John Casias Jr.
John Casias Jr.
John Casias Jr., 88, died peacefully Saturday Feb. 16, at his Sonoma home.
Born in the small coal mining camp of Van Houten, in Colfax County, N.M. to John Casias Sr. and Rita Santistevan Casias, he is survived by his only sibling, Robert Casias, of Placentia.
John attended high school at Roosevelt High in the Boyle Heights community of East Los Angeles. He was an officer in the ROTC, and like many young men after graduating high school, he joined the Navy. After his enlistment he started college, before being recalled into the Navy and assigned to the Marines as a medic and dental technician. He earned The Bronze Star and The Purple Heart when he was shot through the knee while carrying a wounded soldier to safety.
John (aka “John Dear”) married his sweetheart Rita V. Senteno Casias on Jan. 12, 1952. He loved taking her out dancing, especially to the Big Band music of Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw. Following his second Navy tour, Rita helped support him as he returned to Whittier College for his undergraduate degree in biology and later, his masters in education. In 1962, John received a Life Diploma – General Elementary Teaching Credential, and in 1974, John also received a Life General Elementary School Administration Credential (Grades K through eighth). John worked for more than 30 years as an elementary school teacher, and school principal.
A gentle and kind man, John also loved the challenge and adventure of travel to new places. In 1963, John moved his wife and three young sons to Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela (present-day Ciudad Guayana) where he sought the job of a school principal at a challenging, new elementary school system. The school was designed as a high performance school to accommodate the mostly American children of expatriate employees from the Orinoco Mining Company, a subsidiary of U.S Steel Company, of Pittsburgh, Penn. During the two months of summer break from school, John made sure the family experienced life back in the USA, such as driving across the country from coast to coast along Route 66 (I-10), spending vacation time in a Florida beach cottage, and even a final trip to experience New York City. For nine years, the family enjoyed the local people, and its culture. During the years in Venezuela, John taught his family the importance of respecting the country and culture where they lived. Bilingual since childhood, John and Rita joined the local Lions community service club, toured the local region, ate traditional foods, and made friends with many Venezuelan locals from all walks of life. Although John was not a big fisherman himself, he knew his sons enjoyed fishing, so he would take them to the nearby Caroni River where they caught everything from perch to piranha.
As his sons graduated from the expatriate schools and moved to boarding schools in the States, John decided to pack the family up and move from the rain forests back to California. In late 1971, experienced bilingual administrators were in high demand, and he chose to move the family to the hot desert of southeastern California where he worked at an elementary school in Calexico for five years. Longing for a change and a cooler climate, John and Rita moved up the state to the often snowy mountains of Willits, where John worked at Brookside Elementary School until retiring in 1986 – many of the years with Rita working beside him as school secretary.
After retirement, John was finally able to use the fine woodworking equipment he’d bought in Venezuela. He began making train sets for his grandchildren – toys that stretch three feet from smoke stack to caboose. After their toy boxes were full, he began creating decorative pieces from small jewelry boxes to large cabinets for jellies and fruit preserves. At the height of his woodwork production, Rita’s art class began ordering his work products to serve as decorative paint surfaces.
Moving to Sonoma in 1997, John shifted his time to helping others in the Sonoma community as he and Rita began working with adults new to the St. Francis Solano Catholic Church through the RCIA ministry, and delivering communion to the elderly and homebound.
John and Rita celebrated 61 years of marriage in January. They were always together and more often than not, holding hands. He loved to frequent the local restaurants and as a couple they would make friends with every clerk and all the wait staffs – learning about their lives, children and upcoming birthdays. He will be forever remembered for the kind words and encouragement he would offer to those who appeared to need it most.
Always the student, John was inquisitive and caring of others and all things. “What are you making?” was one of his favorite questions. If food was on his mind, his favorite answers he wanted to hear were spaghetti, hot soup, enchiladas or pizza.
John is survived by his wife, Rita Casias, of Sonoma; children, Paul and Maria Casias, of Danville; Richard and Estelle Casias, of Davis; and Glenn and Tami Casias, of Sonoma. Grandchildren include Nicholas, Benjamin, Teresa, Caroline, Joseph and Christian Casias.
A Mass will be said Saturday, Feb. 23, at 11 a.m. at St. Francis Solano Catholic Church in Sonoma. Friends and families are welcome.
John will be interred at a later date at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Sonoma.