MIDVALE — St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish recognized parishioner Ida Romero, 87, for her work in helping establish Jordan Valley School, which serves students with severe disabilities.
Father Jose Barrera, the parish administrator, presented Romero with a plaque honoring her service after the 10 a.m. Mass on April 17, Easter Sunday. Many members of Romero’s family were present as well.
In 1956, Ida and Nelson Romero’s third child Jolene was born. Within months she was diagnosed with severe Down syndrome. At the time, two of the Romeros’ older children attended Bishop Glass School in Salt Lake City. One day while Ida Romero was volunteering at the school, she met Carmen Paulsen, another young mother who had a son with mental disabilities. Paulsen had helped organize a school for disabled children in Salt Lake City and suggested Romero work to get a similar school going in the south valley area, but Romero did not feel up to the task.
“Mom thought ‘I can’t do that,” but then one day when she was having an extremely hard day with my sister she thought, ‘You know what? If she can do it, I can do it,’” Romero’s oldest daughter Rachel Jenson recalled.
Ida Romero first met with her neighbor Henry Beckstead, who was then the mayor of Midvale. He introduced her to Bernarr S. Furse, the Jordan School District superintendent, who was supportive of the idea. Romero obtained a list from Midvale Elementary of 20 families with children with disabilities and she invited them to a meeting. Response was positive, so they organized a board of trustees with Romero as secretary-treasurer.
The group began fundraising, and by February 1966 Jordan Valley Day Care and Training Center opened its doors in South Jordan. In 1975, the school moved to a new building at 7501 South 1000 East in Midvale and was renamed Jordan Valley School. Today, the school’s 103 students receive individualized instruction and/or related services to maximize their independence skills while contributing to their community.
“Our mom has taught every one of us, as well as our dad,” Romero’s third daughter, Sharon Garcia, said. “Watching our parents doing this, going door to door trying to get parents to bring their children out – because in those days they hid the children. For me, what they have shown us is what hard work and persistence is. You don’t take no for an answer; you keep fighting.”
Despite Romero’s hard work to get the school established, Jolene was never enrolled there because she was told her disabilities were too severe for the staff to provide adequately for her needs.
“I was heartbroken; my hard work and efforts were meant to benefit our daughter Jolene,” Romero wrote in a family book published about her by her niece.
Despite her disappointment, “She said knowing that it has helped thousands of children, it made it well worth it,” Garcia said.
In 1967 the Romeros found a place for Jolene at the Utah State Training School (now the American Fork Developmental Center.
“Mom made the decision to put Jolene at American Fork because she didn’t want to burden my brother and I,” Rachel Romero said. “We were the ones who helped take care of her a lot. But I didn’t feel like it was ever a burden; to me it was a way of life. I also now look back and think what a gift our parents have given us and the sacrifice they made to put their daughter somewhere to make it easier for Bob and me. They made a huge sacrifice, but I think in the long run Jolene was happier there.”
Jolene lived at the American Fork facility for 56 years; she died on March 16, a month before her mother was recognized for her work. Ida’s husband, Nelson Romero, died on April 2.
“We’re extremely proud of our mother,” Rachel Romero said. “In those days a lot of women did not accomplish a lot of things like this. I know it was to benefit my sister, but she feels in the long run it was her duty to do this for a lot of children that have benefitted throughout the years. She felt like God gave her that purpose to accomplish this.”
In January a story about Romero’s efforts was published in the Midvale Journal, a community newspaper. Sharon McPolin, a fellow parishioner and friend of Romero’s, read the story and decided to organization the parish presentation.
“I’ve known Ida for a long time, but I didn’t know all that went on behind everything that she has done,” McPolin said. “It just inspired me, and I thought our parish really needed to recognize her. She is just an inspiration to everybody in our parish; she needs to be recognized by all of us.”