A funeral Mass will be celebrated today for Hercelia Toscano, who started her teaching career in the 1930s in a rural three-room school and later trained hundreds of bilingual education teachers.

Toscano, who was 89, died Wednesday at a local hospital following a stroke, said her brother, Waldo Ximenes.

She was born Hercelia Ximenes on Nov. 24, 1911, in Floresville. Her mother was a homemaker; her father a butcher who opened a general store and later entered politics.

Toscano received a degree in education from Southwest Texas State Teachers College.

The oldest of eight children, she helped her parents send her younger siblings to college. One brother, Edward Ximenes, a classmate of John Connally in Floresville, became a doctor.

In 1967, then-Gov. Connally appointed Edward Ximenes to the board of regents of the University of Texas system, making him the first Hispanic to hold that position.

“The reason we all went to school is because she was helping my dad,” Waldo Ximenes said. “If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have made it to college.”

Ximenes said his sister began teaching in a “little bitty community” named Lodi (pronounced “low die”), near Floresville. After she married and moved to San Antonio, she taught at elementary schools on the West Side.

An early advocate of bilingual education, Toscano appeared before Cabinet Committee Hearings on Mexican-American Affairs held in El Paso in 1967 and again in 1968.

She became more involved with bilingual education after Congress approved the Bilingual Education Act of 1968 that provided federal funds for school districts that used native language instruction.

Toscano also worked for the Southwest Texas Language Institute, conducting research and travelling to Mexico and Central and South America.

She also taught at school districts that were incorporating bilingual education programs.

“She trained a lot of teachers in bilingual education all over the country,” Ximenes said.

Throughout her life, Toscano encouraged others to continue their education, her brother said.

“She supported a lot financially, and she even took students into her home to help them,” he said. “She devoted her whole life to education and especially to children who had the desire and talent to succeed.”

More recently, Toscano had worked at Our Lady of the Lake University. She retired three years ago, at the age of 86.

Besides her brother Waldo, she is survived by a son, Elizandro “Buddy” Toscano of California; two other brothers, Vicente Ximenes of Albuquerque, N.M., and Joe Ximenes of San Antonio; and one sister, Madge Valdez of San Antonio.

Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. today at St. Paul’s Catholic Church followed by interment at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

Arrangements are with Angelus Funeral Home, 1119 N. St. Mary’s St.

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