By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
He dedicated years of his life to helping others through community service and the American Legion.
A wounded Vietnam veteran, Santiago “Saunty” R. Hidalgo made helping youth and fellow veterans his purpose in life. He wore many hats, holding the position of chaplain with American Legion Post 25 for many years in addition to involvement in at least a dozen other activities. His pet project was the Boys State program, which introduces youth to the inner workings of government.
Hidalgo, 60, of Clovis died Aug. 4 of cancer. He left behind a wife, four sons and a daughter.
Gary Hamilton said Hildago was his closest friend for more than 22 years.
“He was always concerned about those that didn’t have, and he spent a lot of his time trying to help out his fellow man,” Hamilton said.
“I had always known him to be that very giving person. In over 20 years I never saw him spend money on himself. He used his money for his family, his kids — he was always handing somebody a few bucks. He was pretty close to a saint.”
While traveling in Mexico together, Hamilton said Hidalgo’s prosthetic leg broke in half, and he had to carry him piggyback through town.
“He kept slipping — we laughed all the way back to the boat. We got some epoxy and glued it back, and it held through most of the trip,” he said.
Raymond Anaya, gaming manager for the American Legion, said he first met Hidalgo when they ran for chaplain.
“He was my worst enemy. When I first came in here, he was the chaplain. I wanted the chaplain position and I ran against him — I got one vote and that was his vote,” he said laughing.
Anaya said he knew Hidalgo for more than 30 years, mostly through activities at the post. He praised his sense of humor and down-to-earth personality.
Hidalgo was a patient and caring man who worked hard to help the community, according to Antonio Gutierrez, who knew him all his life.
“He just wanted the kids to be OK — he wanted to do something for the community,” he said.
In all the time he knew Hidalgo, Gutierrez said he never saw him angry and never saw any resentment about his experience in the war.
“He (had) the right attitude — he was never bossy or mean or nothing to nobody,” he said. “He was fortunate he made it back (from war) and he took care of everybody really good.”
One of the youths Hidalgo influenced was John Nigreville.
He said the lessons Hidalgo taught him while involved in Boys State more than 20 years ago are still with him.
“He was always preaching, ‘do the right thing.’ I went through college and I still remember that. You don’t see a lot of people taking time out their schedules to preach ‘do well,’” Nigreville said.