Remembering Rosalio Cardenas

We recently learned that one of our past Corpsmembers of the Year - Rosalio Cardenas - was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident on the morning of Wednesday, December 12, 2012. Lio won Corpsmember of the Year for California Conservation Corps in 2007. He was flown out to Washington, DC to be honored at our National Conference in February 2007. Below is the speech he gave upon receiving his award. 

We at The Corps Network are deeply saddened by Lio's sudden passing. We send our condolences to his family, his friends, and California Conservation Corps. For information on Rosalio's service in the Corps, click here to read his bio from our Conference.

Services for Lio are as follows:

  • Rosary Service Friday, December 21, 2012 4:00pm - 8:00pm Greenwood Memorial Park & Mortuary 4300 Imperial Ave San Diego, CA 92113 (619) 264-3131 
  • Funeral Service Saturday, December 22, 2012 10:00am - 10:45am St Anthony of Padua 410 W 18Th St National City, CA 91950-5528 619-477-4520 
  • Graveside Service Saturday, December 22, 2012 11:30am - 12:00pm St Anthony of Padua 410 W 18Th St National City, CA 91950-5528 619-477-4520

A speech by Rosalio Cardenas (2007)

Most people would argue that prior to joining the California Conservation Corps my life was on track.  I grew up in a warm house with loving and hard working parents.  They owned their own gardening business with only four employees: my father, my mother, my brother and I.  I had 96 units at a four year university, had worked as an educator, tutored privately and made between $10 and $24 an hour.  Everyone thought that I was on my way to success and that all was fine.  The truth is that I was just idling through life.  I was taking class after class, but not getting significantly closer to my degree and career goal, teaching.  I was working part time jobs in the educational field and tutoring for cash.  Yet these jobs and tutoring stints were unstable.  Working with my father on my days off from school and work could only help for textbooks or gas.  Statewide budget cuts and unwise city budgeting made my part time jobs unreliable and scarce.  So I decided to go for a career change and began the application process with the California Highway Patrol.

I joined the California Conservation Corps per my brother’s recommendation in January of 2006.  He told me about how he earned certifications and worked hard for his money.  He boasted about how he worked for the state, had some medical benefits and showed off his uniform.  He informed me about the scholarship after just six months of continuous work.  What was the catch?  As a corpsmember one would make minimum wage and the work wasn’t always comfortable.  Yet what convinced me was that my brother was happy and enjoyed his job.  I later found myself working in ditches, streams, next to freeways, dirt and rain.  I had gone from classrooms and libraries to labor in the outdoors.  The work was similar to what I had done with my father for years, so my muscles were getting worked everyday.  The remarkable difference is that I could have made more money working with my father.  Nevertheless I gained a lot more than minimum wage.  I worked alongside young men and women from a different walk of life than myself.   Some were single parents, others were trying to leave the gang lifestyle and several had misfortunate lives so far.  This was the real benefit of this program, rather than a job, the diversity of a team and the comradeship.  My previous jobs lacked substance; I felt left out and not as important.  In this program all my peers were friends opposed to just coworkers.  We would help each other out on and off the grade.

The biggest impact from the corps was the Backcountry Trails Program.  I left the luxuries of life behind for a simple life.  The cell phone was traded for envelopes and stamps.  My motorcycle was replaced by a pair of hiking boots.  I never imagined myself bathing in a creek or climbing a peak.  I worked on mountain ridges during thunderstorms, near soothing creeks, at the world famous Yosemite Falls and throughout Northern California Wilderness.  The work was intense and strenuous, and the days were long.  I slept on the ground and under the stars.  All the sights, sounds and smells will never be forgotten, because pictures and stories will never do justice to what I’ve experienced.  Yet the biggest impact was that of my crew.  We were an extremely diverse yet close knit crew of twelve.  We worked, ate, hiked, relaxed, played, lived and grew together.  I made friends for life.  Despite five months of arduous labor my impact on the Wilderness is truly insignificant.  Rain, snowfall or an earthquake can undo everything I’ve made, dug and cleaned this summer.  But my influence on my crewmates and theirs on me will never be washed away.  I learned my importance to others and the effect I can have on my peers.  Due to my cool head, role as a mediator and overall character I was affectionately nicknamed “Papa Leo.”  I found out that I could do so much more than I ever expected, physically as well as mentally and socially.

The Backcountry truly prepared me for my career goal of becoming part of the California Highway Patrol. Not only did I test my limitations, but I found myself as well.  I intend to continue helping others and assist in keeping the peace. I am currently in an advanced stage in the California Highway Patrol’s application process, the Backgrounds Investigation phase which is the lengthiest part of the process.  I have just earned a generous scholarship from Americorps, through my service in the California Conservation Corps, which I plan to put towards my unfinished degree. My ultimate goal is to become a success in life and be a genuinely happy person.  I do not dream of wealth or seek riches.  I want to continue making an impact on my peers and community, while in uniform or at leisure.

It would be a great honor to represent the California Conservation Corps and all that it encompasses. It has helped become a well rounded citizen.  Thanks to my experience with the California Conservation Corps I have many anecdotes along with valuable lessons I am willing to share.  I honestly see the Corps movement as a stepping stone building block for the success of America’s youth.