By Katie Zeck
“It was this little sandwich bag of tiny marshmallows and cocoa mix, and it had a little poem on the outside of it,” Fallon said to a group of over 100 students at a vigil honoring Maria’s memory that was held outside of Daly’s on Monday night, Dec. 2. “She would really brighten up everyone’s day; she was such a great woman.”
Fallon closed his reflection by addressing Maria in a way he always had for the past three years.
“Every time I left Daly’s, I would say, ‘Goodbye Maria, have a wonderful day,’ and so I’d just like to say it one more time…‘Goodbye Maria, have a wonderful day.’’’
According to Scott Oswald, director of Aramark services at Rider, Maria lost her battle with ovarian cancer on Thanksgiving afternoon with her friends by her side. Services for Maria took place on Saturday, Nov. 30.
“It came as somewhat of a shock to us, too,” Oswald said. “This tragic loss has been very difficult for many of the students, staff and dining staff who had come to know and love Maria. She will be deeply missed.”
She is survived by her sister, Gloria Espinosa-Montero, and her niece.
Maria immigrated to the United States from Mexico in May of 1990. She arrived alone, knowing no English and with no immediate family to turn to for support.
Rider quickly became her new family.
Her first and only job in the United States was at Daly’s, where she has worked for over 23 years. After years of moving around between several different positions, Maria became the front door greeter.
Her friendliness and warm smile endeared her to the thousands of students every day. Because of her spirit, Maria was many times a recipient of the “You Made a Difference” award from Rider students.
Maria and Miss Ann also topped The Rider News’ list of “Why We Love Rider” on Feb. 8, 2013.
“To an outsider, they’re the women who swipe ID cards as students enter Daly’s. To our fellow Rider students, Miss Ann and Maria are our rays of sunshine, our second moms, our unsung cheerleaders,” read the article. “But what’s really unbelievable about these honorary Broncs is that in the short few seconds it takes them to swipe your ID card — a job that may be less than glamorous — Miss Ann and Maria make us feel loved, appreciated, cared for and noticed.”
At Monday night’s vigil, tears, laughter and a strong bond amongst students from all corners of campus were present. Students were able to speak candidly about Maria and support one another during the emotional memorial.
The vigil was organized by Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority. Rider alumna and member of the sorority Ashley Pichardo ’12 began the vigil by distributing candles and reading a poem titled “An Eternal Memory.”
There was then a moment of silence followed by the option for any member of the audience to walk up the steps leading to Daly’s and give a few remarks about Maria’s presence at Rider.
Pichardo, a survivor of acute myeloid leukemia, began with her own memory of Maria.
“She always asked how my day was, and because we both spoke Spanish, it was nice to connect to someone in that way,” she said.
Angelica Benitez, associate director of the Ronald E. McNair program and adviser of the Latin sorority, said she was touched by the large amount of students in attendance.
“Each student that spoke presented a unique experience they’d shared with Maria, and in unison, they all reflected on a person who always greeted them with a smile, treated them kindly, and showed them she cared,” Benitez said.
Many alums were present at the vigil and spoke on Maria’s behalf, describing the important role she played in their Rider career.
“Rider has been one of my favorite parts of my whole life,” one alum said. “When I first came into school, I was very sheltered, so the whole thing of being in college was kind of weird for me, but Maria was like a mother to me, and she helped me during that transition period.”
Another Rider graduate expressed a similar, heartfelt sentiment.
“Just her saying ‘hi’ to you every morning would make you smile, and I don’t think she realized how much of a difference she made to everyone,” he said. “But just her smiling and saying ‘hi’ to you every morning made such a difference.”
Current students continued to memorialize Maria’s presence at Rider through various anecdotes.
“Maria was such a sweet woman,” senior elementary education and communication major Emily Lewton said. “She would always tell me that my roommate was in Daly’s so I could go in and find her. The fact that she knew who my roommate was and that I wanted to sit with her was pretty special to me.”
The students present at the vigil shared the feeling that Maria represented a lesson many should implement in their own lives: It’s not always the big things in life that make the most impact. It’s often the smaller things that we may not notice, like saying hello to someone and asking how their day is, that mean the most.