On April 28, 2017, my loving wife and best friend, Roberta, passed away after a long illness.
We were married for nearly forty-six years. In accordance with her wishes, we had a very small and private memorial on May 23 to celebrate her life, and we have had no announcement of her passing in the press yet.
Throughout our married years, we did almost everything together and supported each other. I dearly loved her and to say the least, it’s been a difficult time for me. I wish to thank her best friend and also my friend, Velia Lopez, for all she has done. She brought me food at the hospital where I was at Roberta’s side day and night for seventeen days; she took care of all the other details necessary, organized the memorial and gave a great eulogy at the memorial service. The memorial couldn’t have been better.
A couple of days ago, I finally read a copy of the program for the memorial and I wish to thank those who played a part in it. Besides Velia, that included Pauline Velenciano, Chaplain David Garcia, Francisco Hernandez and especially the three people whose stories were included in the program: Sergio Deleon, Mario Perez and Juan Rangel.
Around here and in the city , Roberta will long be remembered for her volunteer community work. Among those activities, she co- founded the current South Hemphill Heights Neighborhood Association in 1989, served on Citizens on Patrol for over twenty years, saved Old Fire Station 10 for the community by leasing it from the city and subsequently got its historic designation, thus keeping the old building, built in 1910, out of private hands at a time when the city already had it on the market for sale in the early 1990s.
More significantly, it was there that she organized after-school and summer programs for children from low-income families who couldn’t afford to pay. There were always after-school programs available at the schools and summer camps for children, but parents had to pay. At low-income majority, Hispanic neighborhoods such as South Hemphill Heights and others nearby, where there was the most need for them children didn’t have anything and nothing to do -- except to be exposed to the influence of gangs or to get into some other trouble and many of them did.
We recognized this situation in the early days of the neighborhood association, where she was also president for several terms. But because the idea of having «free» programs for children was so new, there was much opposition that we had to overcome. From Old Fire Station 10, the program she organized and personally ran as a volunteer was expanded to Daggett Elementary School and grew in popularity. It was this program that a few years later served as a model for the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) to replicate; later it led to after-school programs for low-income children at many schools that today are directed by the school district.
As for programs during the summer, the Summer Mobile Recreation program, started with around seventy- five children, staffed mostly by volunteers and always short of funds, many times to the point that we had to dig into our own wallet a little bit to keep it going, well, it began in 2000 at the Travis Avenue Baptist Church gym (where Walmart is now) and Capps Park. Because there was a waiting list of 150 children that year, in the summer of 2001 with the help of school trustee Juan Rangel, City Councilwoman Wendy Davis and Sheri Endsley, District Superintendent of the city’s Park and Community Services Dept., and a small six-year rolling Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), it took a
leap forward, moving to a school site. Within a couple of years, the demand for it was so great again that it had to be expanded to more schools. Under the management of the Parks and Community Dept., Sandra Medina, who Roberta recommended for the job in 2004, was hired and is still the programs director today.
If she were here today, Roberta would tell me not to brag on her so much, but to give credit and thanks to others: Juan, Wendy, Sheri, and Sandra for the success of the program which meant so much to her and last summer had over eight hundred children participating in it at four sites.
At this point, again, there is a growing demand for this program and I am still associated with it as a volunteer; my job is to raise money. The program started this past Monday, June 12. (But before I forget, I want to acknowledge the help of former City Councilman Joel Burns for supporting this program every year that he was in office by helping us raise money during our annual fundraising drive, a big part of our yearly goal necessary to do more for our kids.) Roberta’s work in after-school and summer programs over the years has impacted the lives of thousands.
Roberta was a very special and unusual person: A down-to-earth, unpretentious, country girl, with a great sense of humor and a lot of common sense to go along with a high level of intellect and ability to reason logically; what attracted me to her initially was her bubbly, cheerful personality and positive attitude about everything and her honesty and integrity. Once she made up her mind to do something, it was full-steam ahead! She knew how to get things done probably because she knew how to talk to people. We probably talked every single day and she was also a visionary. I have many examples of that, but I must cut this message short. Many, many thanks to my friends, family and others who have supported me recently.
Fernando Florez, Fort Worth, Texas