A celebration of life was held Friday, March 8, for Rebekah Hoppel Salcedo, executive director of the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid, who died of sudden illness on Feb. 16.
Salcedo was 36 years old. She is survived by her husband Edgar and her many pets — two dogs, a snake, a newt and a tortoise — as well as her parents, her two brothers and a larger extended family who lives in Maryland.
Salcedo joined the University of Arizona faculty in 2008 and moved from being a financial aid counselor to the first Student Scholarship Services Coordinator for Scholarship Universe, which she was instrumental in developing, and then finally to the director position. Last year, she made it onto "Tucson’s Top 40 under 40" list.
“It was a really sad, hard day,” said Kasandra Urquidez, vice president of enrollment management and student affairs advancement and the dean of undergraduate admissions. “People didn’t want to get there, because that meant something a little too much final, but I think it did help people get closure on the sadness they were feeling and to be able to celebrate her life together.”
Urquidez helped organize Salcedo’s celebration of life event, which took place at the Fred Fox School of Music’s Crowder Hall. Many of Salcedo’s colleagues made donations to engrave a stone with her name in the Women’s Plaza of Honor, and they are collecting funds through the UA Foundation to create a scholarship in her memory.
Urquidez said it was a collective decision to create the scholarship to keep her legacy alive.
“We were grieving and wondering what we could do,” she said. “I think what she would want us to do is to keep moving forward in supporting students and take the lessons she has taught us to move them forward for good.”
Bobbi Lehman, director of compliance in the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid, said Salcedo not only made an impact in the UA community, but also supported women all over the world.
Salcedo served on the board of the Junior League of Tucson and volunteered for the American Association of University Women and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. To list a few of the many things she has done: Salcedo offered microloans for women to start businesses, encouraged education opportunities for girls in Central Asia and supported Charity Water in its efforts to bring clean water to remote areas, which, in return, helped young girls in those areas to attend school instead of spending their days walking to find water.
“But it was the little things that she always did that helped make a difference,” Lehman said of what made her a great leader.
Lehman, who knew Salcedo for over a decade, said Salcedo had a special way of recognizing people. She would do things like send personal, handwritten cards to her colleagues despite how busy she was herself.
“I was always amazed. 'How did she find the time to write this?' She really valued the staff," Lehman said.
Natalya Williams, a student financial aid administrative associate, said Salcedo became an inspiring supervisor, a very cool friend and a down-to-earth “big sister” to her over the three years she worked under Salcedo.
“Rebekah — she was not afraid to admit what she doesn’t know and was also willing to be in the front lines,” Williams said. "She was humble, and did what she could to help as many students."
Lehman said Salcedo “walked through the office and created such a positive energy for everybody.” She said everyone in the office would anticipate her when she came to say hello. Williams also added the office will miss a lot of the stories Salcedo would tell about her countless travels and her many pets.
“There’s so many sides of Rebekah that many people didn’t know,” Lehman said. “Of course there is a professional side and a personal side, but it’s how much she wanted and did make an impact on the world in such a short time. If you read the Facebook posts that people wrote on how she touched their lives, it’s more than she’d realize ... I don’t think she knows how much of a difference she really made.”
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