BY: Robert Quintana
Maria Torres, who raised six children and served for decades as Director of Senior Services at Hispanics United of Buffalo, died Thursday. She was 86.
In a written tribute, her family and friends called Mrs. Torres dynamic, powerful, strong-willed, encouraging and a model for others in the Puerto Rican and Latino community.
Mrs. Torres was born in Cayey, Puerto Rico and began caring for the elderly while in a program in which she went from home to home to check in on fellow Puerto Ricans, her family said. She then became a community aide at the original Puerto Rican Chicano Committee, now Hispanics United of Buffalo.
As a devoted Catholic, Mrs. Torres set aside time every day for prayer, and she served in leadership roles at the former Immaculate Conception Church, where she was a choir director and Eucharistic minister. She also participated in the prison ministry and a special Bible study program.
Mrs. Torres' favorite family holiday was Thanksgiving, although she loved to cook at all times of the year, not just for her family but for everyone, her family members said in a written tribute. In 1993, Buffalo News food writer Janice Okun noted that Mrs. Torres was renowned for her cooking. But Mrs. Torres acknowledged she had a hard time, as far as food was concerned, when she first moved from Puerto Rico to the mainland.
"I couldn't find anything to eat I was used to when I moved here from Puerto Rico in 1952," she told the food writer. "I suffered a lot. There wasn't even any coffee. I wanted to fly back."
Instead, she became a pillar of her West Side community.
“ Dona Maria was loved by everyone she touched, she always had a smile and was always willing to help in any project in the Buffalo Community. The Senior’s at Hispanics United of Buffalo loved her and so did the staff. She made the world a better place and will be missed, said Edwin Martinez, a founding member of Hispanics United of Buffalo and Publisher of Panorama Hispano News.
"She was an all-around good person," said Wilmer Olivencia Jr., who knew her while growing up in the neighborhood and later served as housing director for Hispanics United. He said Mrs. Torres gave her heart and soul to make sure senior citizens had a quality place for recreation, a destination where they could be with others and get out of their homes each day.
Her involvement with Hispanics United of Buffalo and through her church made her a recognizable figure. She became someone people wanted to know, Olivencia said.
"There wasn't an elected official or community member who didn't know who she was," he said.
Mrs. Torres was born Maria Cruz. She and her husband, Victor, had six children, four boys and two girls. She is predeceased by Victor and three of the children, Francisco, Victor and Raphael. She is survived by Maria Torres-Hernandez, Evelyn Torres and Edwin Torres.