In Memoriam: Professor Luis Fuentes

Professor Luis Fuentes
Rest In Peace

The following was written by Sonia Nieto, Emerita Professor, College of Education.

Luis Fuentes, a beloved professor and mentor to many students over his tenure as a teacher and professor in several states and at the University of Massachusetts, died on May 10, 2014 in Boquerón, Puerto Rico where he had made his home since 2000. Born on October 17, 1928 in Spanish Harlem, New York City, Luis was a product of the New York City Schools. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and relocating to Georgia, he entered Georgia Teachers College (now Georgia Southern University), earning a B.A. and his teaching certification in 1953. He went on to earn a master’s degree at Mercer College in Macon, Georgia and a doctorate from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey. A classroom teacher and, later, principal in New York City, he went on to become the first Puerto Rican Superintendent in the New York City Public School system. Always a champion of the disenfranchised and the poor, Luis Fuentes was a vocal proponent of bilingual education, community control, and parent involvement. As Community Superintendent of District 1 in New York City, he initiated and implemented numerous reforms including bilingual education, parent involvement and community control, and the hiring of a diverse group of teachers and administrators at a time where they were almost nonexistent in the public schools.

Moving to Massachusetts with his family in 1977, Dr. Fuentes was a professor in the School (now College) of Education until 1992, helping to establish and provide a vision for the Bilingual/ESL/Multicultural Program, still operating today. Because of his devotion to his students and community, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Massachusetts in 1993, just a year after retiring.

Dr. Fuentes is survived by his wife Montserrate Reyes Ruiz, also an educator, his sister Victoria Fuentes Illari, and children Louis, George, Patricia, and David (who followed in his father’s footsteps and is now an Assistant Professor of Education at William Patterson University in New Jersey). His first wife, Dora, an innovative and treasured educator in her own right, predeceased him in 1992. His children Terry, Ramon, and Daniel also predeceased him.

Luis Fuentes’s legacy is one of unconditional support and caring for his students, as well as unbridled enthusiasm and love for all children. He was a cherished teacher, a respected colleague, and a valued friend. He encouraged and helped many students to become teachers, administrators, and professors. Hundreds of former students could talk about how Luis Fuentes changed their lives. One example comes from Maribella Hennessey (Owen, at the time as she was not yet married), a teacher in Chicopee, MA, who, upon hearing of his passing, wrote,

“Luis was my professor, my advisor  and my mentor. I owe my being a teacher to him. While I was working on my master's degree, he kept ‘pestering’ me to apply to become certified to teach. I really had no direction in my career and he kept saying I had to give teaching a try. I will never forget: it was a very cold winter Saturday morning in 1981. It was around 8:30 am and my mom said ‘There is a gentleman at the door asking for you. He said he teaches at UMASS.” It was Luis Fuentes with the papers for me to apply because Monday was the last day… the rest is history. My parents were blown away to think that he would take the time from his weekend to come over and ‘make me apply.’ He wrote me such a beautiful letter of recommendation. I just went and pulled it out of my files and cried as I read it. I can honestly say I owe to him the happiness that teaching has brought to my life. He kept telling me that he knew I would be a great teacher. I remember it was windy and snowing and my mom invited him in to have coffee. Then of course, you know Luis, my parents and he became great friends.”

Like Maribella Hennessey, many hundreds of others have been forever changed by Luis Fuentes’s unqualified support and his dogged determination in pursuit of equity and social justice. He will be sorely missed.

Sonia Nieto

May 2014


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