Mrs. Maria Eugenia “Jeannie” Lopez, 88 entered God’s heavenly kingdom on July 4, 2017.
It was 1929, and the Depression was at its height; Laredo had little to offer by way of jobs, and Jeannie’s parents soon became aware of her pending arrival. They decided to move to Homestead, Pennsylvania where Jeannie’s father joined his brothers working at Carnegie Illinois Steel Corporation. Jeannie’s family lived in a neighborhood that catered to migrants from such countries as Czechoslovakia, Russia, and Lithuania. Although necessity is the mother of invention, it is also the mother of survival. Part of that survival included learning a new language. Jeannie’s father, being from Laredo was bilingual, but her mother, a talented seamstress from Mexico, only knew a smattering of English, which she acquired from her bilingual-speaking customers. Jeannie’s mother made her speak Spanish at home, always reminding her, "Que no se te olvide; tu eres Mexicana." She was very proud of being Mexican and instilled that pride in Jeannie. Even without formal education, Jeannie’s mother was very smart and creative. Her "a mi se me hace" usually ended with "te dije."
Jeannie credited her parents for any good qualities she may have had. Her mother taught her to sing, to recite poetry, and got her violin lessons. Any time her parents had company, she always had to perform for their guests. Because of the frequent performance opportunities, Jeannie admitted that she didn’t know what "stage fright" was. Growing up in Pennsylvania was a happy time, but Jeannie’s family yearned for anything Mexican; and although they eventually found a Mexican neighborhood and quickly made friends, there were no Mexican movies or Mexican restaurants. Jeannie said she would scan the credits after any movie she saw hoping to see a Mexican name. But no, that never happened. Once in a great while, there was a beautiful Mexican comedienne, Lupe Velez who appeared in short movies. What a treat that was for Jeannie. She yearned to see a movie with Mexican actors, but that never happened during this time of her life. In 2014, when Alfonso Cuar6n, the Mexican director won Best Director for" Gravity in the Academy Awards, Jeannie cried she was so excited. She wanted to write and thank him for making one of her dreams come true.
When Jeannie’s family returned to Laredo in 1945, due to her father's declining health, Jeannie was in culture shock! There were Mexicans working in banks! There were Mexican teachers and Mexican doctors. She couldn't believe her eyes. She was in Heaven. Jeannie graduated from Martin High School in 1948, began working at Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, married and was blessed with three incredible sons, Oscar, Guillermo and Carlos and later, two beautiful granddaughters, Lauren and Erinn and daughter-in-law Elsa. While working for Southwestern Bell, Jeannie began taking night classes at Laredo Junior College. She had no idea how she was going to finish her degree because LJC was, and continues to be a two-year college. But everything worked out the year she earned her Associates Degree. Laredo State University opened, and her class was the first class to enter Laredo State University, where she eventually graduated cum laude with a degree in education. She had earned the right to be called "Ma'am." Jeannie once said that the teaching students were a very close-knit group who laughed about how proud they were to be called "Ma’am’s" and "Sirs". Jeannie later went back and got a Bilingual Certificate, a GT Certificate, and that all important Theatre Certificate.
Theatre had always been a part of Jeannie’s life. Even in high school at Martin she was involved in plays. However, her acting "career" began when she was a 6 year-old first grader at Third Avenue Elementary School in Homestead where she was cast as the queen in Snow White. Jeannie said it wasn't any talent that got her the part; it was her hair. Her teacher thought the queen should have long, black hair, and Jeannie was the only one with hair like that in a classroom full of gueritos. Jeannie’s connection with Laredo Little Theatre was extensive and spanned over 50 years. She was in over 30 productions as an actor or director. About 27 years ago, Laredo Little Theater started producing children's plays during the summer, and that idea has proven quite successful. Introducing children to theatre was one of the most gratifying experiences for her. As a director, Jeannie discovered new talent and what a "high" that was for her! The kids found out that learning could be fun, but most importantly, they found out that they were important and good at something. This experience was life-changing for both Jeannie and her young actors and worth all the time and effort involved.
Being in the classroom was no different. Her goal in teaching was always to highlight students' skills and talents. While teaching at Martin High School, Jeannie was UIL Prose and Poetry Sponsor and participated in UIL competition events. During the years 1996 to 2002, Jeannie compiled, edited and produced" Mosaic"-- a compilation of student writings - short stories, poetry and art work. The kids were so impressed to see their work in a book. During the Halloween season, Jeannie taught her students to write Mexican calaveras in English. These were also put into a booklet, aptly named "Calaveras". A segment about how Jeannie taught creative language was published in an English textbook by Glenco/McGraw Hill Publisher in 1999. In 2001, while at Martin High, Jeannie was named L.I.S.D. Teacher of the Year. On May 22, 2002, Jeannie was selected as a Semi-Finalist during the preliminary judging of the 2002 HEB Excellence in Teaching Awards. That year Jeannie was also inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame of the Laredo Commission for Women. She also received a Heritage Award from the Webb County Heritage Foundation, and was named the Dama Award Recipient from Las Damas de la Cultura de Oro. How proud she was to receive this honor from an organization that works so hard to maintain Mexican ethnicity. In 2003 Sames Motor Company awarded Jeannie the Education Award for Outstanding Contribution to Our Youth.
From 2005 through 2010, while teaching at St. Augustine, Jeannie compiled, edited and produced seniors' Farewell Speeches, a collection of seniors' farewell thoughts. In 2008 while her St. Augustine, theatre arts class performed The Wall in honor of Veterans' Day. As part of the Chicano Writers Group Jeannie’s original musical El Mero Mero was one of three plays selected by Dr. Juan Maldonado, LCC President to be performed during the 2010 convocation on January 4, 2010. This same play was one of two plays selected to be performed in San Antonio at the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education Conference. On March 26, 2010, Jeannie was named Education Tiger Legend "Golden Mentor" Class of 1948.
Furthermore, Jeannie was active in the community as a member of the Laredo Community College Symphony, as a violinist with the Laredo Philharmonic Orchestra, The Laredo Little Theatre, The Southwestern Bell Pioneers, The Elysian Social Club, Tuesday Music & Literature Club, the Genealogical Society, an Honorable Member of the Laredo Woman’s City Club as well as a member of the Blessed Sacrament Altar Society where she would never miss an event.
Jeannie Lopez—actor, director, teacher, musician, writer, and friend. Her legacy will never be forgotten. Thank you, Jeannie! We miss you!