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Diego R. Rangel, 78, Educator, Puerto Rican Activist...Paul Rodriguez, 84, Native Of Puerto Rico, Worked Hard To Support Family
Diego R. Rangel, 78, Educator, Puerto Rican Activist
By Sean D. Hamill
December 23, 2002
Diego R. Rangel followed opportunity wherever it took him, and eventually it lead him to become one of Chicago's leading Puerto Rican activists.
He left Puerto Rico for New York as a teenager and became a migrant worker, B-17 tail-gunner during World War II, a college student, a real estate broker, owner of an import-export business, a factory worker, jewelry shop owner, public school teacher, college professor and a lawyer at 54.
That's just part of a resume that also included volunteer youth counselor and seemingly perpetual studies that earned him a bachelor's degree, two masters, a PhD and a law degree.
"My dad reinvented himself every 10 years or so," said Mr. Rangel's son T.J. "People would say, `What does your dad do?' and we'd say, `Uh, this week?'"
Mr. Rangel, 78, died Thursday, Dec. 19, of heart failure in his Dunning neighborhood home, his son said.
As a boy, he read newspaper articles to his illiterate parents and neighbors in Guayama, his hometown.
After coming to the U.S. in the late 1930s, he found work picking cucumbers in New Jersey, but he knew he had to get an education--a theme that he would pass on to his own students decades later.
"He felt [education] was the only way for minority groups to get out of poverty," said his wife and law partner, Patricia.
At one point Mr. Rangel managed to get his GED, which allowed him to enter college in New York during the day. But realizing his English reading and speaking skills needed work, Mr. Rangel also enrolled in a high school at night.
He entered the Army soon after World War II started and was assigned to be a gunner in the cramped rear turret on a B-17, partly because of his stature. "He was 5-foot-4 and they shoved him back there because he fit, he was young and he was crazy," his son said.
After the war Mr. Rangel went back to work, back to school and began raising six children with his first wife. He tried numerous businesses, including operating a jewelry shop and a driving school.
"When one failed, he just picked himself up and started over," his son said.
As his resume grew, Mr. Rangel's prominence in Chicago's Puerto Rican community grew. He became a trusted adviser and leader to many local groups and educated numerous former Puerto Rican residents in his Latin American studies and bilingual education courses at Northeastern Illinois University.
"He was one of those pioneers who really came along and made it possible for guys like me to go on to Northeastern," said state Sen. Miguel del Valle, who took a class taught by Mr. Rangel. "He demonstrated for us that someone from the trenches can come up through the ranks and get a law school degree and become a professor."
Mr. Rangel is survived by two other sons, Richard and Jack; three daughters, Sandra Pranica, Terri Lindstan and Lisa; two stepsons, Joe and Jon Gazda; and 11 grandchildren.
Paul Rodriguez, 84, Worked Hard To Support Family
NATIVE OF PUERTO RICO WORKED IN CHEESE FACTORY, DID CONSTRUCTION TO PROVIDE FOR WIFE, 2 CHILDREN
By Crystal Carreon
San Jose Mercury News
(c) Copyright 2002, San Jose Mercury News. All Rights Reserved.
Mary remembered making a childhood promise to marry Paul Rodriguez, the brash, brown-eyed teenager who helped build houses in her tiny hometown in central Puerto Rico. Their love, she said, was a secret, communicated over the years through shy smiles and quick glances that had the uncanny ability to suspend time. Then he, on the eve of leaving for California, made her promise to marry him when she grew up. Mary was 12 then; Paul was 21.
Seven years later, Paul sent Mary a letter from California asking whether she remembered the promise. Mary, then a university student in Ponce, Puerto Rico, packed her bags. They would spend the next 56 years together, until cancer took hold of him. Mr. Rodriguez died Tuesday in Mountain View. He was 84.
``Our house seems very lonely and empty now, even though I have family here,'' said Mary A. Rodriguez. ``I'm trying to be strong. He will always be here. His memory is all around.''
Pictures of her husband hang on the walls of their Mountain View home. His smile, the one she remembers seeing as a child in Puerto Rico, never faded with age. And his eyes -- big, round and brown -- were still the eyes of a young man even after cancer withered him away. He was a sharp dresser, his wife said, who always wore a pressed jacket and tie and parted his dark, wavy hair on the right side. And he was a hard worker.
When Mary joined Paul in California in 1946, he was working at a cheese factory in Pleasanton. They had their first son, Ed, a year later. They lived on Angel Street before moving to Main Street, where the couple had another son, Mel.
Mary remembers her husband managing to wear a tie with his white factory uniform.
``He worked every day, even Saturdays and Sundays,'' Mary said. ``He made all kinds of cheese: Monterey, Greek cheese, Parmesan cheese, Gouda. All the beautiful cheeses. . . . There were not many people who knew how to make cheese, and when the owner was getting older, he depended more on Paul.''
Mr. Rodriguez made cheese for 21 years. When the owner died, the business went to a relative, and Mr. Rodriguez left the factory in 1960. He moved his family to San Francisco, where he became a construction worker, building commercial properties throughout the Bay Area. He eventually became a foreman and stayed with the construction company for 20 more years, his wife recalled. And then, it was time to retire.
The couple bought a third of an acre in Mountain View, where they grew corn, bell peppers, zucchini and tomatoes. And then Mr. Rodriguez grew tired.
In October, his legs became swollen, Mary said. They went to the doctor.
``There was no sign whatsoever of the sickness,'' Mary said. ``He was never sick to his stomach in his life. He was in no pain.''
The doctor found a stomach cancer. It took him so fast, Mary said.
``We all know that we have to go someday,'' she said. ``But it's too soon.''
Born: May 31, 1918, in Yauco, Puerto Rico
Died: Dec. 24, 2002, in Mountain View
Survived by: Wife, Mary A. Rodriguez, of Mountain View; sons, Ed Rodriguez of Bremerton, Wash., and Mel Rodriguez of Redwood City.