Mary Sosa
South Oklahoma City community leader Mary Sosa died in September 2020. (Tango PR)

In 2015, the Oklahoma City Youth Council of the League of United Latin American Citizens was short on money and time. The council was raising money for students to attend LULAC’s annual conference, but cash was short and the deadline to register students was close.

Gaylord NewsThis story was reported by Gaylord News, a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

At a LULAC meeting, leaders considered reducing the students who could attend down from 13 to eight. That’s when Mary Sosa, a youth adviser for LULAC, chimed in.

“You know what — I need new furniture,” Sosa said. “Arturo, get your trailer. Let’s go get mine.”

Arturo Delgado and a group of students drove to Sosa’s house and picked up the donated furniture to sell. The garage sale proved successful enough at raising enough funds so all students could attend the conference.

“I knew she didn’t need new furniture, but she wanted to help the kids” said Delgado.

Sosa died of cancer Sept. 21 at age 70. A memorial service was held Saturday at Oklahoma Christian University.

Mary Sosa
Mary Sosa traveled with League of United Latin American Citizens youth in Washington D.C, for the annual LULAC conference. (Provided)

Mary Sosa ‘was a trailblazer’

Delgado and others who knew Sosa described her as a selfless leader, a trailblazer for the Latino community and a natural bridge builder who worked continuously to improve conditions for south Oklahoma City, especially her neighborhood.

Sosa served on multiple boards in Oklahoma City, including the Metropolitan Library Commission, Fundación Formula and the Neighborhood Alliance. She was a notary and frequently assisted the immigrant community. She gained notoriety in 2014 during her unsuccessful run to become the first Latina in the Oklahoma Legislature.

Despite her loss in that election, Sosa represented a hope: Latinos should run for office.

“I was born and raised here. I had never seen another Latino or Latina running for an office. She was a trailblazer for that,” said Gloria Torres, an Oklahoma City Public Schools board member and the executive director of Calle Dos Cinco, an organization dedicated to improving Southwest 25th Street. “I would say that really emboldened her to be an even louder voice for representation in our community.”

Delgado remembers when they found out the results of the 2014 Democratic runoff election. Sosa, composed, declared: “We didn’t win, but the door is open.”

“That to me was basically saying, ‘There’s room for us to walk through that door in the future,'” Delgado said.

After the election, Sosa continued her work as a community volunteer. Her biggest legacy was working with her neighbors, Delgado and other said. She founded the College Hill Neighborhood Association and served as president. Most recently, she was secretary, handled financial matters and popped lots of popcorn.

Rosa Tavarez, current president of the association, said Sosa was an example to follow.

“When we moved to OKC back then, there weren’t many people that spoke English and Spanish,” Tabarez said. “One day, we were at a clinic. Mary saw my mom and asked if she needed help with translation.”

An infamous machine

The neighborhood association, which spans from Southwest 25th Street to Southwest 29th Street and from Western Avenue to Walker Avenue, was originally created to improve security.  Today, it serves as a space for neighbors to connect.

Among Sosa’s favorite things to do was making popcorn. The infamous popcorn machine went everywhere with her.

“Who goes out and buys a popcorn machine?” said Donna Cervantes, former executive director of Historic Capitol Hill. “She had it for years. She was willing to donate it again, we used it for Haunt the Hill, Cine Latino. ‘Mary can we borrow your popcorn machine?’”

One of the many places the popcorn machine went was Mount St. Mary’s parking lot for Movies on the Mount. But when Sosa became ill, the group changed venues to her backyard.

Sosa’s most renowned work included her hands-on approach to the development of the new Manuel Perez Park. Initially, the park was small, located in the Riverside neighborhood on the north side of the Oklahoma River. But Sosa was instrumental in getting the city to move the park and allowing the community to make recommendations for park amenities.

The park now sits on 27 acres south of the Oklahoma River and east of Wiley Post Park.

“She went to public spaces, with groceries stores, took surveys so she could know what people wanted in their park,” said Cervantes.

Sosa worked tirelessly for the park, Cervantes said. She helped raise money and convinced those who initially didn’t want the park moved to its current location.

“She really epitomized what a quality neighborhood activist does. She wasn’t in it for herself at all,” said former OKC Ward 4 Councilman Pete White, who worked closely with her on the project.

The park will be dedicated on Veteran’s Day this year. It will feature a pavilion, a playground, basketball courts and a memorial plaza honoring Oklahomans who earned a Medal of Honor.

“The Hispanic community (…) has got to have more people like Mary,” White said. “(People who) lend their heart, lend their vote, lend their time, lend financially. In that regard, she is going to be difficult to replace.”

A memorial fund has also been established at the Oklahoma City Community Foundation in Sosa’s honor. The fund will be used for the installation of a memorial to her and the beautification of Manuel Perez Park.