A lifetime of service: Raul Rodriguez is Claremont’s 2023 honored citizen
by Andrew Alonzo | email@example.com
Claremont resident Raul Rodriguez is the city’s 2023 honored citizen and will be celebrated as he makes his way through the Fourth of July parade route, which begins at Memorial Park at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Known primarily as the Kiwanis Club of Claremont’s treasurer and a reliable grill master, Rodriguez also lends a hand as a Claremont Meals on Wheels driver, as chair of the city’s committee on aging, as a food packer for the Claremont Senior Program and Los Angeles Regional Food Bank’s monthly distribution at Larkin Park, and organizer for the Kiwanis Key Clubs at Claremont and San Antonio high schools.
“I am a reluctant honoree,” Rodriguez said. “Had I known that was in the works, I would’ve said ‘No, let’s look at someone else.’
“In doing what I’ve been doing in the variety of organizations I’ve been involved with, there are just so many people in Claremont who give of themselves. I’m honored, but I look at some of my colleagues and I recognize that there are others that have done so much more and are much more deserving.”
The 73-year-old was holding back tears as he quoted Muhammad Ali: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
Rodriquez learned the importance of giving back early on.
“I have to go back to my upraising in East L.A.,” he said. “My family was Roman Catholic, and we were very focused on church activity. Service has always been a part of my life.”
He was an altar boy and donated to charity telethons as a young man. He thought he might become a priest one day, maybe even the first Pope of Mexican descent. Although he never reached Rome, he said he is delighted with the South American representation Pope Francis brings to the Vatican.
His trajectory was altered however after meeting a girl named Connie during a Confraternity of Christian Doctrine conference at Anaheim Convention Center.
“That kind of changed my ministry,” Rodriguez said.
They got to know each other at the conference. Rodriquez characterized their love story as divine intervention since she was headed toward the convent life. Instead, the couple were married in 1973 and went into education to aid children.
Since then Rodriguez has taught or been a counselor at Belvedere Middle School, La Puente High School, Nogales High School, Fullerton College, Citrus College, and Mt. San Antonio College. He retired in 2008.
His wife convinced him to get involved with Claremont Meals on Wheels after his 2008 retirement. He started driving and his wife made the deliveries.
“The philosophy of what I did professionally was very much a part of my philosophy as far as being an active community member, and that is being a change agent,” Rodriguez said. “People have a tendency of thinking that when you create change you have to do this huge, massive [thing]. Change is done incrementally. That’s where meaningful change really occurs in communities.”
The couple have always been involved in their community. In 1975, with Connie six month’s pregnant, they picketed in Coachella Valley alongside farmer workers to advocate for the Delano grape boycott. Cesar Chavez later sent the couple a thank you letter that is now framed in their living room. Rodriguez also volunteered with the American Red Cross for three weeks in 2005 to aid Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans.
The Rodriguez’s moved to Claremont from Pomona in 1985 to be closer to their children’s school, Our Lady of the Assumption. Rodriguez said he likes to settle in cities where his schools are located mainly “to be a part of the community that the school serves.”
Even at 73, volunteerism remains a critical pillar for Rodriguez and his family. He recently applied to be a driver for AgingNext’s Ride and Go program and will likely add to his already extensive resume of service in the coming years.
“Service has always been a core part of my fabric,” he said.
More info on Claremont’s Fourth of July festivities is at ci.claremont.ca.us.