Dora and Alicia Ocampo Quesada
Keepers of the Flame of Education
Dora Ocampo Quesada and her beloveds sister Alicia Otilia Ocampo Quesada are fifth-generation descendents of a pioneer Mexican family that helped establish Wickenburg, Arizona, in 1863. Their great-great grandfather Ramón C. Valencia, who was born in Yuma in 1853 (the year of the Gadsden Purchase), cultivated a sense of place that drove the Valencia, Quesada, and Ocampo families to build families, communities, and schools in Wickenburg. The discovery of gold in 1862 and an open range ready for settlement attracted many to Wickenburg, including José Franco Quesada, a professional vaquero from La Paz, Baja California. A cowhand on the Ocampo-Valencia ranch in the
Arizona Territory during the late 1890s, he married Francisca Ocampo, the daughter of Teodoro and Mariana Ocampo, in 1918.
The Ocampo Quesada family was instrumental in establishing Wickenburg’s first public school, the first St. Anthony Padua Catholic Church, and the first Wickenburg town library. They were parents to five children: Josefina, Dora, Alicia, Bernard, and Eugenio. Each child achieved great success in their professional
fields of choice, including public service, arts, education, sports, and sciences. Central to their upbringing was the emphasis their parents placed on education and service to others, while retaining their Mexican heritage, culture,
The Ocampo Quesada parents regarded education as a civic and parental responsibility, so much so that their philosophy on education was impressed upon Dora and her sister Alicia early in their childhood. As young girls growing up on an open range and within the confines of the family ranch, Dora and Alicia learned that a shared responsibility among men and women made their working ranch profitable, livable, and comfortable. They learned that it took an extended network of family and friends to blend ranch life with the future lives they would build and lead outside barbed wire, barns, and corrals. The two sisters became independent women— each in their own best way, and each in their own time and place.
Dora was born in Wickenburg in 1921, two years before her sister Alicia was born in 1923. As young girls attending Wickenburg Grammar School in the late 1920s until the mid 1930s, they both earned Award of Merit certificates for perfect attendance every school year. The sisters’ love of learning and wanting to know more about the world outside Wickenburg became their trademark, and it followed them wherever they went. Those who knew them in their formative years, in their professional careers, and in their later years, understood that the Quesada sisters felt connected to Arizona’s past and why they had a magical zest for life.
Dora took on the roles of nurse, teacher, political activist, and philanthropist throughout her life. She became a registered nurse in 1943. During World War II, she saw service with the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and was stationed at the White Sands Proving Ground nuclear first aid station near Alamogordo, New Mexico, and at the San Antonio Air Command Hospital, Kelly
Air Force Base in Texas. She ranked second lieutenant and was honorably discharged in 1946. She continued her nursing career in Phoenix and Mesa at the McDowell Osteopathic Hospital, the Maricopa County Hospital, the Southside District Hospital in Mesa (where she headed the newborn nursery area), and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Phoenix.
She ended her nursing career in 1958 and became a teacher, embarking on a new path at the Tempe Elementary School District 3. Dora was a reading and writing teacher at the Veda B. Frank Elementary School in Guadalupe. She also served as a union representative of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, Local 3312. She was known as a fiery defender of teachers’ rights and often accompanied fellow teachers to grievance meetings involving racial discrimination, wage disputes, or tenure. Dora also served on the Mexican American Educational Advisory Committee and chaired the Minority Elementary School Teachers Association, which promoted educational equality for minority youth. In 1971, she became a staunch defender of the educational and political rights of Yaqui and Mexican children at the Veda B. Frank Elementary School. Taking Dora’s lead, the Ocampo Quesada family made a major financial contribution to help spearhead a civil rights class action lawsuit against the Tempe Elementary School District over the matter of student placement testing. Over 600 Yaqui and Mexican children had been tested and placed in special education classes based upon their “poor intelligence” and test scores. The children were not tested in their native languages, but tested in English, an apparent long-time practice at Frank school. At issue was the fact that the Arizona Department of Education paid the school approximately $300 to $600 per special education student, per year. The school stood to collect a large amount of money for maintaining special education classes. The Ocampo Quesadas’ contribution made a major difference for Guadalupe, a semi-rural community of approximately 5,000 people, most of whom were Mexican American or Yaqui.
Alicia, on the other hand, embarked on a far different educational path and career than her sister Dora. She merged her talent and skills in business education, public service and civil service, and forged a remarkable record of achievement and national recognition for her work. Her business career began almost immediately after graduating from high school in 1941. She enrolled at Lamson Business College on a scholarship, and by 1943, Alicia was earning five wartime dollars per day as a stenographer for the Arizona House of Representatives, Sixteenth Legislature. She later earned more for war-related work at the Arizona Industrial Commission, the agency charged with enforcing state laws regarding the health, safety, and protection of state employees.
World War II changed the traditional notion of proper women’s work, and Alicia found herself moving beyond traditional female roles. A new wave of independence prevailed, and she excelled in every position she held. As a way to serve her country in wartime, Alicia helped form the Phoenix Chapter of the United Service Organizations (USO) to provide educational and recreational activities for servicemen in their off duty hours. However, civil service was Alicia’s true calling, and she found her niche within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), Social Security Administration. The agency became her home base for at least 30 years. Originally hired as a clerk stenographer in 1954, Alicia advanced through the administrative ranks to become a lead administrative secretary for the agency. Her work often took her to Washington, D.C., and to HEW regional offices. She assisted the U.S. Civil Service Commission HEW representatives in personnel matters and procedures and with employee selection, hiring, and training. In 1967, Alicia received the Commissioner’s Citation, the Social Security Administration’s highest honor. Alicia retired from her work as an administrative secretary with the Social Security Administration in 1984.
The ensuing years found Dora and Alicia embarking on a more personal mission: to preserve and promote the historical record of the Valencia, Quesada, and Ocampo families of Wickenburg. Their secondary goal was to recover Arizona’s Mexican heritage, language, and culture through their work with historical societies, museums, and archives in Wickenburg, Tempe, and Phoenix. With the assistance of family members, the sisters recorded, documented, and compiled their family’s written histories, original photographs, historical documents, family business records, memorabilia, and artifacts. In 1989, the family donated the Ocampo Family Papers to the Chicano Research Collection, Department of Archives and Special Collections at the Hayden Library at Arizona State University in Tempe. The collection is the largest collection of Mexican and Mexican American documents in Arizona and covers the period from 1863 to 1990. Scholars, researchers, students, writers, publishers, teachers, and professors from around the world have used the Ocampo Family Papers. As a lasting tribute to the Ocampo Quesada legacy of education, the family established the José Franco and Francisca Ocampo Quesada Student Research Scholarship at Arizona State University in 1988, an endowment to provide scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students to be used to promote advanced student research in any major or minor area of study that leads to a better understanding of the Hispanic culture and community.
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