the father of our present Floresville mayor, Diana Garza. Head Start opened in 1966. Sylvia Barber was hired as a teacher/director, with Mary working under her. In time, Mary went on to get her GED and an associate degree in child development. Mrs. Garza had her own classroom because she already had a teaching certificate, having taught at the Lodi School. They had 41 children between the two classrooms. In time, the enrollment grew so large that Sacred Heart Church opened a classroom of its own in the school basement. According to Mary, the teacher there was Nell Baker and her assistant was Vickie Guerra.
Mrs. Garza took over as teacher/director when Mrs. Barber left about two years later, and held that position until the fall of 1983, when she left Head Start because of a medical condition. She too had long before acquired an associate degree in child development through the Head Start program. She devoted 17 years to children of this community. Ms. Garza, now widowed, said that leaving that job was very difficult for her because she missed being around the children so much. At that time I was fortunate to be promoted to fill that position. It was a tough act to follow. In 1985 I relinquished the position and Mary took over as teacher/director.
In 1989 a new position was created throughout the agency -- that of MSL/director. The MSL (Multi-Service Liaison) carried out the duties of a nurse. That position was already in place, but now they combined it with the duties of the center director. That made it easier for the one that took over Mary’s classroom. Mary considers that change to be the biggest change in the history of Head Start up to then.
For me, one big change came when a new director of the Tri-County Head Start Agency, Irene Waak, came into the program in 1990, and said that it was absurd that the teachers had to do the cleaning in the centers. She set about hiring people to do the cleaning so that the teachers could devote more time to their duties as teachers.
Mary was once unjustly accused of physical abuse of a child. She was exonerated when people who knew her came to her defense. The parent had no evidence to back up the accusations. Shortly after that she received a certificate from a licensing representative from the Texas Department of Human Services, which read in part, “In recognition of meeting the qualifications for Child Care Facility Director.” Mary said her biggest satisfaction is when men and women approach her and tell her they appreciate having had her as their teacher. And there are former parents who tell her how she helped them by encouraging them to further their education. Mrs. Garza said the same about herself, that people still come up to her and ask her if she remembers them. Mary was responsible for bringing the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program to Wilson County after much opposition. Young mothers have much to be thankful to Mary for.
Mary retired in 1992, after having spent more than 20 years in the classroom and six years as center director. Mary, now almost 85, these days devotes her time to her husband, and after raising four boys, is still helping to bring up grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She remains a faithful member of El Mesias United Methodist Church and the Mujeres Metodistas Unidas.
I would say that Mary has made a big impact on many people.
Julia Castro, a retired Head Start teacher and mother of 10, lives in Floresville with her husband, Henry. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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