Student dies in fall at Iowa Mennonite School

Dec 4, 2017 by and

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Gloria Villatoro remembers her 15-year-old niece, Teresa Cardenas, as a cheerful girl who liked to sing, tell jokes and talk all the time.

“She was a happy girl who just enjoyed life,” said Villatoro, pastor of Iglesia Menonita Torre Fuerte in Iowa City, Iowa. “. . . When Teresa was here, it was never quiet.”

Teresa Cardenas


Cardenas, a 10th-grade student at Iowa Mennonite School in Kalona, Iowa, died Dec. 1 after falling at a school event.

Principal Steve Schrag said Cardenas fell from a fixed ladder that was part of the building’s structure, during an all-school social featuring fun activities that encouraged friendship between the grades. Emergency crews worked to revive her but were unable to do so.

He said he could not comment on whether or not Cardenas was participating in an activity at the time.

“Our community is heartbroken from the loss of a family member,” Schrag said.

The school has 83 students in grades 9-12.

Cardenas was active in the joint Mennonite Youth Fellowship of around 20 young people from First Mennonite Church and Iglesia Menonita Torre Fuerte, which share a building.

Pastors and counselors were available to the IMS community over that weekend, and visitation and funeral services for Cardenas were held Dec. 5 and 6 at the school.

“It’s a very close community,” Schrag said of IMS. “We use the word ‘family;’ we use the word ‘community;’ we use the word ‘together.’ ”

‘Today is your day’

Villatoro said she can’t help but laugh while watching videos of Cardenas.

“The 15 years that she was alive with us, she really lived them happy,” she said. “She was just a happy girl. She enjoyed the short life that she had.”

At the same time, she said her family is suffering from the loss.

“It feels like that kind of pain that’s never going to be healed. I know the Lord can heal, but it’s just so painful.”

It’s an additional sorrow for Villatoro, whose husband, Max, was deported March 20, 2015, to Honduras by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They have been separated since then and talk every day.

Through both of these situations, Villatoro believes God is teaching her to focus on the present and not worry about the future.

“Through the Word of God, he teaches us to be prepared and plan, but sometimes as Christians, we forget to enjoy the now time,” she said.

Because death can come so unexpectedly, Villatoro is reminding her congregation to be ready.

“Be prepared; today is your day,” she said. “Be secure of your salvation, that you’re sure that you’re saved today, that if God calls you into his presence you’re going to wake up and be in his glory with him.”

Though she questions why God lets these things happen, she doesn’t want to become angry and bitter.

“Maybe what he’s teaching me through this is to trust in him and to be sure that he’s in control of our lives, and that if he calls us today, we’re going to be ready,” she said.

Villatoro said the school’s auditorium was packed for the memorial service, which included people from Torre Fuerte, First Mennonite and a Pentecostal congregation where Cardenas’ mother attended. The pastor of that church preached at the funeral, she said.

Survivors include Cardenas’ mother, Mireya, of Iowa City and father, Carlos, of Guatemala; and brothers Michael A. Mendoza of Olathe, Kan., and Carlos E. Cardenas of Iowa City.

A memorial fund has been established. Checks payable to Teresa Cardenas Memorial can be sent to Hills Bank Kalona, P.O. Box 15210, Kalona, IA, 52247, or to Iowa Mennonite School, 1421 540th St. SW, Kalona, IA 52247.

This story was updated Dec. 11, 2017.

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