No family has been more connected to “their” school and the kids of northeast Salem than the Tavera family. Beginning in 1987 when Pancho Jr. entered McKay High School, no family has been more of a presence than the Taveras. In many ways they are the “First Family” of McKay. When Yolanda says “McKay will always be our school.”, she means it.
The story of the Taveras and their connection to McKay begins with Francisco (Pancho Sr.) and Yolanda and begs the question “How do people who grew up in such difficult circumstances become icons of giving back?”
“If it's a fruit or vegetable and you've eaten it, I picked it.”, says Francisco. Francisco, born in Mexico and raised in Texas, was an itinerant farm worker, moving around the western United States with his family picking crops. Francisco was one of 10 brothers and sisters. His was a very tough upbringing with parents whose first priority was to provide for family. As a result, Francisco never had the chance to participate in activities or athletics as a youngster. He was taken out of school in the 6th grade to begin working in the fields full-time with his father. Francisco has an older sister, but he was the oldest male – a birth position that carried with it, and still does to this day, special family responsibilities and obligations.
Yolanda's upbringing was also one of moving from location to location. One of eight children – 2 brothers and 5 sisters - her parents worked the fields in Texas. They got out of the fields when they moved to McCloud, California. Her father worked at the “roundhouse” as a machinist for the McCloud River Railroad. Yolanda's mother was a homemaker at that time. For a period of time in McCloud, she and her family literally lived in a box car provided by the railroad before they were ultimately able to move into a small house.
Yolanda and her family moved to Gervais in 1966. By that time her father had returned to working in the fields. She dropped out of school at 16 to help, working the fields in Idaho with her parents. After returning to Oregon, she attended adult classes and received her Graduate Equivalency Diploma (GED). It was during her time attending adult classes that she met Francisco who was living in Monitor. He had enrolled to take GED classes as well. Francisco obtained his GED at the age of 21.
Francisco became a U.S. citizen in 1998 and Francisco and Yolanda were married in 1971, a marriage that has lasted for 51 years. After they were married Francisco, GED in hand, attended Clackamas Community College where he obtained his Associate of Science and a Certificate in Automotive from the State of Oregon. He went on to work for Delon Mazda in Salem and retired in 2014 after 43 years. Yolanda also continued her education. She worked during the day and attended night classes at Chemeketa Community College (CCC), ultimately transferring to what was then Oregon College of Education (OCE) in Monmouth where she got as far as her junior year. Yolanda worked as a Home School Consultant for the Gervais School District for 32 years before going on to work for the State of Oregon Migrant Education Service Center as a Parent Involvement Specialist for an additional 5 years and then as a Parent Involvement Specialist for the Woodburn School District before retiring in 2019.
The Taveras have always been community oriented but, for our story, their volunteering and community involvement really took off when Pancho Jr., their oldest son, began his baseball career in Pioneer Little League (PLL) . Francisco was not happy with the way Pancho Jr.'s t-ball team was being coached. He made his feelings known and apparently was challenged at a PLL board meeting to “step up” and coach if he didn't like how it was being done. He accepted the challenge and so began the Tavera family's long, long history of involvement in the athletics of northeast Salem and of McKay High School.
(By all accounts, throughout the years Francisco made it his policy not to get involved in coaching decisions or methods involving his kids. Apparently – early on – his policy wasn't as fully formed. ;-) )
The Beacons celebrates people who have been invaluable to high school athletics. In the case of the Taveras it's impossible to separate their involvement in McKay athletics from their involvement in youth athletics. When Francisco and Yolanda were most involved in Pioneer, it was the feeder program for McKay. The majority of those kids on the field wearing the blue and yellow at McKay had been touched by the Taveras as coaches, through Francisco's umpiring, their service on the PLL board, in the concession stands, or a myriad of other tasks. The kids playing for McKay were inextricably interwoven with the service of the Taveras in Pioneer. And if you go back and look at the period when McKay was most successful, especially on the baseball field, it was when those kids coached by Francisco and people like Francisco were involved. PLL, with people like Francisco and Yolanda making sure it was strong and robust year to year, “fed” McKay. Pioneer's success translated to McKay's success.
Francisco started out as a Little League coach who eventually coached both of his sons' teams. It's important to remember that he never had the chance to play while growing up. He learned the game of baseball from a book. He actively read and re-read about the game and applied that knowledge to his teams. His teams were well-known for being fundamentally sound. So much so that he was once asked, while watching one of his sons play, where he had played in college. But just as importantly, if not more so, Francisco treated kids right. Kids who played for him came away with a love of the game and a love of each other. They took that enthusiasm and positive outlook on baseball, and life in general, to McKay where the athletic programs were the benefactors.
While he started as a coach, he soon began umpiring youth games. Why? Well, someone had to do it! He was good at it. He became known as an ump who knew the rules front and back and could manage the people participating in the games. He was fair. Disagreements could be handled with dignity. And he took pride in doing the best job possible. Francisco began umpiring PLL games in 1986. He continued umpiring for the next 32 years, until 2018. His Little League pay for calling balls and strikes? Frequently a hotdog and a soda.
Francisco also was an active board member for Pioneer from 1986 to 2010. He served as President, Umpire In Chief, and Equipment Manager. He also served in concessions and maintenance.
When their kids – Pancho Jr., Esmeralda, and Marco – got to McKay the trend continued. Francisco volunteered for McKay High School Booster Club concessions for over eight years and worked the “chain gang” at football games for eight years.
Francisco may have started the Tavera's volunteer saga but it became the “dynamic duo”, with Yolanda as the other half. Yolanda was an active board member of PLL as well, from 1986 to 2010. She served as its Secretary, coordinated special projects, helped raise money, and organized, coordinated, and worked concessions. For eight years, when her children were at McKay, she worked the concessions for the McKay High School Booster Club for both football and basketball games. She served on the Ways and Means Committee and volunteered to work the senior all-night graduation party at The Courthouse. She worked the “senior breakfast”, the “community breakfast”, and chaperoned high school dances. When Pancho Jr. ran the barbecue at football games, Yolanda was by his side.
Francisco and Yolanda only left the PLL board to move up to the next Little League level. They became involved with assisting the entirety of District 7 Little League of which Pioneer is a member, serving as board members and helping coordinate Little Leagues from Salem to Corvallis to Mt. Angel and more.
While Pancho Jr. was in high school Marco was still six years behind. So the Taveras were devoting their time to BOTH McKay and Pioneer Little League. Over time, they got Pancho Jr., Esmeralda, and Marco involved (as their activities allowed) and the “dynamic duo” often expanded. It was very common to see daughter Esmeralda “volunteering” at PLL events. (Ultimately, as the years have passed, the grandchildren even caught the spirit and began volunteering as well.)
Pancho Jr. was the first of the Tavera children to attend McKay. He started in 1986. But in reality, all of the Tavera children started attending McKay in 1986 because if one was involved they all were involved. Francisco and Yolanda became fixtures at McKay and that meant Esmeralda and Marco were as well.
Pancho Jr. graduated in 1990. He played football (3 years) and baseball (3 years) and wrestled (4 years) for the Royal Scots. (He tried one year of soccer but that didn't go well. “I wouldn't wish that upon anybody. Soccer is not my game.”, Pancho Jr. said. Do keep in mind that as a football player Pancho Jr. was an offensive lineman!) After graduation the cycle began again. Pancho Jr. returned to Pioneer and served as the coach of younger brother Marco's Seniors team and his career of over 20 years in coaching began. During his time coaching his sons – Noah and Alex – in football, basketball, and baseball, Pancho Jr. not only touched their lives but the lives of many, many others in Pioneer, McKay JBO Baseball, McNary High School, and, ultimately, full circle, back at McKay. It's almost as if his various jobs, including his last – at the Oregon Department of Corrections as the Activities Director at the Oregon State Penitentiary, were “fillers” between his coaching and other youth athletic activities.
Like Pancho Jr. and Marco, Esmeralda was a fixture at McKay long before she became a student in 1989. Esmeralda graduated in 1993. She worked immediately out of high school for an insurance company. But in 2005 she came home to McKay. She has been at McKay for the past 17 years and is currently the Registrar. But she's also the staff member who, out of her own pocket, provides items for students that their families may not be able to afford, including breakfast bars by the dozens. She doesn't publicize it, she just does it. When asked why, she responds with “Someone has to do it.”
From shagging balls in the outfield when Pancho Jr. was on the McKay freshmen team to being the “cord holder” for McKay head football coach Ron August's headphones to being a football ballboy for the Royal Scots, a very young Marco was a McKay presence. Marco eventually played four years of football and baseball for McKay. A natural leader, he was also involved in student government. Graduating in 1997, he went on to Chemeketa CC for two years prior to Western Oregon University (WOU), playing baseball all along the way. He graduated WOU in 2009. Marco, following the family path, coached baseball at Salem Academy and Sprague High Schools as an assistant before becoming the head coach at Central High School in Independence from 2006-2009. But, as with Pancho Jr. and Esmeralda, he came home. He returned to his alma mater in 2008. He served as an assistant baseball coach from 2008-2011 before taking over the baseball program as its head coach, a position he held from 2011-2014. The last three of those varsity seasons he was reunited with Pancho Jr. as Pancho Jr. served as Marco's junior varsity coach. Marco also coached football at McKay from 2008-2014 and girls basketball from 2010-2013. He is currently working in special education helping to transition special education students to work environments for the Salem-Keizer School District.
Francisco and Yolanda have lived in the same house since 1978 the doors of which, by all accounts, have been continually open to others. It's been the location of many a team dinner and barbecue. Marco tells of Saturday morning breakfasts that are open not only to athletic teams but to any kid who just needed a meal or a place to connect. The strength of a community comes from its volunteers, from the people who care. They take their passion and find the cracks and gaps and work to fill them. In many ways they are the glue that holds a community together. The strength of our schools come from those who get involved and stay involved. Francisco and Yolanda Tavera and their family are those people. They give of themselves so that our community can be stronger. They are Beacons.
Sadly, Pancho Jr. passed away in 2015 as the result of esophageal cancer at the age of 42. His funeral was attended by some 1400 people. They came to say goodbye to Pancho Jr. but they were also there to give a collective hug to Francisco, Yolanda, Esmeralda, and Marco. Pancho Jr. left his wife of 14 years – Kasey - and two sons – Noah and Alex, both of whom also attended McKay. Noah graduated from McKay in 2017. Alex attended McKay for his freshman and sophomore years before finishing at McNary where he graduated..For more on Pancho Jr.:
Poncho Jr. Obituary
Poncho Jr. - Statesman Article
In addition to the invaluable volunteering the Taveras did for Pioneer Little League and McKay High School, they put a tremendous amount of time and dedication into their work with the Little League Softball World Series that was held at Alpenrose Field in Portland for 26 years. Each summer Yolanda and Francisco would schedule their work vacations to coincide with the World Series and then drive back and forth daily – usually with family in tow - to volunteer. (This back and forth in their “brown van” went on for approximately 15 years until a director finally became aware and started to provide them a hotel room so they might stay in Portland.)
Both Yolanda and Francisco were active board members for the Little League Softball World Series at Alpenrose for 26 years. Yolanda served as Latin American translator. She also helped with souvenirs, concessions, and raffle sales. Francisco served as Latin American translator and worked in the “pin raffle” sales.
volunteered at the Major Softball Western Regional in Vancouver, Washington for 5 years;
volunteered at the Junior Softball World Series in Kirkland, Washington in concessions;
volunteered at the Baseball Major Western Regional in San Bernardino, California in concessions;
assisted with Hawaii’s Western Regional Conference in Kona, Hawaii.
served as co-chair for the Cesar E. Chavez Student Leadership Conference for 20 years;
is currently a Board member for the Oregon Association for Comprehensive Education Winter Conference held annually in Seaside, Oregon;
received the National Association of State Directors of Migrant Education (NASDME) National Outstanding Migrant Education Program Award for Non-Teaching Professionals in New Orleans, Louisiana.
began umpiring for the Capital City Umpires Association in 1987 and later was its President until he retired in 2018;
umpired at the local, state, Western Region, Junior Divisional, and Senior Divisional levels;
umpired Western Regional baseball in Scottsdale, Arizona;
umpired at Divisional and State in Honolulu, Hawaii;
umpired at State and Regional in San Juan, Puerto Rico;
umpired for Big League in Evergreen, Washington;
umpired for Big League Western Regional in Corvallis;
umpired for Senior Western Divisional at Sprague High School in Salem;
umpired for the Special Olympics at Holland Youth Park;
umpired at Junior Divisional in Forest Grove.
volunteered at the Major Softball Western Region in Vancouver, Washington for 5 years;
volunteered at the Jr. Softball World Series in Kirkland, Washington in concessions;
volunteered as an Usher at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA;
volunteered at Baseball Major Western Regional in San Bernardino, California in concessions;
assisted with Hawaii’s Western Regional Conference in Kona, Hawaii.