Zerelda “Zee” Quintana had plenty of formal associations with organizations that help people — Mujeres Unidas de Idaho, the academic program iSucceed, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho and others.
But her friends and acquaintances knew her as a formidable, sometimes under-the-radar networking force.
“Many of us remember her by her emails,” said Humberto Fuentes, president of the Hispanic Cultural Center. He worked with Quintana decades ago at the then-Idaho Migrant Council.
Even as a very young woman, he said, Quintana was driven, working so that other people could improve their lives through good jobs and education.
That theme continued for the rest of her life.
“She made it a point to have as many email addresses of as many people as possible,” Fuentes said.
Quintana used that list to connect people inside the Latino community and beyond any time there were good things to report — a job, a scholarship, open spaces in scout camp — or any time someone was in trouble and needed help.
“I called her ‘The Brown Underground,’” said Lisa Sanchez, a civil rights investigator with the Idaho Human Rights Commission, who also did outreach for the Girl Scouts.
“I would inevitably get phone calls from people wanting to get the word out about something. I’d say, ‘Give me what you have. I’ll get it to Zee,’” Sanchez said.
“And if you got something to Zee, she got it to everyone.”
Quintana died earlier this month at the age of 59 from cancer. She had three daughters — Rosanne, Amelia and Susan.
Quintana resigned from her post as executive director of Mujeres Unidas when she became ill. Her friend and fellow Mujeres member, Graciela Fonseca, saw Quintana’s tireless work in action.
“She was a quiet Joan of Arc, leading the way,” said Fonseca, a case worker at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
Quintana helped get Mujeres United incorporated as a nonprofit. She set up bilingual educational conferences for women across the state. She taught her own classes on her favorite book, “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz.
She lived by those tenets, Fonseca said: “Be impeccable with your word. Don't take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best.”
“Zee went beyond doing her best,” Fonseca said.
Sanchez benefitted from some of those best efforts. She was between jobs a few years ago, going through a tough time.
“One gift in difficult moments is that you get to see all the people who show up in your life,” Sanchez said.
Quintana, who hadn’t even been a close friend of hers, became one of those people.
“As soon as I put it out there that I was looking for work, Zee made it her mission to make sure I saw every notice for every job that might match my skills.” Sanchez said.
In addition to the job notices, Quintana also sent affirmations, reminding Sanchez that her setback was only temporary, and things would get better.
“Lots of people are willing to be around you when everything is going great and they can feed off that glitter,” Sanchez said.
Quintana was willing to stand by people in the dark, friend and stranger alike.
She didn’t look for praise for herself. Both Fonseca and Sanchez used the word “humble” to describe Quintana.
“But c’mon,” Sanchez said. “Her name was Zerelda. You have to be a pretty awesome person to walk around with that name. That name has presence.”
In Remembrance is a weekly profile on a Treasure Valley resident who has recently passed away. To recommend a friend or loved one for an In Remembrance, email email@example.com.