Pride 2012: ‘Spirit of service’ in the family

Margie Barrios, Mike Sanchez and Mary Lou Andrade reflect on their family and political careers.

This feature and others will appear in the special “Pride & Promise” feature section in Tuesday’s Free Lance. Pick up a copy today.

Public service is a thing of the past and present for Margie Barrios, Mary Lou Andrade and Mike Sanchez, three siblings who serve in elected positions for San Benito County.

Margie Barrios is completing her first term as a San Benito County supervisor. Mike Sanchez stepped in as superintendent of schools for the San Benito County Office of Education in 2009 when former Superintendent Tim Foley resigned – and he was reelected in an uncontested race in 2010. Mary Lou Andrade holds the elected position of county treasurer. But the three siblings held elected office long before they tried their hand at local politics – dating back to their elementary school days at R.O. Hardin.

“When I sit back and think about the family, the best way to describe it is there has always been a spirit of service,” Sanchez said.

His sister Barrios interjected.

“And it’s not just formal,” she said. “It goes back to being young and being connected with the community.”

“You helped each other,” Andrade added.

The three siblings refer to themselves as the middle children of the family, with two older siblings and four younger siblings. Like siblings, they sometimes finished each other’s thoughts, other times interrupted and joked with each other as they talked about their history of service. They are the only three in the family to share the same first initial, but they said the whole family has the same dedication to giving back to the community in some capacity. They recognize the impact their mother had on teaching them to help others.

Luisa G. Sanchez, the matriarch of the Sanchez family, passed away on Dec. 31, 2011.

“When mom passed away, we would find little articles,” Barrios said, of combing through her mother’s possessions and finding newspaper clippings or awards about the siblings holding school office or being the president of a campus club.

“We were involved in the high school council and school politics,” Andrade said.

Friendly sibling rivalry

And as with siblings, they can be a bit competitive with each other. They talked about who has served San Benito County longer, trying to one up each other.

Andrade has worked with the county for 29 years, most recently in the position of county treasurer. Barrios said she was first elected to the Hollister School Board in 1985. But Sanchez was quick to point out to his sisters that he started working for the San Benito County Office of Education in 1974.

“Education – (our mother) would always tell us that that one part was not negotiable – you must go to school,” Sanchez said.

“Unless you were dying – you never missed school,” Barrios said.

“It wasn’t like we minded,” Andrade added. “We wanted to be at school.”

But Sanchez said that with a large family with meager means, school was a pleasant option compared with the alternatives.

“With our background, you could go to work in the field or go to a room that was climate controlled, with sports equipment, snacks and books,” Sanchez said. It was an easy choice for them.

The three say that one of their mother’s biggest regrets is that she did not finish school – she got to fourth grade before she was pulled out to help earn income for her family.

“She loved school – she loved it with a passion,” Barrios said. “She wanted for us to love it as much as she did.”

Even though she did not have a formal education, her children describe her as a life-long learner who instilled the same qualities in her offspring.

Sanchez said that although his mother was born in the 1920s, she had very progressive ideas for her generation.

“She was absolutely proud they ran for office and she was able to realize some dreams through her daughters,” Sanchez said. “She was pleased that they were accomplished women who serve as a role model.”

Giving back

Andrade said that one of her favorite ways to volunteer is with the “Youth In Government” program, which allows students to shadow government employees. She said when she has been involved with the program she enlists Sanchez or Barrios to meet with the students.

All three say they appreciate the connection they feel with the community when they volunteer or serve in office.

Though the family did not have a lot of money growing up, they always remember their mother trying to help other people in the neighborhood. Sanchez said it could be as simple as helping a neighbor carry in the groceries.

When the family first arrived in Hollister in 1964, from Hollister, the brood slept in a car under a walnut tree with their parents. Barrios remembered talking about the homeless population in Hollister and saying she couldn’t imagine being homeless when she realized that in a sense her family had been temporarily homeless.

“With all the kids needing help in our own family, we always had enough to help others out,” Sanchez said.

“Our house was the hub of the neighborhood,” Barrios said.

She said a phrase in Spanish that her mother often said to them when they were growing up and then translated it into English.

“Tell me who you are hanging out with and I’ll tell you who you are,” Barrios said.

Public service comes with some challenges, including taking time away from their families.

“It’s a trade-off,” Barrios said. “I know in years to come they will benefit.”

Sanchez recalled a recent moment when one of Andrade’s grandsons realized his aunt was a county supervisor when his class did a project on local government.

“He knew his grandma’s title, but it was a wonderful realization,” Sanchez said, of his connecting his aunt with the county leaders. “He was so proud.”

The Sanchez family spirit of service is rubbing off on the next generation, they said. “We are united as a family,” Barrios said. “We are passing on the same passion to our kids.”

Andrade commented that their grandchildren are already finding ways to help with such events as Relay For Life, an annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

“One thing at the holidays that we established is to make the children give a gift to another child rather than just expecting gifts from others,” Andrade said.

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