Babies are being baptized. Citizens are getting their day in court. Churchgoers are accessing lessons in scripture and leadership. And Esperanza Gurza is there, helping to make these things happen.
Gurza retired in 1990, after 21 years of teaching in Puget Sound’s foreign languages department. But that ending was just the beginning for this longtime Spanish professor, who has found a new career in volunteerism.
Over the years, she’s given hundreds of hours of her time to Sacred Heart Church—a Catholic congregation with a large Hispanic membership—often providing written or verbal translation services to congregants who couldn’t otherwise afford them. She’s accompanied fellow church members to hearings at the courthouse and to complete paperwork at the Washington State Department of Licensing. Gurza helps prepare Spanish-speaking members for sacraments, including marriage and baptism, and serves as an advocate for marriage annulment. And, most recently, she’s become part of a regional committee working to translate Seattle University’s three-year Scripture and Leadership Training (SALT) program into Spanish.
“That’s my pet project right now,” she says. “I just love the fact that it’s a lesson in theology every time we have a committee meeting.”
In addition to her church work, Gurza has been involved with Tacoma Urban League and Associated Ministries, serving on the boards of directors for both organizations. She also learned the art of doll making, from costuming and shoemaking to painting delicate facial features. She’s completed 17 of the porcelain beauties, most of which were inspired by her travels.
Gurza came to the States when she was in her early 20s; her intent was to stay a year or two. Her brother, a physician in the Tacoma area, encouraged her to learn English. She enrolled at the Tacoma Vocational School and got a job at the Tacoma Public Library, where she learned the intricacies of the English language by working the front desk.
While at the library, Gurza was introduced to a patron named Jacquie Martin, who was teaching at Puget Sound. Gurza’s new friend helped her apply for and win a partial college scholarship.
“Tuition was $250 a semester, but I was making 25 cents an hour at the library, and I was sending some of that money back to my mother in Mexico,” remembers Gurza. “I could not have afforded school without that scholarship.”
She earned her bachelor’s degree at Puget Sound in 1961 and went on to the University of Oregon, where she earned her master’s degree in Romance languages. Gurza began teaching public school but was lured away from Washington state for four-and-a-half years in the 1960s, when she and Jacquie Martin started the foreign language program at Claremont Colleges’ new Pitzer College. She came back to Tacoma in 1969 and began teaching at Puget Sound that year.
Gurza still regularly visits her native Mexico and enjoys coming back to campus for Jacobsen Series concerts and scholarship luncheons with her housemate and fellow Puget Sound retiree, Jacquie Martin.
“It was a terrific career, and I miss the students and my colleagues at the university, but I manage to keep fairly busy,” says Gurza. “For me, life is about learning and doing. And I’m pleased to say I’m still doing plenty of that.”
It’s a busy existence, but Gurza is proud that her post-professorial years have been filled with a healthy combination of learning, service, and fun.
“Too many people think life ends at retirement,” she says. “Not me. I am not sitting around waiting for death; death is going to have to work hard to catch me.”
— Mary Boone
Interested alumni can contact Professor Gurza at firstname.lastname@example.org.