Friends and family say it's hard to put into words the amount of impact Grace Munoz-Rios had on the people around her, as many who knew her would say she had dedicated her life to community service. On Friday morning, a few of her friends gathered at the Porterville Area Coordinating Council (PACC) office to talk about their favorite memories with Munoz-Rios and relay what they knew about her years and years of community service.
Munoz-Rios, the mother to two daughters and grandmother to two grandchildren, passed away in her home on Wednesday afternoon after a short battle with glioblastoma. She was 70.
From creating a youth program called “Straight Activities” to being honored on the city’s Wall of Fame, Munoz-Rios had a lasting effect on the community even though most of her work was done behind the scenes. In addition to being involved in supporting veterans with resources fairs, Munoz-Rios also sat on the Board of Directors for Comision Honorifica Mexicana-Americana (CHMA), coordinated the annual Toys For Tots drives during Christmas time and was heavily involved with the Salvation Army.
“Our kids and her kids went to Olive Street School together,” said Fred Beltran. “Back then, we were involved in the first Hispanic 4H Club in the state and she was part of that. We also started organizing and creating a non-profit called Straight Activities. It was a youth program to help channel some of the energy that kids have into other things. We started graffiti and alley clean-ups. We were the first youth organization here.”
Beltran said he and his wife, Elva, went separate ways from Munoz-Rios after the city created their own youth program, but later they began working together again at CHMA. Beltran said Munoz-Rios was heavily involved in the activities CHMA would host, especially for Cinco de Mayo and Dia de los Muertos. As her community service work continued, Munoz-Rios became involved with PACC through the work she was doing with the Salvation Army.
“Between CHMA, PACC, Salvation Army and Toys For Tots, we pretty much saw her every day,” said Beltran. “To lose somebody like that, and the role she played in all these different non-profits, there is a big void left behind. We will greatly miss her.”
Mary Lou Castillo, who worked with Munoz-Rios through Toys For Tots and the Salvation Army, said Munoz-Rios was the one who got her to ring the bells in front of WalMart for the Salvation Army.
“It was hard on Grace because she was the one who would take the kettles first thing in the morning, and she would be the last one to pick them up,” said Castillo. “She would also be a stand-in if nobody showed. It was a volunteer thing. If there was anybody that was busy, let me tell you, it was Grace. She did it all.”
After retiring, Munoz-Rios immersed herself into her volunteer work, sometimes spending entire days at the CHMA and PACC offices helping others fill out paperwork or connecting them with the resources they needed.
All of the work she did for the community after her retirement was volunteer only. Not only did she help with paperwork, Munoz-Rios did notary, offered her interpreting skills to the deaf and Spanish speaking communities, and helped to create a foundation designed to help children learn how to play music.
Munoz-Rios was a part of the first graduating class of Leadership Porterville in 1991, served as the President for the Board of Directors for CHMA, was part of the League of United Latin American Citizens, and helped to organize the first Women’s Day conference in Porterville. She was also named the Porterville Chamber of Commerce’s Woman of the Year in 2013 and was nominated to the city’s Wall of Fame in 2019.
“One of the things that I can honestly recognize and respect is that she put her heart into it,” said Roberto de la Rosa, who worked closely with Munoz-Rios through CHMA. “Grace was a very, very effective President on the Board of Directors. Just in that respect alone, being a chairperson of a board is not an easy job. She did it extremely well and for that I am very grateful.”
De la Rosa said Munoz-Rios was especially involved in CHMA’s Cinco de Mayo events. Munoz-Rios even served as the Grand Marshal for one of the Cinco de Mayo parades held in Porterville.
“Grace was out there,” said de la Rosa. “She would be out there at five in the morning looking at all the spaces, and it wouldn’t stop there. She kept going all day long. That’s the kind of woman she was. She set the pace, set the example, and she got it done.”
With more than 40 years of community service under her belt, it's nearly impossible to list all of Munoz-Rios’ involvement in the community, friends and family said. Her passing is felt hard, as it has left several voids in large volunteer positions, including a coordinator for the area’s Toys For Tots program.j friends and family added.
Munoz-Rios’ family is asking those who would like to remember Grace to make a donation to PACC or CHMA, as these were the local non-profit organizations she did most of her work with.
Those wishing to donate in memory of Grace Munoz-Rios can send their donations to the following P.O. Boxes; CHMA Inc., P.O. Box 2043, 466 E. Putnam Avenue, Porterville 93257 or PACC, P.O. Box 2206, 368 E. Date Avenue, Porterville 93257.