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Tomas (Tom) Saenz passed on to eternal life at the age of 80, on Saturday, February 23, 2019 in Orange, California. Tom was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in September 2018, and he courageously fought it by undergoing chemotherapy, numerous procedures, doctor visits, and hospitalizations. His final week on earth was spent in the comfort of his home surrounded by loving members of his family and close friends.
Tom, the 6th of 14 children born to Samuel Saenz Vera and Santos Gonzalez Perez de Saenz, was born on December 27, 1938 in Alice, Texas, a small town about 55 miles southwest of Corpus Christi, Texas. The Saenz family has a long history in Texas with the first members arriving from Northern Mexico in the year 1767.
With very little in the way of financial resources or formal education, Tom’s family lived a humble life and all family members, starting at very young ages, had to contribute to meeting the family’s basic needs. In his childhood, he shined shoes, swept floors in the local cantina, sold produce in the neighborhood, and picked crops such as cotton, citrus, cherries, sugar beets and more.
Tom had to leave school in the 8th grade when he joined other family members in migrant farm work. Eventually the family moved to Michigan and after a period of 3+ years since dropping out of the 8th grade, he enrolled in night school. Tom graduated from Central High School in June 1962 at the age of 22! Following high school graduation, he went on to enroll at Grand Rapids Junior College. Tom married his wife Linda in 1963 and she supported him as he continued his studies. In 1967 he graduated from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a degree in secondary teaching.
In 1969, Tom, Linda and their two daughters Marsha and Michelle, moved from Michigan to Orange County, California where Tom launched his career as high school teacher, administrator and elementary school principal. While in California, Tom and Linda gave birth to their son Thomas (AKA Tommy in the family) and their fourth child, Melissa Diane who died at birth in 1981. Tom earned a master’s degree in education in 1973 from Chapman University.
Throughout his career in education, Tom focused his efforts on improving educational opportunities for all students in his community. He was successful in helping the Latino community through curriculum development, staffing, staff training and community leadership. Tom was also quite active in civic affairs in and around the City of Orange. He served on numerous boards, commissions, and committees for various organizations in the City of Orange, Orange County and the state of California. He was a catechist and was active in parish ministries at La Purisima Catholic Church and St. Norbert’s Catholic Church in Orange. He was also active in politics and even managed several political campaigns.
In November 1991 he decided to seek public office and ran for the position of Trustee of the Rancho Santiago Community College District. With campaign help from his family and friends, Tom was successful in his election and served a four-year full term.
Tom, together with his wife Linda, lovingly devoted himself to the education and the faith, cultural and value formation of his children. They gently (but firmly) guided each child to do their best in school, music, sports and to grow in their faith. Family gatherings, trips back home to Michigan and vacations were enjoyed by all. Extended family and close friends were always welcomed, and some stayed to live with our family for months and years. These values, traditions and experiences were passed on to Tom’s grandchildren.
In 1996 Tom retired from the Orange Unified School District and moved to Tustin, Michigan with Linda. They bought an old farmhouse with sixty acres as a retirement project. Their farm was beautifully restored, and they had a wonderful time bringing it to life. It was a very happy period in their life. Tom enjoyed hunting and fishing excursions with his brothers and gatherings with the entire family. In 2001, they returned to Orange, California, to once again join their children and grandchildren. Tom remained active during his retirement years by devoting a significant amount of time to researching his family genealogy and history. He joined The Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research (SHHAR). He was able to research and document his paternal and maternal ancestors dating back to the 1500’s. ln addition, he was able to trace and record the family history that will serve future generations.
Preceded in death by his loving wife Linda (2012) and daughter Melissa Diane (1981), Tom was a devoted father to Marsha Lynn Saenz Jones (Jeffery), Michelle Marie Del Rosario (Dan) and Thomas Michael Saenz (Blanca). He was the attentive grandfather of Victoria, Anthony, Ethan, Joseph, Emily, William, Gabriela, Theresa and Elena. He is also survived by his siblings Samuel, Roger, Antonio, Olivia, Irma, Zulema (Sue), Brigida (Vicky), Leonardo and dozens of loving cousins, nieces and nephews.
The children of Tomas wish to express their sincere gratitude to the healthcare professionals in the St. Joseph’s Heritage Health System, members of the clergy and Eucharistic ministers at St. Norbert’s, caregivers and family and friends who lovingly devoted themselves to Tomas in his final days. Thanks to all for the care, the prayers and the time you spent with him.
Family values, family history and education were most important to Tom. A commitment to these principles helped him overcome great adversity and led him to a full, happy, productive and honorable life in service to God, family and neighbor. His patriarchal leadership, his education of children and young adults and his community service impacted thousands of individuals in a positive way. His legacy will live on for years to come. Tomas will be missed by all who knew him. In his final hours he was at peace in prayer with our Lord. May he rest in Eternal Peace in Heaven. Farewell Tomas…until we meet again.
In memory of Tomas May also wish to consider a donation to two organizations that were important to him:
1. Christian Services Food Pantry at St Norbert’s Catholic Church in Orange. Tom volunteered his time here over the past couple of years and spoke so highly about the good they do for the community.
TACA, an organization that has helped his grandson, William Del Rosario, and many others with autism.
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