Dr. Willie Sanchez, 84, a resident of Las Vegas, passed away on Friday, Feb. 8, 2013.
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He was born on Dec. 20, 1928 in Dixon, to Juan de Dios Sanchez and Corita Velarde-Sanchez.
He enjoyed reading, writing, fishing, reminiscing and being with his family.
A lifetime Catholic, he was a member of Immaculate Conception Church.
He is preceded in death by his wife, Julia Marie Sanchez; his parents, Juan and Corita Sanchez; infant sister, Adelaida Sanchez, brother, Ernest Sanchez and grandson, Juan David Sanchez.
He is survived by his six children, William "Billy" Sanchez, Beverly Sanchez and companion Louie Maestas, both of Las Vegas, Lorenzo and Geraldine Sanchez of Arroyo Seco, Mark Sanchez of El Paso, Texas, Dolores Sanchez-Sena and Vernell Sena of Las Vegas, and Tim Sanchez and wife Maria Seesz of Alamosa, Colo. He is also survived by his four siblings; Corita Rodriguez of Albuquerque, Steve and Judy Sanchez of Dallas, Texas, Emily and Bill Kinzy of Albuquerque, and David and Evelyn Sanchez also of Albuquerque; special friend Viola Garduño and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Dr. Sanchez was born and raised in northern New Mexico during the 1930s and '40s in a time when life in this area was rural and pastoral. The language, religion, culture and lifestyle had been unchanged for centuries. Schooled in the nearby St. Joseph Public High School, Willie excelled in all subjects. Music, literature, writing and mathematics became his passion. As a young boy his trumpet playing skills were evident and were often displayed at dances and fiestas in the surrounding towns. The family regularly spent their summers harvesting crops as migrant workers in the fields of the San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado.
Before graduation from high school he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fairfield Suisun Army Air Base in Central California. When he was discharged he went straight to San Francisco and began working a day job and "blowing a horn" at night in the skid row bars of San Francisco.
At his father's insistence he returned to New Mexico and entered Highlands University on the G.I. Bill. It was during this time that he met the love of his life, Julia. She was vivacious, popular and Las Vegas-raised while he was quiet, studious and country bred. Their chemistry was immediate. The two embarked on an adventure of accomplishments, Willie devoured academia while Julie raised the family. Willie started his teaching career in Truchas.
He quickly became recognized as an excellent instructor. Willie was soon teaching at Española High School and, although he was but a few years older than his students, his influence on them was far-reaching. Accepting scholarship offers from many prestigious universities including Colorado College and Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., Willie and the family moved many times during this period, finally settling back in Las Vegas in 1964 to teach mathematics at Highlands University. Throughout his career as a college professor and administrator he was recognized as an innovator and free thinker.
The family home became a gathering place for artists, politicians, bohemians and other like-minded types that emerged in this period. During summer breaks the family would jump in the Volkswagen van and venture deep into Mexico. Avoiding the tourist spots they would sleep out in the trucker camps or small villages off the beaten path, absorbing the atmosphere and lifestyle of the interior.
Dr. Sanchez was the first Hispanic vice president of Highlands and served as associate academic dean in the College of Education at the University of New Mexico. He taught in Quito, Ecuador, for the University of New Mexico and spent sabbatical in Guadalajara, while Julie studied dance and art at La Universidad Autonoma.
He wrote numerous proposals to garner funding for local educational institutes, including the creation of Northern New Mexico College and Luna Community College. All these were done in the spirit of advancing the children and students of Northern New Mexico, who, like him, may not have had the chance at education. Both Willie and Julie believed in the spirit of education and creativity and spent their entire lives trying to encourage people to better themselves by advancing their education. Retiring Professor Emeritus in 1986, watching boxing, fishing, cruising and telling stories of his experiences were his pastime. Dr. Sanchez took sheer enjoyment in "wasting time constructively!" and hanging out at Dick's. He will be dearly missed.
The family expresses special thanks to Quirina (Kitty) Herrera and all who aided in Dr. Sanchez's care.
Rosary and funeral services will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday at Immaculate Conception Church in Las Vegas, with Father George V. Salazar as celebrant.
Visit Rogers Mortuary's website: www.rogersmortuarynm.com to sign the online guest book and send a message to Dr. Sanchez's family or for more information.
Arrangements are under the direction of Rogers Mortuary, Las Vegas, 1-800-479-3511 or 425-3511.
Rogers Mortuary - Las Vegas
600 Reynolds Avenue Las Vegas, NM 87701
Published in Las Vegas Optic on Feb. 13, 2013