Marie Hilda Santillana, founding board member of Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance, is being mourned in her Van Nest community after her passing on Thursday, July 4 at the age of 70.
Santillana became Sergeant at Arms of the VNNA when it was founded in 2010, said Bernadette Ferrara, VNNA president of the organization.
“She did anything she could to help the community,” said Ferrera. “She was like the eyes and ears of Van Nest.”
Ferrara recalled that she never missed a VNNA or 49th Precinct Community Council meeting, until very recently when she became ill.
“She would always say what needed to be said in a very respectful way,” said Ferrara, recalling that she was a fighter not only for her community, but for herself as she battled breast cancer and other illnesses.
Bon Nolan, VNNN senior advisor, said that she was especially active in finding families to give donated turkeys to at Thanksgiving and locating families in Van Nest who needed toys at Christmas.
Her son Thomas Santillana said that his mother succumbed to COPD, a breathing ailment, after surviving three heart surgeries in addition to breast cancer. She worked for many years at a concrete company in New Jersey, he said.
Her son said he wasn’t sure what motivated his mom’s service to her community, but said that she inspired his own civic engagement.
“She just loved helping out her neighbors,” said her son. “We never really talked about why she did it, but I am just glad that she did.”
He recalled her as a strong disciplinarian and added that his family would support an effort to memorialize her community devotion.