NAUGATUCK — “We will miss her beautiful smile, her love of learning and most of all her willingness to help her students and colleagues.”
Those are the words Naugatuck High School Associate Principal Eileen Mezzo used in a letter to NHS staff regarding the passing of Spanish teacher Rebecca Cruz.
Cruz, 48, died July 9 at her home in Ansonia after battling pancreatic cancer for over a year and a half. She taught at Naugatuck High for the past 13 years.
Mike Huzior, a former student of Cruz, said Cruz treated students like family.
“She always treated me like I was a part of her family,” said Huzior, who will be a senior in the fall. “That’s basically what our class was; one big family.”
Cruz was diagnosed with cancer early last year and took a medical leave of absence from teaching. When the staff and students learned of the diagnosis that sense of family at NHS shined through.
The high school rallied around its beloved teacher. Students and staff organized fundraisers and events to support Cruz and her family.
Last June, the school’s DECA chapter hosted Cruz Night — an all-night event that featured a walk-a-thon and raised about $39,000 for the Cruz family. Cruz was the guest of honor that night. She walked on to the football field at about 11:30 p.m. and was immediately surrounded by a crowd of adoring students, many of whom hadn’t seen her since she took a leave of absence.
“She was moved to tears just seeing all those kids and the love that they had for her,” marketing teacher and DECA advisor Tim Reilly said. “She’s going to be so sorely missed in that building.”
While going through treatments twice a month, Cruz returned to teach her Spanish III and V classes at the start of the 2014-15 school year. The strength shown by Cruz is what amazed a lot of students most, including former student Chris Yacavone, who graduated last month.
“She always had a bright and vibrant personality with a huge smile even though she was struggling so much,” said Yacavone, a former DECA officer who helped to organize Cruz Night.
Cruz’s condition worsened this spring and she was forced to take a leave of absence for the remainder of the school year. A few months later, Cruz died after over 25 years of teaching.
“While her official job title was world language teacher at Naugatuck High School, she taught her students and the faculty so much more,” Mezzo wrote.
Cruz leaves behind her husband, Jesus Cruz and two daughters, Carina and Christa Cruz. Funeral services were held early this week.
The Board of Education paid tribute to Cruz with a moment of silence at its July 9 meeting.
“The Board of Education and the entire school district are saddened by the death of Ms. Cruz,” school board Chairman David Heller said. “Both students and staff were inspired by her heroic battle against cancer, and our students and staff will always hold what she taught them and her memory close to their hearts.”
After learning of Cruz’s death, many students posted messages of mourning on social media for their beloved Spanish teacher.
Several of the posts included the magnificent picture of students creating a pink bow on the football field as a way to honor Cruz during her battle. The students expressed that Cruz will be missed by so many and will always be remembered.
Huzior said that one of the things he will miss most about Cruz is her kind and giving spirit.
“She is hands down one of the most self-less people I’ve met in my entire life, and that is something I’ll always admire and never forget,” Huzior said.
The Republican-American contributed to this article.