Manuel Sanchez, Chicago’s first Mexican American school principal, dies at 94

The son of an immigrant stockyard worker, Manuel Sanchez became Chicago’s first Mexican American school principal when he was appointed principal of the Komensky School, 2001 S. Throop St., in 1971.

“His promotion is symbolic of the emergence of the Spanish-speaking community at the administrative level of the city’s school system,” a Komensky advisory board said at the time.

Mr. Sanchez, who worked in Chicago public schools for nearly 40 years, died at his home Aug. 17 at age 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 and a former school employee at Komensky. “I was 20 when I started working there. He was my inspiration. The parents may have felt more comfortable approaching him because he was Mexican and spoke Spanish.

“He would always be in the dining room,” said Barbara Smith, who was a counselor at Bateman School, where Mr. Sanchez was principal after Komensky. “He would always be on the playing field. He was not an administrator sitting in their office.

“He was a ‘gentleman’ principal,” said former Cleveland School principal Bob Donald. “He was so kind and respectful.”

Young Manuel, one of four children, grew up in Back of the Yards, attending Seward Primary School and Gage Park Secondary School. His mother Lupe was from Tampico in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. His father Jesus, originally from Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, worked for Wilson meatpacking.

As a teenager, the future educator had a job selling shoes and also worked for Spiegel, the catalog giant of yesteryear.

While studying at Chicago Teachers College, he gave Ophelia “Fally” Venegas a ring, telling her, “One day it will be an engagement ring.”

They had known each other since they were children and played at the Mary McDowell Settlement House, named after the activist sometimes referred to as the “stockyard angel”.

“He was a very calm and very honest man,” his wife said. “If we couldn’t go out on a date, he would say to me, ‘I couldn’t afford it.’ A very quiet man. We got along so well.

When Mr. Sanchez left home in May 1952 for the Army, heading to Fort Lee, Va., “He put on the engagement ring,” she said.

Manuel and Ophelia

Manuel and Ophelia “Fally” Sanchez were married in 1952.

While at home on furlough in December, they were married at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.

This year, his wife said, “We were going to celebrate our 70th anniversary.”

They bought a house near Midway Airport and he worked on his master’s degree at Loyola University.

He taught at Lawson and Bryant elementary schools and served as vice-principal at Hammond School before being named principal at Komensky, where his family said he worked to improve bilingual education and improvement of school building conditions.

In 1977 he was appointed director of 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 that’s the saddest dog on the block.”

Mr. Sanchez always stopped to play with the dog, named Snow. When Snow brought his ball to the fence and dropped it, “My dad had a broom and a dustpan, and he would pick it up and throw the ball around,” his son said, then he gave the dog a treat.

He carried his daughter Maria’s cockapoo Sam outside when it snowed so his paws wouldn’t get cold. “He would put it under his coat,” she said.

Mr Sanchez did crossword puzzles every day, enjoyed Robert Ludlum thrillers, bowled, jogged, cycled and enjoyed listening to jazz, his son Alan said.

He and his wife loved to travel, visiting places like Australia, Colombia, Costa Rica, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Martinique, Holland, Nicaragua , Spain, Turkey and the US Virgin Islands.

For her 90th birthday, “We went to the Panama Canal,” her daughter said.

Mr. Sanchez is also survived by his son Jesse, a grandson and four great-grandchildren.

Visitation for Mr Sanchez will be from 4-8 p.m. Monday at Foran Funeral Home in Summit and 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, with a celebration of his life beginning at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Manuel and Fally Sanchez (center) with their family.

Manuel and Fally Sanchez (center) with their family.

About Ariella McGuire

Check Also

Fifa pleads with countries to avoid World Cup protests

FIFA President Gianni Infantino wrote to world Cup nations imploring them to stick to football …