MERCED -- Fifteen years ago, Frank Delgado wrote a letter to Santa Claus as part of a Sun-Star contest asking if he could see a picture of the mother he never knew. That wish came true about a year ago.
The longtime Merced teacher and former California Highway Patrol officer got a pictorial glimpse of his mother, Francesca Flores, who died when he was 7½ months old.
He has no idea why she died or where they were living at the time.
Delgado, 71, who donated the $50 he received for finishing in third place in the Sun-Star's 1997 letter-writing contest, said he has been told he was the youngest of 12 to 16 siblings.
But he has no memories of his early years. He said he grew up as an orphan.
When older brother Pete died in December 2011, however, a picture of his mother was found in his personal effects.
"I was almost 100 percent sure the wish wouldn't come true," Delgado said of finding a picture of his mother. "I believe there are reasons for everything. Santa Claus may be a figment of our imagination, but personal faith is a certain thing."
Delgado has carried forth a firm belief that faith will work in his family life, just as it manifested itself in his early law enforcement career and ultimately as a middle school teacher in Merced. As a father of three grown children and four grandchildren, he has established the family roots he lacked as a youngster.
Delgado has taught language arts at Tenaya Middle School since 1995 and before that taught fourth grade for 10 years at Chenoweth Elementary School. He has been on leave for a time this school year recovering from a fall but hopes to be back to school in February.
"I've always said there are only two ways I would leave the teaching profession, if I was carried out on a gurney or if I lose passion for my job," Delgado said. "If that happened, I would walk out the door and not look back."
The chance that Delgado could lose his zeal for teaching is highly unlikely, his friends say.
Juanita Pedrozo is a learning director at Joe Stefani Elementary School and has known the Delgado family since she was a child.
"He's very devoted to his family and the children he teaches," Pedrozo said, "especially his four grandchildren. He's very energetic and very hardworking. He's a true grandpa. I can't say enough about his dedication to his students."
Mark Herfurth is a sixth-grade math and science teacher at Tenaya and has known Delgado for about 20 years.
"He's got enough energy for three people," Herfurth said. "He still goes 100 miles per hour. He is firm, fair and consistent all the time. He shows no favoritism and is the same all the time. He's here for the kids and all he does at school is for the kids."
Delgado said his students don't recognize why he does the things he does, conceding that he has high expectations for them.
"You can't put a dollar value on the students who come up to you and tell me they finally understand why I was the way I was. I preached 'true love' and they can do much better than they think they can."
Delgado joined the California Highway Patrol in 1968 and served in Barstow until he was transferred to Merced in 1972. During his career he was involved in three major incidents involving guns, including one that could have cost him his life and prompted him to retire in 1982.
From CHP to teaching
He was offered retraining to become a plumber or electrician, but he decided he wanted to pursue a teaching career because he liked working with children.
He had received a bachelor's degree in justice administration in 1976 from California State University, Stanislaus. But when he decided to go into teaching, he had to start over academically and spent 2½ years taking courses at California State University, Fresno, to get his teaching credential.
Delgado credits his wife of 47 years, Cynthia, for providing him with the support he needed to become a confident individual. She has run Casa de Los Niños, a private preschool, for more than 35 years.
He team teaches at Tenaya with his daughter Michelle. His other daughter, Annie, teaches at Bu-hach Colony High School and his son Frankie has been an executive chef and designs graphic packages for a national pizza chain.
"If you read well, you will write well and speak well," Delgado said. "Mr. D's three Rs are respect, responsibility and results."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.
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