By Mike Cook
Service must have been one of Olga Pedroza’s favorite words.
The late lawyer and councilman was an avid tennis player and lifelong community activist.
The City of Las Cruces Parks and Recreation Department unveiled a plaque July 30 honoring Pedroza at Lions Park, 701 W. Picacho Ave., “near the tennis courts she loved so much,” the city of Las Cruces said in a news release.
Pedroza represented District 3 on the 2009-17 council. She was diagnosed with cancer shortly after completing her second term and died on February 9, 2018 at the age of 75.
“It is fitting that Olga’s memorial plaque be placed on the tennis courts in Lions Park,” Mayor Ken Miyagishima said in the city’s press release. “As a tennis enthusiast, she often held meetings at her district’s tennis courts and frequently advocated for the upkeep and maintenance of city courts.” Miyagishima served with Pedroza throughout his tenure on the council.
“We don’t often have the honor of meeting legendary people, but that’s what I often felt sitting on city council with Olga Pedroza,” said former city councilor Greg Smith. “She had made her perseverance and the law powerful tools in her work on behalf of workers and those who are too often underrepresented. I was thrilled to serve on the Community Schools Board of Trustees, which was just one of many initiatives she championed,” Smith said.
“Olga has become a very dear friend,” said Jack Eakman, who served with Pedroza on the board for four years. “His office was next to mine, so we saw each other often. Many mornings she would come straight from tennis and volleyball with her associates. She loved to do politics and was thus an excellent legislator,” Eakman continued. “We consulted each other freely. She was talking about her family and her past experiences. She was very respectful of her fellow councilors and all city staff, and was appreciated in return. We met at many civic and community functions, often sitting together. My wife used to joke with me from time to time, ‘Where do you meet Olga today?’ Its primary mission was to level the playing field between those who needed it and those who had excess resources. Justice was his middle name, it seemed. And she was a fierce fighter for her beliefs. She called those who weren’t serious and tried to explain to them that she couldn’t have everything she wanted. I miss her.”
Originally from San Luis, Mexico (near Mexico City), Pedroza moved to Chicago with his family – his parents were both teachers – when he was 3 years old. Adopting English as a second language, Pedroza attended Catholic school and graduated from Mundelein College in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and minors in elementary education and theology. She then earned a master’s degree in education from the University of New Mexico. Pedroza went on to become a teacher, community organizer, and attorney in private practice, then as an attorney for the Division of Child Support Enforcement in New Mexico. She moved to Las Cruces in 1990 and worked for Southern New Mexico Legal Services (which became New Mexico Legal Aid) for 14 years.
“I thought I retired twice,” Pedroza said, before his decision to run for city council in 2009.
The memorial is a bronze plaque engraved with Pedroza’s image and details of his work and life. It was placed next to the tennis courts and is accented with decorative gravel mulch and boulders.
Here is the text of the plaque:
“Councillor Olga Pedroza (1942-2018) was a dedicated mother, grandmother and public servant. Councilman Pedroza was dedicated to making Las Cruces and this country a better place for future generations. As a career lawyer, she was a strong supporter of equality and fought for the rights of disenfranchised people. Councilor Pedroza has been closely involved with projects to end homelessness in Las Cruces, fight for fair immigration and work to raise the minimum wage, as well as lead sustainable food programs.
“As a champion of the underdog, Councilwoman Pedroza employed the less fortunate around her home and volunteered tirelessly at the local soup kitchen serving meals to the needy. Politically, she was a strong advocate for the issues she believed in and fought tirelessly to make others believe. Councilman Pedroza was at the forefront of conservation, working to preserve city parks and community spaces and promote home and school gardening.
“Councillor Pedroza’s morning walks were open to anyone who wanted to join her in discussing community issues. Always a tennis fan, she enjoyed high-energy games that included lively debates on relevant topics and ways to improve her city and neighborhood. Above all, she loved spending time with her children and grandchildren – hiking, shopping or barbecues.