Leading the way

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Guadalupe Verdugo Huerta

Guadalupe1A dedication to God guided Guadalupe Verdugo Huerta on a life-long journey of service to others. Friends and countless people whose lives she touched speak of her with the utmost love and admiration. Even after she had a stroke and was painfully disabled, she continued to light the way to accomplish great things with a charming sense of humor. Her favorite saying illustrates the flame that shined brightly throughout her life: “Lo que llamo vida es ayudar a otros” (What I call living is helping others).

In the late 1800s, the Verdugo family settled in what is now Glendale, Arizona. Guadalupe’s grandparents were Marta and Eduardo Verdugo and her parents were Loreto and Tomasa Verdugo. Loreto was a cowboy for Sam Hill and the Babbitts, so, when Guadalupe was four years old, the family moved closer to the ranches in the Prescott area. Tomasa raised four children, was a midwife and ran a lunch café from her living room. Around 1938, when Loreto died, she started a boarding house. Guadalupe left the seventh grade at Lincoln Elementary School to go to work with the rest of her siblings. While life was a struggle, Marta made certain her children helped others less fortunate. The strong ethic of helping others motivated Guadalupe throughout her life.

Guadalupe met her husband, Jose Huerta, at a dance. Their only child, Marta, said he was such a good dancer that her mother fell in love and they married around 1937.

When he and other men went off to war, jobs for women opened up. As did many women at that time, Guadalupe saw an opportunity to earn a good wage at Luke Air Force Base. She left Marta with her mother in their house in Prescott, staying at what was still a Verdugo family farm in Peoria. At Luke, she repaired airplane fuselages. The hours were long, but she always took extra shifts to send more money home. Guadalupe was proud of the coveted wings that she was awarded for exemplary work.

Long before Facebook and Twitter, Guadalupe was the social networker who linked neighbors to jobs, children to education, the hungry to food and the needy to assistance. One typical day in her home, when the phone was busy with job-seekers talking to employers and presents were being wrapped for neighborhood children and food prepared for a church function, a visitor seriously asked if she were part of St. Vincent de Paul. She laughed and said that many people told her to charge for her services, “but then it wouldn’t be volunteering, would it?” 

Throughout her life, she was a beacon for others, lighting the way to fight important battles. She worked to save her beloved Sacred Heart Church; established Casa de Primavera for the aging and disabled; was active in the Cursillo Center; and did work for many organizations. She was one of the first on the board of Chicanos por la Causa and was made a honorary lifetime member in 1993.

A devoted member of the Golden Gate Sacred Heart church community, she sang in the choir, taught catechism, cleaned the buildings, helped children with their school work, connected people with lawyers and was the hub of a network of caring activities. She helped many in Golden Gate receive fair market value for their houses and relocate when the city tore down the neighborhood.

Best friend and sister, activist Terri Cruz, describes her as “the type of person that was always very dedicated to God … When she asked something or said something, you knew you had to listen because she was always trying to do the right thing for everyone … It didn’t make any difference who you were; she always had time to listen to them, to advise them.”

Guadalupe’s great strength shone brightly in 1968 when she had a stroke and doctors said she would never talk or walk again. A cousin helped with physical therapy and soon Guadalupe was talking and walking with a cane. Her husband joked that he knew there was no way anything would silence her.

Seniors had a special place in her heart. Guadalupe carried the message from the neighborhoods to the government that you could not get rid of people just because they were getting old. Guadalupe joined an effort to establish subsidized senior housing, rolling that boulder along the trail, inch by inch, until Casa de Primavera was built at 45th Avenue and McDowell. She saw there was nothing on the south side and successfully campaigned to have another subsidized senior apartment complex built on Seventh Street north of Baseline. It is fittingly named the Guadalupe Huerta Senior Apartments. 

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