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Community remembers beloved St. Paul community leader, Gilbert de la O

Gilbert de la O served as the first Mexican-American school board member in St. Paul and was recently inducted into the Neighborhood House Hall of Fame.

ST PAUL, Minn. — 77-year-old Gilbert de la O - also known as the "godfather of the West Side" was a long-time community advocate, and a Vietnam vet, who had a passion for building up his community.

"Work in his community was basically his passion," said Roman de la O. "Gilbert was a founding member of the West Side Boosters way back in the 1970's to fill a void that wasn't happening here," said Carlo Franco, a mentee and current president of the organization.

Gilbert de la O served as the first Mexican-American school board member in St. Paul and was recently inducted into the Neighborhood House Hall of Fame.

In a Facebook post, the organization said in part: "His influence on the organization has permeated all that we do, reminding us that the community and participants are the reason we exist. We are grateful that we have been able to call Gilbert a friend for so many years."

"He started out at the childcare center out in the St. Paul flats, at the old Neighborhood Flats, and the story goes that he wandered off, and went home, and my grandmother was waiting for him," Roman said, "and he never wandered off again."

While still serving his community, Gilbert De la O was diagnosed with cancer in September of 2019.

"He came home that day, and said, "Ro, this ain't a death sentence, I have milestones to reach with my family and my community, so I'm going to fight this to the end with strength, dignity and pride," Roman said. "Sunday when my dad passed, he had people who he coached in 1979, who remember the  lessons he taught them," he said.

As his legacy is felt on this field dedicated in his honor.

"When he was honored, and found out that they were going to name the field after him, it was always "our field, our community field," Roman said. "We always knew when you looked in the bleachers my dad was going to be there, my kids and grandsons knew when they were at a game and looked up their grandad was going to be there," he said.

In the West Side community and his family's hearts, Gilbert de la O's memory will live for years to come.

"To be the first latino school board member in St. Paul, to lead in the Latino movement, to make sure people are taken care of," said Franco, "he's paved the way for a lot of people in this state, to make sure that we can step into places and feel confident we belong in those spaces."

"He always had the West Side's best interest in mind and wasn't afraid to tell anybody, they're missing out by not providing the resources needed in community, that you are not going to continue to overlook our community," said Franco.

According to family and friends, a memorial for de la O will begin Thursday at 10 a.m. at the Church of St. Matthew, 510 Hall Ave. in St. Paul, followed by a burial Mass at 11 a.m. .

Internment with military honors will take place at Fort Snelling National Cemetery. 

In lieu of flowers, Gilbert requested that in his honor, you would spend time with your family and friends enjoying a meal around the table. 

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