An educator must be highly regarded if when people utter their name, reverence follows. The name holds a special place in students’ hearts. They lovingly refer to him as “tío” — or uncle for the non-Spanish speaking readers.
Richard Delgado was born to a family with impactful legacies a mile long. The type of legacies that those following in their family’s footsteps could find hard to equal.
In 1917, his great-grandfather, José Delgado, was the first Mexican-American to own land in Dinuba and was a restaurateur in the town for 50 years.
During the 1930s, he pioneered the Dinuba Dons, one of the first Mexican-American baseball teams in the area. Both Richard’s grandfather, Félix Delgado, and father, Richard F. Delgado, played for the Dons.
Richard’s great-grandfather on his mother’s side, Thomas Welch, hopped on a freight car traveling to Chowchilla from Oklahoma with $20 to his name during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Welch’s migration was reminiscent of the Joad family from John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.”
This picture is of my mother’s family. My grandfather is the one holding the little boy. My mom’s parents are Thomas Welch and Emma Welch.
Delgado’s legacy began in 1979 when he first stepped foot on Clovis West High School’s campus as a seventh-grader — Clovis Unified School District (CUSD) hadn’t built Kastner Intermediate School at the time.
For the next six years, Delgado dedicated almost every minute of his time to the marching band, earning the distinction of being the second drum major in Clovis West history.
Unbeknownst to Delgado, his music involvement would lead him to an educator’s career path, a career that has now spanned 36 years.
“The band director asked me, ‘Would you like to come back and help with a marching band,” Delgado said. “So, I started working with the marching band the summer I graduated, August of 1985.”
What Delgado thought would be a short-term job in his spare time quickly turned into years of dedication to his alma mater, and at the 10-year mark, he realized he was in it for the long haul.
“All of a sudden, 10 years into it [educating] and I’m like…this is actually kind of cool,” Delgado said. “I woke up, got here and am still here. I graduated in ‘85, and I never left.”
In 1998, Delgado transitioned into the campus monitor’s role, a newly created position by the district, and worked in the student responsibility center (SRC).
“It [the SRC] was a place to send the student so we would be able to sit and talk with them and see what’s going on,” Delgado said. “But then also, if they had an infraction…we would have to give the detention.”
For the next 17 years, as campus monitor and later lead student relations liaison, Delgado was the disciplinarian. He was sent students that misbehave, receive referrals and are dismissed from class.
Often catching students on their worst days, Delgado understood that outside forces generally dictated the student’s actions and emotions.
So, despite being the disciplinarian, he made an effort to invest in the students and build trust.
“It’s a little bit tough, but the biggest thing is that we try and build relationships with them,” Delgado said. “So that we can gain their trust and that they’re able to sit down and talk with us.”
Delgado works with students that people would label at-risk, but he believes that they are just unheard. He feels that this is something educators must think about when interacting with students.
“My philosophy with the kids that I come in contact with is they all have a story, and their story needs to be heard,” Delgado said. “Because then they’re going to feel, ‘Oh, this person really cares.’”
With that effort, students who worked with Delgado began reciprocating that appreciation by referring to him as tío.
“I always hold all my kids accountable. So, I got to the point where I could tell them, “Look, I’m going to tell you like your parents are going to tell you,” Delgado said. “I think that played a part in this to where, ‘Okay, yeah he does treat me like an uncle.’”
Delgado says that as the years pass, the students he’s worked with have become aunts, uncles and parents.
Now, he interacts with the nieces, nephews and former students’ children, adding to the Clovis West extended family.
Because his students have become an extended family, Delgado doesn’t want to lose them and takes it personally when they fail because they are family.
Delgado’s father instilled hard work and family into his son during his formative years.
“He instilled family. Big time,” Delgado said. “I got that from my dad. My dad’s family to us was everything.”
Delgado says that he tries to be like his dad and follow in his footsteps because his father was authentic. He knew that with hard work and family, there is something always better.
As an educator, Delgado followed his father’s wisdom, carving out his legacy with his work at Clovis West and the CUSD.
This year, CUSD chose Delgado as its Employee of the Year (EOY) and its representative for the 2021 Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Annual Education Awards in the same category.
Delgado’s list of accolades is substantial. However, he says that this nomination is the most prestigious achievement of his life, next to his four children’s births.
CUSD Superintendent Dr. Eimear O’Farrell informed Delgado of his nomination, and Delgado says, “When she started talking and then actually said it, I was floored. I was a big, bawling baby.”
On April 21, Dr. O’Farrell announced that Delgado would be one of three finalists for the EOY award and attend the award ceremony at the William Saroyan Theatre on Nov. 18.
Delgado wishes some of the people closest to him could witness what will be the most significant moment of his life.
“I wish that my dad was still alive. I wish my grandparents were still alive because education was huge [to them],” Delgado said. “I’m so grateful that my mom is still here so I can share all these accolades.”
Three years ago, Delgado’s father — the example of a man he strives to be — passed away, but he feels that if his father were alive to witness his EOY nomination, his father would burst into tears the same way he did when he received the news.
“He would be a blubbering mess,” Delgado said. “I learned not to hide my emotions from my dad. Because my dad, especially later on in life, wouldn’t hide his emotions.”
When the school bell rings, Delgado says that the main goal is to ensure that the students are doing okay mentally and emotionally while pointing to his head and heart.
“The whole part of it [his job] is checking in with them,” Delgado said. “There are a lot of kids that they don’t hear [have a great day] at all, or they may never hear it.”
With students back to in-person learning, Delgado tries to provide a sense of normalcy and consistency, especially students with troubled home lives that have had to be at home full-time because of the pandemic.
“You learn about their family, learn about what’s going on in their lives,” Delgado said. “You’re that constant that’s hopefully going to help them succeed.”
After decades of service, Delgado has been a fixture at Clovis West but feels that he only has a few years left in his career.
“I’m thinking I only got like eight more years,” Delgado said.
Delgado wants to pursue an administrative credential with retirement on his mind, which means his last few years may be spent elsewhere.
“I may have to leave. It’s not the best thing in my heart,” Delgado said. “I’ve been here for so long, I just think, “Okay, I’m gonna retire from Clovis West.’ But who knows.”
Coordinator for Community Relations Saul Salinas, who’s known Delgado for 15 years and works closely with him organizing the annual Latino Student Success Conference, says that Delgado could be a principal if he chooses to do so.
“When you talk about who’s made an impact, a difference. You can’t help but…pay attention to the work that Richard has done,” Salinas said. “I mean, he could easily be the principal of a school.”
For now, Delgado will continue to be the tío he’s been to Clovis West students for decades and says, “If you cut me, I bleed cardinal and gold.”