SAN ANTONIO – For nearly half of his life, John Sauceda found himself at the head of the class.
He was a teacher for 37 years, spending a good portion of that time working in San Antonio schools.
"He loved being a teacher and he was very inspiring," said Elizabeth Adams, now a teacher herself.
Adams is the youngest of Sauceda’s three biological children, but she says he was very much like a father to hundreds, if not thousands, of his students.
"He was just everybody's dad. He was everybody's dad. My dad loved everyone," Adams said.
Raised on a farm in a small town outside Abilene, Texas, Sauceda struggled financially.
He later joined the Army and spent time in Europe before returning to the U.S. and pursuing a college education.
Adams said eventually, that led to her dad's career in the classroom.
Longfellow Middle School in the San Antonio Independent School District was his last stop on that path.
Although he retired from there in 2005, it seems that school was never far from his mind.
Adams said earlier this year, when it appeared her father’s life might be in jeopardy due to a longstanding heart problem, he came up with an idea to continue helping others.
Sauceda died Sept. 2 after undergoing risky open heart surgery.
"Obviously, it wasn't something that we thought was going to happen. We didn't think that it was going to go this way, but we did have to make plans just in case," Adams said.
One of the ideas to come out of that planning session, Adams said, was for family and friends to donate backpacks and school supplies at his funeral instead of flowers. The donations will go to students at Longfellow.
"It brought chills to me,” Nancy Rodriguez, principal at Longfellow, said. "I didn't think that or didn't realize that someone that retired so many years ago, back in 2005, would still keep Longfellow so close to his heart."
All of the students who were taught by Sauceda are now adults and have gone on with their lives.
Rodriguez had never met Sauceda but said she did hear about him from others, including a few of her staff members.
"That he was just wonderful to be around and he always tried to be that father figure for some of our kiddos," Rodriguez said.
Sauceda’s family hopes the gesture will help continue the legacy he created nearly four decades ago.
"I wanted to make sure that people knew what was so important. And the key for all of this is that he didn't have anything starting out, either," Adams said.
Anyone who wants to donate can drop off backpacks and school supplies ahead of his funeral.
The service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at the San Fernando Cathedral downtown.
Those wishing to drop off donations with Adams can contact her via email at email@example.com.