Manuel Sanchez, Chicago’s first Mexican American school principal, dead at 94
Visitation is from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday at Foran Funeral Home in Summit and at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, with a celebration of his life held there starting at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
The son of an immigrant stockyard worker, Manuel Sanchez became Chicago’s first Mexican American school principal when he was named head of Komensky School, 2001 S. Throop St., in 1971.
“His promotion is symbolic of the Spanish-speaking community’s emergence into the administrative level of the city’s school system,” a Komensky advisory council said at the time.
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Mr. Sanchez, who worked in the Chicago Public Schools for nearly 40 years, died at home Aug. 17 at 94, according to his family.
“We were so proud when he was named principal of Komensky, which was predominantly Mexican,” said Carmen Mora, a native of Mexico who is a former school clerk at Komensky. “I was in my 20s when I started working there. He was my inspiration. Parents were able to feel more at ease approaching him because he was Mexican and spoke Spanish.”
“He would always be in the lunchroom,” said Barbara Smith, who was a counselor at Bateman School, where Mr. Sanchez was principal after Komensky. “He would always be on the playground. He wasn’t an administrator that sat in their office.”
“He was a ‘gentleman’ principal,” said Bob Donald, former principal at Cleveland School. “He was so kind and respectful.”
Young Manuel, one of four children, grew up in Back of the Yards, attending Seward grade school and Gage Park High School. His mother Lupe was from Tampico in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. His father Jesus, from Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, worked for Wilson meatpacking.
In his teens, the future educator had a job selling shoes and also worked for Spiegel, the catalog sales giant of old.
While studying at Chicago Teachers College, he gave Ophelia “Fally” Venegas a ring, telling her, “Someday, it will be an engagement ring.”
They’d known each other since they were kids playing at the Mary McDowell Settlement House, named for the activist sometimes called the “Angel of the Stockyards.”
“He was a very quiet man and very honest,” his wife said. “If we couldn’t go out on a date, he would tell me, ‘I couldn’t afford it.’ A very calm man. We got along so well.”
When Mr. Sanchez left home in May 1952 for the Army, heading for Fort Lee, Virginia, “He put the engagement ring on,” she said.
While home on furlough that December, they were married at Immaculate Heart of Mary church.
This year, his wife said, “We were going to celebrate our 70th anniversary.”
They bought a home near Midway Airport, and he worked on his master’s degree at Loyola University.
He taught at the Lawson and Bryant grade schools and was an assistant principal at Hammond school before being named principal at Komensky, where his family said he worked on upgrading bilingual education and improving building conditions at the school.
In 1977, he was named principal at Bateman, where he remained until his retirement in 1990.
“He was kind to everyone — kind to us, kind to pets, kind to babies,” his son Mario said. “He was wonderful at holding them and putting them to sleep.”
Now, he said, “There’s a dog next door who is the saddest dog in the neighborhood.”
Mr. Sanchez always stopped to play with the dog, named Snow. When Snow would bring her ball to the fence and drop it, “My dad got a broom and dustpan, and he would lift it up and throw the ball,” his son said, then would give the dog a treat.
He’d carry his daughter Maria’s cockapoo Sam outside when it snowed so his paws didn’t get cold. “He would put him under his coat,” she said.
Mr. Sanchez did crossword puzzles every day, enjoyed thrillers by Robert Ludlum, bowled, jogged, rode his bike and liked listening to jazz, his son Alan said.
He and his wife loved to travel, visiting places including Australia, Colombia, Costa Rica, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Martinique, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Spain, Turkey and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
For his 90th birthday, “We went to the Panama Canal,” his daughter said.
Mr. Sanchez also is survived by his son Jesse, a grandson and four great-grandchildren.
Visitation for Mr. Sanchez is being held from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday at Foran Funeral Home in Summit and at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, with a celebration of his life being held there starting at 11 a.m. Tuesday.