For more than 20 years, Fidel Herrera taught English as a second language (ESL) classes at Allan Hancock College. He led the charge to develop the college’s ESL credit program. Herrera lost his decades-long battle with cancer on January 21. Now, his long-time friend and former Hancock ESL instructor Michael McMahon will walk nearly 500 miles in Spain to honor Herrera and raise funds for a scholarship named after Herrera for a Hancock ESL student.
“Teaching ESL students was Fidel’s passion. He lived for it. Years ago, he told me he wanted to start a scholarship for ESL students,” said Eileen Herrera, Fidel’s wife of 52 years. “I am overwhelmed at Michael’s willingness to travel the lengths of the Earth to honor my husband. I am so happy his wish will be fulfilled and his legacy will live on.”
McMahon will head to Spain in May to complete the pilgrimage to the tomb of the apostle St. James. The 480-mile journey, which starts in France and ends in northwest Spain, is known as El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The pilgrimage route was featured in The Way, a 2010 film written and directed by Emilio Estevez that starred both him and his father, Martin Sheen.
“Fidel was my mentor who helped me become an ESL teacher in the late-1990s,” said McMahon. “He had tremendous heart and love for his students. He is a legend in the community and impacted hundreds of lives. It will be an honor to walk a few hundred miles to honor a great man.”
McMahon and Herrera contacted the Allan Hancock College Foundation to start a scholarship in Fidel Herrera’s memory. McMahon wants to turn his pilgrimage into a fundraiser where community members and business pledge a dollar amount per mile that he completes or an overall amount.
McMahon has three months to train for El Camino de Santiago. He has started dieting and exercising in preparation. “El Camino will allow me to do some things my doctor has been trying to get me to do for years,” said McMahon. “It will also serve a much bigger purpose where I will be able to think and reflect on my life, as well as honor my great friend.”
He and a friend plan to walk 10 to 12 miles each day during the journey, so he estimates it will take about six weeks to complete.
Herrera hopes she will be able to travel to Spain to walk the last leg with McMahon.
“It would be very special and emotional to join Michael at the end of his journey,” said Herrera. “Fidel had ancestors in Spain and visiting the country was always on our bucket list.”
El Camino de Santiago de Compostela dates back more than 1,000 years. One tradition still followed today is hikers leave a stone or personal item near a cross at the Cruz de Ferro. Herrera gave McMahon a heart-shaped stone her son found at Montaña de Oro to place near the cross. She wrote “Fidel” and wrote three symbols on the other side that hold special significance.
“I drew a heart, a zero and an infinity symbol because my husband and I always told each other ‘I love you from zero to infinity and back again.’ The rock is also a perfect heart,” she said. Fidel Herrera left behind his wife, four sons, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
There are several ways people can donate to the Fidel Herrera Scholarship. They can stop by the Allan Hancock College Foundation office at 936 S. College Drive in Santa Maria, or mail cash, check or money order to P.O. Box 5170 in Santa Maria, 93456-5170.
People may also donate directly online at www.hancockcollege.edu/ahc_foundation . Click on the arrow under Make A Donation, select Fidel Herrera Scholarship, and click Donate Now.
For more information, contact the Allan Hancock College Foundation at (805) 925-2004.