Profiling Tepehua – February 2024

I received a call from Moonie King one afternoon in early December. The call started out with a greeting from Sandra Zamora, who now runs the Tepehua Community Center, and has been mentored by Moonie the last few years. After our brief hello, she passed the phone to Moonie, who got right to the point.

“Mary, I want you to take over the Tepehua column in the Ojo Del Lago. You’re familiar with the community through the sewing program, the thrift shop, and you live on the hill. You can do this. You will do a great job.”

Classic Moonie King- always positive, encouraging, putting Tepehua first, ever mindful of the challenges in the barrio in which she has devoted the last decade and more of her life. 

Her breathing was heavy, shaky. We had been told that the doctors were saying she had four or five months to live. She had just turned 88 the previous week, celebrating with a few close friends who showed up at her home with a bottle of wine. She sipped hers from a straw.

My heart was beating; I sensed the seriousness of her tone. “Moonie, I am honored that you consider me. I need to think about it a bit. I’d like to visit you soon and just get a few details…maybe tomorrow. At this moment, I’m not saying ‘no’ and I’m not saying ‘yes.’”

“I’m not sure where I’ll be Mary.” At that, I assured her I would see her the next day. The next day came, and I got the call from another volunteer to tell me she had passed.

I could almost feel the wave of shared grief that at that moment was being felt as the news of her death blew like a cold winter wind throughout Tepehua and the entire Lakeside community. It was hard to believe she was gone. 

I write these words one week after her death and the gentle strength and dedication of her spirit are still first and foremost in the hearts and minds of those who worked with her, who knew her and even those who only knew of her. She was powerful in her quiet way. She made things happen. She surrounded herself with an army of volunteers. She loved the community of Tepehua. She never ran out of ideas, hopes and dreams  to help improve the lives of the people there.

Honestly, I didn’t know Moonie well. The Tepehua Sewing Group that I run has a classroom at the community center which Moonie started in 2010, but our group is independent with its competent sewing team who now sell their wares out of Tepehua’s thrift shop in Riberas. I’d mostly see her at the shop, as she frequently stopped in to give a hand or just to check in. 

After a tough week without Moonie and knowing that she wanted us all to carry on as before, I set about to investigate her life. Where should I begin learning about this amazing woman who comes with such a rich history herself, not to mention  learning more of the history of Tepehua and the incredible role she played in creating a community center in a poor barrio in Chapala. Alongside her mighty army, she tirelessly devoted herself to empowering women, educating children, and improving the quality of life for the families who live there. Her legacy includes a medical and dental center, a pharmacy, sewing, water and sanitation, and education assistance, among other programs housed at the Tepehua Community Center. 

So please be gentle with us…we’re hurting. Tepehua will still live on, thanks to the love Moonie King gifted to Tepehua and its people, which in the long run is a gift to all of us.

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Mary Ruzich
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