By Mike Cook
Service had to be one of Olga Pedroza’s favorite words.
The late lawyer and city councilor was an avid tennis player and longtime community activist.
The City of Las Cruces Parks and Recreation Department unveiled a plaque on July 30 in honor of Pedroza at Lions Park, 701 W. Picacho Ave., “near the tennis courts she loved so much,” said the city of Las Cruces said in a press 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.
“Olga’s commemorative plaque should be placed on Lions Park tennis courts,” Mayor Ken Miyagishima said in the city press release. “As an avid tennis enthusiast, she often held meetings at tennis courts in her district and frequently advocated for the upkeep and maintenance of the city’s courts.” Miyagishima served with Pedroza throughout his tenure on the board.
“We don’t often have the honor of meeting legendary people, but that’s often what I felt as I sat 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 too often under-represented. I was thrilled to serve on the community school board, which was just one of the many initiatives she championed, ”said Smith.
“Olga has become a dear friend,” said Jack Eakman, who served on the board with Pedroza 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 be in politics and was therefore an excellent legislator, ”continued Eakman. “We would ask each other for advice 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 seated together. My wife would joke with me every now and then: “Where do you meet Olga today? Its primary mission was to level the playing field between those who needed it and those who had surplus 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 – at the age of 3. Adopting English as a second language, Pedroza attended a Catholic school and graduated from Mundelein College in 1963 with a BA in Sociology and minors in Elementary Education and Theology. She went on to earn a master’s degree in education from the University of New Mexico. Pedroza went on to become a teacher, community organizer, and lawyer in private practice, then an attorney for the New Mexico Child Support Enforcement Division. 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 an engraved bronze plaque depicting the image of Pedroza and details of his work and life. It has been placed next to the tennis courts and is accented by decorative gravel mulch and boulders.
Here is the text of the plaque:
“City Councilor Olga Pedroza (1942-2018) was a mother, a grandmother and a dedicated public servant. Councilor Pedroza is committed to making Las Cruces and this country a better place for future generations. As a career lawyer, she firmly believed in equality and fought for the rights of disenfranchised people. Councilor Pedroza has been closely involved in 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 underdogs, Councilor Pedroza employed the less fortunate around her house and tirelessly volunteered at the local soup kitchen to serve meals to the needy. Politically, she stood up strongly for the issues she believed in and fought tirelessly to make others believe. Councilor Pedroza was at the forefront of conservation, working to preserve municipal parks and community spaces and promoting gardening at home and in schools.
“Councilor Pedroza’s morning walks were open to anyone who wanted to join her in discussing community issues. A lifelong avid tennis player, she loved energetic games that included lively debates on relevant topics and ways to improve her city and neighborhood. Most of all, she loved spending time with her children and grandchildren – hiking, shopping or barbecuing. “