Irene De La Cruz: It’s time to honor those who had a positive impact on others

Have you ever asked yourself what legacy you want to leave behind when you exit this world? How would you like to be remembered?

As people approach their “golden years,” I’m pretty sure this question comes to mind more often than not. And as we approach a Hispanic tradition called Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), we should pay homage to some of these individuals that have made a difference to a community or an individual, whether intentional or not.

I always recall when we first came back to Planada, we started seeing people pass away. People from my past, whom I knew through my parents and met while I was growing up, were starting to disappear.

It was an odd feeling; I don’t think we had ever been to so many funerals. My husband and I have been fortunate to have worked and developed relationships with some of these individuals who gave back to their community simply because they loved their community. They deserve to be acknowledged as often as possible.

One of those is Peter Fluetsch of Fluetsch & Busby Insurance, a longtime Merced business, who died recently. He was a family friend, and we appreciated him for his friendship and candor. We came to see how much he cared about the communities of Merced County through his willingness to work with others, his willingness to reinvest in the community through financial contributions to a variety of projects and causes, and his vision of helping change lives.

Two things stood out for me about Peter. The first was his tremendous advocacy for the Boy Scouts of America, having been an Eagle Scout himself and later being involved in the organization in other capacities to give young people the same opportunities he experienced.

The other project Peter was known for was his role as Santa Claus for many years during the Christmas season. This is something I know he loved doing, and I think I can understand why.

You see, encouraged by Peter’s role as Santa Claus, my husband also played Santa Claus for nine years in Planada for the annual Planada Christmas Community Holiday event. Just seeing the expression on the faces of some of the children as they approached him was an experience I will never forget. But also seeing the reactions of some of the parents was humbling; some were shy, others were grateful, but most were very thankful and their comments showed it. I’m sure it was the same for Peter.

Other individuals in this category of “leaving their mark” that need to be highlighted include Seferina Perez of Le Grand. She was an outstanding community advocate for the rights of farmworkers, and she helped connect them to resources and was influential in increasing voting in Planada. She worked well into her 70s, calling and encouraging friends and neighbors to get out the vote. She is the person people would go to if they needed food, shelter or other basics. She was not afraid to speak up for those who couldn’t.

Linda Lopez, who worked as an aide for former Rep. Dennis Cardoza’s office here in Merced, is greatly missed as a community advocate. She asked those tough questions that others were afraid to, but was always quick to respond with a candid and intelligent answer when she was questioned herself. She went out of her way to help and encourage others to succeed in whatever they were pursuing.

Tom Zarate of Planada, who did so much for the youth in this community, left us earlier this year. At one point he was known as the unofficial mayor of Planada – a well-deserved title. Back in the day he created the Teen Center, where young people could socialize and have fun. He would take kids to professional sporting events and on field trips to give them an opportunity to experience life in other parts of the county and the region. He was also a proud veteran who would display his military attire with the American flag at the annual Planada Community Day event.

Joe Redondo, who passed away at 100 years old, was very involved with the Lions Club of Le Grand. He brought forth the inclusiveness of Hispanics as club members and as contenders for the student scholarship awards offered by the organization.

The rest of us have benefited from the work done by these individuals. They laid the groundwork for us to continue their efforts in making our communities a better place to live. Whether they came from Mexico, Ireland or Germany, they made it possible for others to share in the American dream that we all seek.

If you have the opportunity to see the altars that are created by artists in the community, at school or by people in private homes celebrating Dia de los Muertos, remember that those individuals they are memorializing had a positive impact on them. It’s another way of celebrating the contributions of those people and honoring the way they lived.