In the small town of Linn-San Manuel, Texas, everyone knows who "Mrs. Rendon" is.
Lydia Rendon (BA '60), who was celebrated as a Pillar of Success at her alma mater, The University of Texas-Pan American, on Feb. 15, is a lifelong educator who spent a half century changing the lives of more than 1,000 students who came in and out of her life every school year at Edinburg CISD's Brewster School.
"My passion is teaching," she said.
Her interest in education began in 1954 when she was offered a job at Brewster School as an office aide and bookkeeper, with the condition that she would substitute teach when needed. She soon learned that she loved teaching and switched from accounting to pursue an education degree at Pan American College (PAC).
She took classes on Saturdays and would travel by train, school bus, public transportation or farm truck to get to the campus. She remembers paying a couple of hundred dollars for her college tuition then. Rendon mostly funded her education by working at the San Manuel Store in town.
It is well known throughout Linn-San Manuel that Rendon could be spotted sometimes driving a tractor to work when the family vehicle was not available. Rendon said she had to get to work somehow.
"That was the big story here that I used to drive a tractor to work," she said. "I didn't think anything of it then."
At the age of 19, she started saving all her earned wages to pay for each semester at PAC, never losing site of her goal to earn that degree.
In May 1956, while a college student she married the love of her life Tomas Rendon, who was her biggest fan and supporter. She said Tomas always encouraged her to be the best teacher she could be, and that meant the world to her.
"He was very supportive," she said, remembering her late husband.
The Rendons were married 53 years and those were the best years of her life, she said.
The couple had two daughters, Cynthia Vidaurri (BS '79) and Pam Ponce (BS '83), who followed in their mother's footsteps by graduating from her alma mater and entering the education field. Even though they never had her as teacher themselves, the sisters said they have heard from many of her former students on what she has meant to them.
"She was involved in their lives from kinder through eighth grade, so they clearly got to know her. She taught so many generations and so many people know her here," Ponce said.
Growing up as a migrant worker alongside her eight siblings and parents, Rendon fulfilled her parent's dream of her graduating from college and becoming a teacher - which for them was the most important job anyone could ever have- by earning her degree in 1960 from PAC.
So began the journey for Rendon into what would be one of the longest teaching careers for an educator at Edinburg CISD.
After 40 years of teaching she decided to retire, but after an entire year of retirement, was asked to return to Brewster and teach one semester. She agreed to do so because she was getting anxious at home not knowing what to do with her new found time off. That one semester turned into an extra 10 years.
She said that she could not leave the students "hanging."
"I loved my work. All I ever wanted to do was teach the kids," she said.
To celebrate her more than 50 years of service to children, the school district honored her legacy by naming of the Brewster School Library after her. For Rendon, becoming a teacher was never about making money or earning prestigious awards, it was always about the children, whom she encouraged every day to be the best, always dream big, and always be good citizens of the world.
Rendon remembers many of her students by name and many still keep in touch with her. She said her former students often honk their horns as they drive by her home on Highway 281 and she is consistently named by graduating high school seniors as the most influential teacher who impacted their lives.
A devout Catholic, Rendon has also prepared many children for their first communion through CCD classes at St. Anne Catholic Church in San Manuel for more than 30 years.
One such student whom she inspired was Dr. Ernesto Guerra Jr., who was one of her first-grade students when she began her teaching career. The 65-year-old recalls how "Mrs. Rendon" was a disciplinarian in the classroom, which he said was OK with him because at that age everyone needed some rules, he joked.
Ernesto, a gastroenterologist in San Antonio, said he is not surprised at her being honored by UTPA. Afterall, he said she has been a pillar of the Linn-San Manuel community for as long as he can remember.
"She is a pillar in a sense that she dedicated her entire life to educating the kids in an area that is very rural and is very unique, but has produced a significant amount of very prominent citizens," Ernesto said.
Carlos Guerra, Ernesto's brother-in-law and owner of La Muneca Cattle Company in Linn, Texas, said Rendon is an important part of the Guerra family and considers her one of the best teachers of all time.
He said she has had a positive influence on the life of every student who went through Brewster School, including himself and his wife, Ofira, whom everyone knows as "Sister," and their four children. Carlos said Rendon also taught 14 of 17 of his nieces and nephews.
Like Ernesto, Carlos strongly believes her skills as a disciplinarian and her capacity to love and believe in others have helped shaped the lives of many.
"She will someday leave this world a lot better than she found it due to her lifelong commitment to education," Carlos said.
To see more of Rendon's story, view a special video in honor of our Pillar of Success: