Watsonville/Aptos Adult School
Angie Ledesma describes herself as “a proud Watsonville/Aptos Adult Education graduate of the class of 1978.” She has traveled a long, sometimes arduous, but always rewarding road as a student, wife, mother, employee, volunteer, active community member and strong supporter of education.
Angie was born in Hollister, California, to what could best be described as a sharecropper father and a mother who, though herself uneducated, inspired a love of education in her seven children. Angie’s first school experience was at a small country elementary school in Tres Piños, a small town close to Hollister. She loved school and always chafed at the delay forced on her and other farm family children at the beginning of each term. Like many agricultural communities, the opening of school usually took a back seat to the harvest in Tres Piños. Her one consolation was being in school in time for the annual Christmas play. Being a “ham”, Angie would often get good roles.
Even at a very young age, Angie was an avid reader. She remembers reading a book each day as a child, and frequenting the public library when the family moved to Watsonville. While working during her elementary and junior high years picking tomatoes and prunes she discovered piles of old newspapers in the sheds. She took them home and read them as eagerly as she did her library books. Vicariously, her knowledge and experience expanded as she read of events close by and in other parts of the world.
After elementary school in Tres Piños, Angie attended Moss Landing School, EA Hall Junior High School in Watsonville, and then one year at Watsonville High School. At the age of sixteen, partly in order to escape her parents’ strict upbringing, Angie left school to marry. She and her husband, an itinerant farm worker, moved to the Central Coast agriculture region of Santa Maria and began raising a family. Angie occupied herself with raising their six children for a number of years, all the while yearning to learn more. She prayed that the “box over my head” would be removed so that she could realize her dream.
The family moved back north to Watsonville in the early 1950’s. Angie was always tired from the hard work of raising her children and working in the fields and packing sheds, but her dream persisted. “At night when I got home it was such a dream for me to be able to sit down and read the newspaper and have some leisure time,” she says, “But I couldn’t give up on my studies.”
Angie reached her first goal when she graduated as an “A” student from the Watsonville/Aptos Adult School class of 1978. She was selected to give the welcoming address at graduation, and recalls the inspiration of Lester Oaks, then principal of the Adult School. Lester helped her to realize that although she could have passed the GED exams easily and quickly, the sacrifice and discipline of pursuing her high school diploma could broaden her. She also held up as a role model another “A” student, Grace Arceneaux, who later became the wife of a long-time educator and Watsonville/Aptos Adult School teacher, Ron Arceneaux.
Until graduating from the Adult School, Angie had worked as an inventory clerk. Using this experience, as soon as she graduated she applied for and got what she considered a dream job, working in the Welfare office serving others. She was the first Latina woman hired as an eligibility worker in Watsonville, a role she held for 6 years. Then she was promoted to the position of supervisor where she worked for the next 12 years. She paved the way and served as a role model for many other Latinas after her, some of whom were hired under affirmative action guidelines which did not even exist when she became a pioneer in the agency. Looking back on her childhood, and then forward to the realization of her dream of working to serving people, Angie says, “If it had not been for night school, I would not have made it. It’s as simple as that.”
When her husband was diagnosed with full blown AIDS, contracted from a blood transfusion, Angie took a very early retirement to care for him. This occupied her life, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 4 years. Doctor’s had advised her to place her husband in an institution, but she was determined not to. When her husband died, Angie found herself not only physically and emotionally exhausted, but also financially depleted and destitute. The savings they had put aside over the years had been used for his care and expensive medications.
Allowing herself only a short time to recover, Angie soon went looking for a job. She tried various things, capitalizing on her skills and experience, while also volunteering as a peer counselor in Santa Cruz County. It wasn’t long before Angie was offered a paid position as peer counselor, and immediately began developing the job to include many more clients than had been served previously. Angie is still in this job and is a highly esteemed presence in the Watsonville Senior Center community. There is a great need for Latinas to work with the aged, and Angie interacts as a peer mostly with women from Mexico, some of whom have been able to identify with her so much that they have confided things to her that they never have told anyone in their entire lives. “God finally put me where he wanted me,” Angie says.
Angie is one of sixty-eight Santa Cruz County area women featured in a book of interviews of seniors, What a Life! Heroines Sung and Unsung, by Ruth Hunter. Ms. Hunter writes of the women, “The world is better for your contributions.” Angie’s many community activities spanning several decades has made the world better. While her children were in school Angie was an active member of the PTA, where, although she felt isolated as the only Mexican parent, she continued to contribute. She also served early on as a member of the Board of Planned Parenthood, advocating for women’s rights.
As a member of the Board of Directors of the Henry Mello Center for the Performing Arts, Angie formed a pool of ushers for the Center’s many events. She participated in intensive training with Women’s Crisis Center and contributed many hours on the nighttime crisis line, counseling and advising women in crisis. Angie has served as an ambassador for SecureHorizons, a supplemental health insurance company, greeting clients, giving them information and helping them to feel at ease. Among her most treasured honors is the recognition she received as the first Latina of the newly formed Chicana Women’s Organization. Currently, Angie serves on the Boards of Directors of the Watsonville Women’s Club Foundation and the Watsonville Senior Center.
In the civic arena, Angie was appointed by the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors to the South County Commission, which was charged with the responsibility to assure that citizens in the lower income south part of the county received their fair share of funding. She also has served on the Personnel Commission for the City of Watsonville and as a member of the Commission negotiating with Charter Communications to keep cable television rates affordable. Angie even ran, unsuccessfully, for a Watsonville City Council seat. She had planned to make another run until her husband became ill and she chose to devote her time to his care.
Angie attributes her many accomplishments to several things. First, she recognizes that the hardships of her early life actually were blessings. “When you’ve been deprived as a kid you want to have fulfillment as an adult,” Angie explains, thankful for the hard experiences that motivated her to succeed in life. Angie also cites her religious faith as a basis for her positive outlook and ability to rise above life’s blows. And finally, starting with her years in adult education, Angie says, “Adult Ed was a stepping stone into a bigger world. Although it’s true that I knew a lot because I read a lot, the discipline of actually being in school gave me self confidence. After the bumpy road that I had traveled, Adult Education opened the door to me to a better life and a life of service, which I always wanted. And my kids benefited, too. Now, as adults, they can verbalize that I was an inspiration to them. And I’m proud to say that all six of my adult children are college educated.”