CARBONDALE — Students of Ivone Muñoz remembered the longtime Carbondale teacher on New Year’s Eve as someone who inspired them to stay in school, stay out of trouble and not give up on their dreams.
“She was like an aunt or a second mom to me, and for my sister,” said Jose Guevara of himself and his sister, Maria, who not only had Muñoz as a teacher at Roaring Fork High School, but are close friends with the Muñoz family.
“She was so nice to everyone, and she treated everyone the same,” Guevara, a freshman at RFHS, said following a funeral mass for Muñoz held at the school on Tuesday. “And when I had problems with my family, she taught me not to run away and to study.”
Ilce Loraeza, a sophomore at RFHS, said she always looked forward to Muñoz’s smile in class.
“She taught us that it’s important to stay in class, and she always told us to fight for our dreams and helped us as undocumented students to know we could succeed,” she said.
Muñoz, born and raised in Carbondale to an immigrant family, was encouraged as a teenager herself to complete her studies, and eventually returned to the classroom in her hometown to teach, primarily teaching English Language Learner students.
She died Dec. 27, 2013, at the age of 40, after having battled cancer since the fall of 2012.
“You were a great coach, as well as a great friend. We will miss you greatly,” Mayett Ruiz wrote on a soccer ball that sat on a table outside the high school gymnasium, where about 200 people, Latino and Anglo in unity, gathered to pay their respects.
Muñoz was an avid soccer player from her youth and as an adult while raising her own four children in Carbondale.
Father Dan Norwick spoke during the funeral of Muñoz’s beauty, both her own and the beauty of the world she shared with others. He also spoke of her “joy of life,” and of soccer.
“The Gospel speaks of preparing a place for us,” he said. “There will be plenty of room to play soccer [in Heaven].”
Laura Larios, who graduated from RFHS last spring, said Muñoz taught her students to “never give up on anything. She always reminded us that when a door closes, another one eventually opens.”
Neiby Vargas not only had Muñoz as a teacher to help see him through to graduate high school in 2011, she was his aunt.
“She would always be there when my mom couldn’t be, and always made sure we got to our soccer games,” Vargas said.
As a teacher, “She gave hope to students to stay in school and wouldn’t let them back down,” he said.
Another former RFHS student, Alex Alvarado, posted on Facebook upon learning of Muñoz’s death last weekend, “Your example taught us to persevere and take advantage of that which makes us different. I’m reminded of the great lessons you taught me. To push through adversity, to have compassion for the misunderstood, and to never underestimate what unity, pride, and a voice can do to change the world.”
Her co-workers at RFHS shared similar thoughts.
“I feel like she passed on a tradition of caring, especially for the Latino community,” said Zabdi Fuentes, who worked as a teacher’s aide in Muñoz’s classroom. “She never gave up on anyone.”
Added RFHS Assistant Principal Barbara Mason, “She was so devoted to her students but never let any of them take the easy road. She had such high expectations and held each and every one accountable. She embodied all the wonderful traits she wanted for her students, and they saw that every day.”