York Town Square

Part of the USAToday Network

Vilma Garcia-Jones remembered as prime spokesman for Latinos in York County

Vilma Garcia- Jones, working with U.S. Census in 2000, tosses goodies to school children outside the York Post Office as part of activities to raise public awareness about the census. Background posts: Delma Rivera, ‘Legacies,’ Part II, York Spanish Council organized 33 years ago and A short test of your York black history knowledge – Part II.

The e-mailer was blunt.
On your list of firsts, why have you skipped over the name of Vilma Garcia-Jones, the first Latina to serve and be elected to the York City School Board?
First off, Vilma Garcia-Jones, who died in February 2002, was the major proponent in York County for the Latino community in the 1990s.
That was a time of great growth in the Spanish-speaking population in York, particularly those coming from Puerto Rico. And as the forceful exec at the Spanish American Center, Vilma Garcia-Jones was in the right position to serve as community spokeswoman for that community… .

Among many other honors, she gained the YWCA of York’s prestigious People Who Make A Difference Award, a hall of fame that includes Sue Schmidt, Loretta Claiborne, Margaret E. Moul and Jack VanNewkirk.
Second, our list of firsts is a work in progress. As researchers run across such firsts, we’ll add their names.
When Garcia-Jones gained appointment to the school board in October 1989, newspaper reports hedged, saying she may be the first Hispanic to sit on the board.
Thomas Hall, board president at the time of the appointment, said no Latinos had served since he arrived on the scene in 1985. Luther B. Sowers, longtime assistant superintendent of city schools, also cannot recall any Latino board members before Garcia-Jones.
Interestingly, Garcia-Jones gained her appointment soon after a newspaper series ran in which she criticized the city school district.
“You have teachers telling you you should go back to your own country because you don’t speak English,” she said.
Hall said at the time that he was not aware of those comments.
Garcia-Jones’ outspokenness on Latino issues would sound for the next decade.
When she died from cancer at the age of 59, her obituary listed her school board directorship among a long list of community activities:

“She had chaired the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Latino Affairs during the administration of the late Robert P. Casey; in York, she had been executive director of the Spanish-American Center. She served on the Board of Directors of York City School District, the YWCA, Girl Scouts of America and several minority business organizations. She was a member of Rotary Club and Commissions on York City Strategic Planning and Prejudice Reduction. She received the York YWCA “Women Who Make a Difference” award, the York Elks “Certificate of Appreciation/Recognition,” the U.S. Postal Service “Community Activist” award, and the York County Hispanic Coalition’s “Recognition for Contribution to Education” award. She attended City View Community Church in York, formerly Christian Life Church, where she was a spiritual counselor and participated in several activities; she also had been a missionary in Central America and Mexico.”