Longtime educator remembered for his dedication to students

June 18, 2012 at 1:18 a.m.

When the doors to Rodolfo Torres Elementary School swung open for the first time three years ago, he was there.

Dressed in a suit with spotless shoes and his thatch of gray hair neatly combed, Rodolfo Torres, the man the school was named for, stood alongside school principal Sherry Gorsuch to greet the children.

"Are you the principal?" more than one student asked Torres.

Gorsuch smiled and explained that this was the man the school was named for.

"He was excited and proud to be there that day," Gorsuch remembers. "I think it's important that they know the school was not named after somebody out of a book, but was named for someone from Victoria who did a lot for education."

Torres, an educator in Victoria Independent School District for decades, died on Monday at the age of 80.

Before he died, he got to see a school named after him.

Torres had come a long way to see that moment.

He was born in 1931 in Webb County, the sixth of eight children. He grew up poor, the son of a steel worker, and Torres worked in the fields when he wasn't in school. As he made his way through high school, the threat of making a living in the fields was enough to keep him moving forward, intent on getting an education. He went to college and got a Bachelor of Science.

After marrying a girl he'd met in school, Mary, the pair moved to Victoria. He and Mary became some of the first Hispanic teachers hired in the Victoria school district. Up to that time, education had been his goal. When he started teaching at Hopkins Elementary School, it became his passion. He taught there for 15 years before becoming the principal at Hopkins. By the time he retired in 1997, he had worked in the school district for 39 years.

While he was busy caring for his students, Torres and his wife found time to raise four children, instilling in each of them the expectation that they would graduate from college. All four did, and Torres lived to see three of his seven grandchildren obtain their degrees, daughter Anna De Luna said.

Torres made a point of knowing his students. When he saw them in the hallways of the school, he always knew their names, had a word for them. He kept track of them when they were in his care and when they were out of it.

Torres was the first person to ever paddle Lolly Hamilton. An over-confident elementary student, she had answered back to her teacher. She didn't care she was in trouble until she saw the disappointment in her principal's face. She was never sent to the principal again.

"He was willing to get his feet wet, to get involved. He would do whatever it took to help his students have success," Hamilton said.

In high school, Hamilton began getting in trouble again when Torres appeared in her life.

"I don't know how he knew, but he visited my home. He went out of his way to let me know that what I was doing wasn't the way to be. I needed to focus on my studies, go to school, be someone," she said. "I'm a banker now. I'd never in a million years have gotten here without him."

Hamilton's story can be repeated hundreds of times. Looking through her father's things, De Luna found dozens of letters her father had received, thanking him for his guidance, for his help, for caring about them and seeing potential in them, even when others might have overlooked it.

When the school board was trying to decide what to name a new elementary school, his name came up and it was decided that the new school would be the Rodolfo Torres Elementary School, named after him.

"He was so proud and humbled by that honor," De Luna said.

Gorsuch said she is honored to be the principal at a school named for Torres, because he was one of the most dedicated educators she has ever worked with.

"Every child was important to him. He always said we needed to look for the good in every child, and that if you did that, the good would grow," she said.



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