"Mrs. Diaz was a very integral part of the school, and so is her husband," said Principal David Wilcomes. "They did everything together."
"She was extremely involved with our students in the Spanish Club and helping her husband with Key Club. She was a quiet easy going woman and she was a big part of the school; she will be missed," Wilcomes added.
A teacher of Union Hill High School for 15 years, Pura Diaz was renowned in her school community as an effective teacher. The loss was felt throughout the school and especially by her colleague and husband of 23 years, Amelio Ruben Diaz.
"She was a truly generous woman who gave all of herself for others," said Diaz.
A holy meeting
Both originally from Colombia, the couple met as parishioners at St. Rocco Church in Union City, while Diaz was in New York on business from Miami.
"I left that day without thinking that she would be my partner," said Diaz. "I was still working in Miami when I called her one day and I asked her 'so did you get married' and she answered 'no I'm waiting for you'."
A few months later, Diaz was transferred to New York, and continued to call Pura, who invited him to some of her family's celebrations including a 92nd Birthday party for her grandmother. Eight days later his own birthday had come up, and she was invited to spend the day with his family.
The relationship progressed into an official courtship and two years later they were married on May 31, 1984. The couple also had a daughter Fanny Esperanza Diaz, who is now 20.
They first resided in Union City with Pura's family on 46th St., before buying a house on 33rd Street, where they lived for 16 years before settling in Nutley.
Before they were married, Pura was a nun with Las Hermanas Teresitas Missionaries (Little Theresa Sisters), which was where she got her education in teaching and became a teacher in the order.
"With them she had decided to become a nun and was one for 18 years," said Diaz.
Pura first got her visitors visa in 1979 to help care for her ailing grandmother, who was living in New Jersey with her mother. Afterwards, Pura had asked to stay because her grandmother was still not well, but the Sisters needed her to return, so they gave her a choice to come back or leave the order.
"They told her she had to decide, so she asked for her dismissal because her family needed her," said Diaz.
Afterwards she joined the St. Rocco parish, and started going to school to get her teacher's certification in New Jersey.
Partners in education
During the early years of their marriage, Diaz worked first as a driver and then became a computer operator technician for Merrill Lynch. At the same time, Pura was teaching religion at a Catholic School in Elizabeth while studying at King College.
Not long after she finished her studies, Pura was asked to substitute teach at Edison School in Union City, and they liked her so much they recommended she apply to become a fulltime teacher in the system.
Pura was hired as a Spanish teacher at Union Hill High School in 1990. Her husband was also hired to teach Spanish in 1992.
"She was a real hard worker and I always admired her tenacity," said Diaz.
They worked side by side for 15 years at Union Hill High School.
"We were always together, even when she worked at the school in Elizabeth I was also helping in the parish," said Diaz. "We always got along well together. There has probably only been one night, where we did no share a kiss."
According to Diaz, his wife was a sensitive soul that truly cared for the success of her students. Diaz was moved by the letters of condolence from students that kept pouring in after her death.
"I can't read them right now because they make me cry," said Diaz. "I was so surprised by the number of students that came to the hospital while she was sick."
On Nov. 29, she went to the hospital complaining of severe stomach pain, which doctors have only been able to explain as a viral infection.
Pura had also been a breast cancer survivor for seven years, and doctors said that she had no cancer at the time of her death.
The day Pura died on Dec. 3rd an announcement was made at Union Hill and the entire school community stood still.
"I was amazed how she was able to captivate the whole school," said Diaz. "The responses have been extraordinary."
"I was a student in one of her classes last year, and she was one of the best teachers I ever had," wrote Maruin Lopez. "She gave us great affection even though there were times that some of our classmates made her mad."
The Diazs were also planning for their retirement at the end of this school year, and for now Diaz still plans to retire.
"At the moment I can't clearly see where I'm going because of how big a role she had in my life," said Diaz. Comments on this piece can be sent to: JROSERO@hudsonreporter.com.