Celia Hyman Baculi, center, is honored by friends, supporters and former students at a South Salem High School event celebrating her volunteer service on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Celia Hyman Baculi once took the seats out of her van so she could fill it with thousands of pads and tampons to distribute to Salem schools.

It’s just one example of the dedication she showed as a parent volunteer at Richmond Elementary School, Judson Middle School and South Salem High School, where she was a fixture in the college and career center helping students plan for life after South.

“I think people thought she was actually on our payroll,” said Lara Tiffin, principal of South Salem High School.

Hyman Baculi, 57, was honored Tuesday afternoon at the high school with a surprise announcement.

The nonprofit Saxon Success Fund, an organization formed to support long-term projects at South, is working to raise $150,000 to renovate the school’s college and career center next summer. When complete, it will bear her name.

Dozens of Hyman Baculi’s former students, friends and teachers she’s supported gathered at South to share stories of how her work had improved the lives of local students.

She began volunteering in local schools when her children started attending Richmond over a decade ago and followed when they went to middle and high school, frequently working one on one with students.

Friends and supporters pose for photos with longtime South Salem High School volunteer Celia Hyman Baculi at an event on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Hyman Baculi is bilingual in Spanish and read books with elementary students, helping them cultivate a love of reading and stories from a young age.

She was often spotted at Value Village, picking up books that teachers had requested or other items for schools.

“We liked to call her the book fairy,” said Yvonne Bashor, who served on the Saxon Foundation board with Hyman Baculi. Her work was often behind the scenes and included tailoring costumes for Children’s Educational Theater productions, repairing choir robes at South and helping students with their college financial aid applications.

Edie Frolichman, a friend who worked with Hyman Baculi on projects at South, recalled a student who was doing well academically but “at risk of not graduating because she had found a boyfriend who was more interesting to her than class.”

Frolichman drove Hyman Baculi to the girl’s neighborhood and the two looked for her. Eventually, Hyman Baculi spoke with her mother about the importance of helping her stay on track.

“The girl did graduate because Celia wasn’t going to let her go,” Frolichman said. She let another student move in with her after his parents kicked him out on his 18th birthday.

Longtime school volunteer Celia Hyman Baculi, center, poses for a photo at an event honoring her on Tuesday, Dec. 21 with Lara Tiffin, left, principal of South Salem High School, and 2018 graduate Sandra Garcia Torres, right (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Sandra Garcia Torres, a South Salem 2018 graduate, said Celia began working with her when she was 8 at Richmond and stuck with her for her entire time in school, helping her learn long division, taking her on lunch dates at Dairy Queen and helping her through rough patches with her family.

Garcia Torres, whose first language is Spanish, is now a senior at Western Oregon University and the first person in her family to attend college. “She and her family are a part of my family,” Garcia Torres said through tears.

Hyman Baculi is currently hospitalized, but said her husband implored her to attend the event and secured a pass for her to leave care for a few hours. After she objected that she was too tired, Hyman Baculi said her husband told her she was going to be recognized.

“I didn’t know what to think. I was just touched,” Hyman Baculi said of the college and career center naming.

Tiffin said Hyman Baculi frequently operated behind the scenes, not taking credit as she worked to ensure teachers and students had what they needed.

“She’s so humble that we had to keep this event secret or we’d squash it before it even got off the ground,” Tiffin said.

Longtime school volunteer Celia Hyman Baculi, center, at an event honoring her on Tuesday, Dec. 21 with Lara Tiffin, left, principal of South Salem High School, and 2018 graduate Sandra Garcia Torres, right (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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