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Former Deputy Rafael Herrera Promoted The Rights Of Children
By Dorimar Mercado, Sentinel Staff Writer
June 18, 2003
Rafael F. Herrera Sr. of Kissimmee wanted all children to have access to the best possible education.
"After years of working in the judicial system, he saw how children that did not receive the proper educational services got lost in the system and sometimes turned to a life of crime," said his wife of 26 years, Sally S. Herrera. "He was a very sensitive, caring man of action who knew that the problems in education wouldn't get resolved through wishful thinking."
Rafael "Ralph" Herrera, former Osceola deputy sheriff, died Monday after a short battle with cancer. He was 53.
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, he received a bachelor's degree in Industrial Management from the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras.
In 1979, Herrera relocated his family to Kissimmee and started working as assistant manager of a local drugstore.
Through mutual acquaintances, he met former Osceola Sheriff Bob Fornes. Seeing a need for bilingual personnel in the Osceola County Courthouse, Fornes offered him a position as court bailiff in 1984.
He became an Osceola deputy, and after more than 18 years of service had to retire for health reasons.
His passion for education, justice and equality drove him and his wife to become advocates for the rights and special needs of minority children.
In 1988, they were appointed to the Osceola County School Board's affirmative action committee.
"There was a lack of cultural sensitivity in the education system, and it was seriously affecting minority children," his wife said. "We felt the need to get involved after hearing the tales of parents whose children had been held back or placed in special education classes simply because English wasn't their native language and had difficulties communicating with their teachers."
As a member and former president of the Osceola chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, he was instrumental in having the State of Florida Department of Education set statewide standardized guidelines to assist students who aren't fluent in English.
He believed that with a good education, all children, no matter from where they come, have the opportunity to succeed in life, his family said.
Ralph Herrera was a member of Saint Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Kissimmee.
Herrera also is survived by three sons, Rafael Jose, Juan Pablo and Robert William, all of Kissimmee; two brothers, William Herrera of Long Island, N.Y., and Romy Herrera of Kissimmee; and one sister, Margarita Herrera of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.