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News & Events: A Lasting Education from Juan

August 10, 2008

Article from Delaware Online

By Adalberto Ortiz-Silva

Sometimes a person enters the world and positively transforms it. I am one of the many students whose life was transformed by Dr. Juan Villamarin, an anthropology professor at the University of Delaware who recently passed away.

My first contact with Juan was over the phone when he told me that I had been admitted to UD with a full academic scholarship. When we met, I thanked him and asked why he was helping me. He did not answer. He simply looked at me in a way that said, "Because I care about students like you who have so much potential, but who will need someone to guide and support them in order to succeed in an environment that is not always welcoming."

From then on he became my mentor and inspiration. The Department of Anthropology became my home away from home. Juan always told people that I was a very angry young man when he first me me, and it was absolutely true. I had done my part by performing well in school and staying out of trouble, but I did not have inner peace.

Out of all the Latino kids from the barrio in Wilmington, I was perhaps the only one attending a four-year college. Juan showed me what it meant to have a social conscience and how to improve the unjust world in which we live. He went out of his way to help people and did not expecet any recognition in return. His reward was to see those in need overcome obstacles and succeed.

During my undergraduate years I almost gave up several times, but one thing kept me going. I did not want to disappoint Juan. He had done so much for me and had become the father figure I never had growing up. I made a habit of seeing him because he made me feel good, that I belonged at UD and was less lonely.

I would talk with him about ways to make the university a more welcoming environment for Latinos and other disenfranchised groups. Juan and his wife, Judy, became a family to me. I loved him like a father, and I know he loved me like a son. With his support and guidance I was able to complete a B.A., M.A. and a Ph.D.

I am a rarity among Wilmington Latinos. The angry young man who Juan met in the summer of 1991 channeled that energy into positive things. Today I try to continue Juan's legacy by helping those in need regardless of their backgrounds. Juan lives through me and the thousands of people he deeply touched.

We need more Juan Villamarins in the world. He was a man who, despite all the negativity that surrounds us every day, believed things could be better and we all have the right to live a decent life. Judy, his wife, believed in what he did and never complained about the many hours he spent helping others.

Because of Juan's tireless efforts in advocacy, mentoring, advising and teaching, hundreds of Latinos from Delaware and beyond earned college degrees. The University of Delaware is now a better place for minority students. Juan never wanted recognition, but I'm giving it to him.

Gracias Juan