On Thursday, July 22, Ronald “Ron” R. Marquez, 62, of Rio Communities, died at an Albuquerque hospital.
A former superintendent for Belen Consolidated Schools, Ron began his career in education at Grants/Cibola County Schools in 1982, filling the roles of teacher, football coach, assistant principal, athletic director and principal.
During Marquez’s career with BCS from 1995 to 2015, he was the principal at Belen High School and Rio Grande Elementary before moving on as director of human resources and then advancing to superintendent from 2011 to 2015.
When he graduated from Grants High School in 1977, the uranium mines were booming and all Marquez’s friends had jobs at the mines and drove cool cars, his widow, Karen, said.
“He told his dad, ‘All my friends have great cars,’ so his father said, ‘If it’s a car you want, what do you want?’” Karen recalled.
A 1979 Corvette kept Marquez on the academic path at The University of New Mexico, where he earned a bachelor of science and double majored in physical education and history. He would later return to UNM for his master’s degree in education administration.
Marquez always wanted to be a coach, so in 1982 he joined the ranks of his high school alma mater as an assistant football coach.
“He liked being a football player (in high school). He had some coaches in his time that helped him and he wanted to help kids,” Karen said.
In high school, Marquez was student council president, and an all-around outgoing social person who loved being around people.
As a father, he wanted his three daughters — Juanita Diane, Christina Rose and Melanie Roni — to focus on academics, telling them it was their job to go to school.
Karen and the girls were also part of Marquez’s professional career, going to games at home and on the road when he was a coach, and even as an administrator. His first year as the Belen High School principal, the entire family was on campus the day before classes began to help give the campus a final cleaning.
“He’s out there doing the last run through and we’re all out there with him,” said Juanita, his oldest daughter. “Picking up trash, cleaning out the corners that might have been missed.”
All three of his children remember family trips centered around work conferences Marquez attended.
“He involved us in whatever his job was,” Karen said. “We followed him.”
As Marquez moved up the ranks from coach to teacher to administrator, his commitment and support of students never ceased. He was on the sidelines of every athletic event he could, as well as drama and band performances.
Working hard and leaving things better than you found them was a lesson he taught his daughters.
“You always want to make it better for the next person. It was always about making improvements and doing what you could to leave your mark,” Juanita said.
Marquez’s dedication to education inspired his daughters’ career paths, with all three now working in the education field.
A band director at Belen High School when Marquez became principal, Aubrey Tucker remembers him as being someone who had a very good grasp on systems and how to create and keep those systems in place.
“He brought that to the entire high school, how to make it run very efficiently,” said Tucker, who is now a member of the Belen Board of Education.
During that time period, the BHS band program flourished, Tucker said, even garnering an invitation to the White House to play for President Bill Clinton. So when Marquez delivered the news that Tucker’s contract wouldn’t be renewed, it came as a surprise. Instead, he wanted Tucker to become an assistant principal at the high school.
“He said the best thing about becoming an administrator at that time was everyone knows you’re at your pinnacle, and when you’re fired as an administrator, you can go back to being a band teacher,” Tucker said laughing. “That was the kind of wisdom Ron had.”
Ron and Karen met during an Our Lady of Belen Fiestas when his family came to the Hub City from Cebolleta in Cibola County for the celebrations. They dated, mostly long distance, for 10 years because Marquez had a plan.
“He wanted to go to college and have a job before we got married,” Karen said.
His proposal, 38 years ago, was very typical, the four say, laughing.
“Well, he asked me if I could plan a wedding between football and track season,” Karen said with a chuckle.
After his death, Karen and his daughters have heard from dozens of people who knew Marquez as a coach or a teacher, telling them about the impact he made on their lives.
At a conference earlier this week, Melanie met a coach at Piedra Vista who had played for her father.
“He got to tell me all these stories about my dad and how he wouldn’t be where he’s at or the coach he is if it wasn’t for my dad,” Melanie said. “He introduced me to all these people who knew him and told me how influential he was in their lives. It was just so very humbling to hear all these men now saying how much my dad impacted their lives.”
Both Ron and Karen received their second COVID-19 vaccine dose on Feb. 5, their 38th wedding anniversary. The couple took a trip to Las Vegas, Nev., last month and a few days after their return, they began feeling ill.
“We were feeling sluggish, feeling tired,” Karen said.
That was on July 5. Two days later, the couple went to an urgent care and rapid COVID-19 tests came back positive for both. Doctors told the couple they were likely exposed sometime between June 21 and July 3.
On immunosuppressant medications since a kidney transplant in 2013, Marquez was at risk for complications from the virus so he was admitted to the hospital for a few days. He was released on July 10 but by the following evening, his breathing deteriorated to the point he couldn’t get himself into bed, Karen said.
“By midnight he was on his way to Albuquerque to be admitted into (The University of New Mexico Hospital). He was admitted and never came out,” she said.
No one was allowed to see him, and on Saturday, July 17, Marquez was sedated and intubated. Karen and the girls still talked to him every day over FaceTime.
The night he died, they were on the app, giving him a play-by-play description of the Olympic softball competition happening half a world away.
“All of a sudden the nurse came into the room and said, ‘We have to go. Bye,’” said Christina.
On the way to the hospital, Karen got a call — medical personnel were trying to resuscitate her husband. Knowing it was the end, she told them to stop. It was only after he died did she and her daughters get to see him again, but not before they donned full PPE.
“You know, there are people not wanting to get vaccinated because they’re against it or whatever their beliefs are,” Karen said. “But you’re not helping out. These other (people) that might have underlying health conditions, you’re not helping them.”
From Saturday, July 24, to Tuesday, July 27, the state Department of Health reported 874 new COVID-19 cases in the state and five additional deaths statewide, one of which was a woman in her 50s from Valencia County, who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
In those four days, there were 33 new cases reported in the county. As of Tuesday, there have been 7,067 positive cases in Valencia County and 122 deaths since the pandemic began in March 2020.
After his death, the family was told because of his kidney transplant it’s very likely Marquez never developed the antibodies he needed from the vaccine.
“People who are on immunosuppressant drugs might need to be double vaccinated,” Juanita said. “We were going to go get him the antibody test, but you had to be vaccinated for four full months. We had it all scheduled; he never got to that date.”
While he was in the hospital fighting COVID-19, doctors asked Karen to make what she called “horrible decisions” about her husband’s future care.
“We were going to have to look at different care because he wasn’t getting better,” she said through tears. “He didn’t want me to have to make those horrible decisions, so he took care of them. That was him taking care of me, of us.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.