Manuela Rendon, long-time Head Start director, remembered with joy, gratitude

Manuela Rendon is seen at a Day at the Zoo event in Brownsville. Rendon, 76, died Dec. 26, 2022, after a lifetime of community service, most notably with Head Start, a federal program that prepares children age 5 and under from low-income families for school. (Courtesy photo)

RIO HONDO — She was the catalyst of joy in so many lives, and Manuela Rendon’s light will continue to burn from one to another.

“My aunt, she was a wonderful woman with a big heart of gold,” said Sandra Rendon, 46, after funeral services Wednesday for the beloved matriarch.

Manuela Rendon died Dec. 26 at the age of 76, after a lifetime of community service in various capacities, most notably with Head Start, a federal program which prepares children age 5 and under from low-income families for school.

Manuela, the mother of twin daughters Griselda and Daniela, became director of Head Start in 1977.

In 1989, she worked with other community members to establish Neighbors in Need of Services. That organization became the Head Start program of Cameron and Willacy counties, of which she became executive director in 1990.

“She spent her life building one of the best Head Start programs in the entire country here in Cameron and Willacy counties,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairperson of the Texas Democratic Party and former Cameron County judge.

“She took a program that was designed to provide early childhood education to children and grew it to being much more than that,” Hinojosa said. “It provided not just an opportunity to the children, it also brought the families to the entire effort, where families would participate with the children. They would become part of the organization, different parent organizations which were in the Head Start program.”

She was and will continue to be an iconic community leader whose impact on children and families will spread far and wide across generations.

But more than a powerful leader, she was also a loyal friend and relative to many.

“She loved sending inspirational messages like letting you know you can be whatever you want to be,” said Amanda Rendon, 40, remembering her aunt.

“She always wanted us to be educated,” she said. “She wanted us to have a successful life, successful living.”

Manuela Rendon provided her nieces with rich childhood remembrances.

“I was always over there as a little girl,” said Amanda Rendon. “I was always over there with her daughters, my cousins. We always slept over there. She would always love to cook for us.”

She and Sandra both remembered their tia’s own recipe for spaghetti and chicharrones, and her love for Vegas casinos.

“She loved traveling,” Amanda Rendon recalled. “She traveled everywhere. She loved places. Her daughters aren’t from here, they live in Houston, and her only granddaughter lives in Philadelphia. Her daughters were her everything, and her granddaughter was her everything.”

Manuela Rendon was also a devoted friend to many, including Hinojosa.

“She was not a fair weather friend,” Hinojosa said. “She was there with you through the good times and the hard. She made a point to check up on me and my family and my friends. When you were in distress because something bad happened to you or your family, she was at your house trying to make sure you had everything that you needed.”