When Eva Raigoza Baca was named principal of a school in one of Pueblo’s roughest neighborhoods, she knew she had her work cut out for her. At Eastwood Elementary School in 1972, learning was not a priority for most of the residents, nor was a school a place where they felt accepted. But Eva wasn’t making assumptions or looking at statistics—she was looking at people.
Eva was determined to improve school and neighborhood conditions in the area on the east side of Pueblo locals called the “Dogpatch.” So, Eva took a walk around the neighborhood. She met her students. She met their families. She learned their stories. She found what they were missing in their lives. And then, she discovered community members who were willing to help her make a quality education accessible and important to these children and their parents.
“Her whole persona conveyed a message of acceptance to all people,” MaryAnn Roldan, a colleague, observed. “She was a community advocate.”
As the residents of Eastwood Heights learned this, they learned to trust her. So when Eva asked her students—and their parents—to read, they listened.
Baca’s official title was school principal, but her true role expanded to community champion for all of Pueblo. As a result of her efforts, students and teachers found themselves challenged to excel. Additionally, her work helped to improve the streets, parks, and safety of the Eastwood Heights neighborhood.
Because of her many years improving the quality of life and the education system for residents of the northeast side of Pueblo, Baca was selected as the latest inductee into the Milton E. Proby Cultural Heritage Room at El Pomar’s Penrose House. When the former educator and community champion was inducted on September 24, almost 300 family and friends turned out for the event in order to help the Emerging Leaders Development Program to pay tribute to a woman and the legacy she left behind.
Joyce Baca-Anderson, Baca’s daughter and a Pueblo educator who has followed in her mother’s footsteps, summed up her mother’s philosophy on life beautifully during remarks she made at the ceremony.
"[My mom] truly believed that to teach is to touch a child's mind forever,” said Baca-Anderson. “That was her mantra.”
Although Baca was a passionate educator who instilled the love of learning in her children and nearly everyone she met, her path to education was not a smooth one. At the young age of 32, Baca’s husband, Gilbert, died of lung cancer. She was left a widow with two young children to raise and a future full of uncertainty. Following the advice of her father, Baca turned to education to secure her family’s livelihood and begin again. She earned an undergraduate degree, a master’s degree, and an education administration endorsement. And her dedication to her own education was nothing to her dedication to the growth of the Eastwood community.
“Eva Baca was a dedicated educator and grass roots community leader that made a difference in the lives of young children and their families,” said El Pomar Vice President Theo Gregory. “Her professional and civic accomplishments are an inspiration, as well as an illustration of a viable pathway to civic engagement and community service for future generations.”