Jodean Dela Cruz left her hometown of New Buffalo, Michigan, in 1967 after graduating from Michigan State University to join the Peace Corps and fell in love with Hawaiʻi on a stopover en route to her assignment in Northern Mindanao in the Philippines. There, she met and fell in love with a fellow volunteer who happened to live in Hawaiʻi.
Their meeting was “gasat,” or “fate” in Ilocano, says her husband, Romel Dela Cruz, who was born in the Northern Ilocos Philippines the same year as his future wife but grew up in Paʻauilo, on Hawaiʻi Island. He and Jodean married after their service in the Peace Corps in 1972 and lived in Honolulu and then moved to Maui before relocating permanently to the Big Island in 1989.
“I was reading ‘Hawaiʻi’ by James Michener because we had stopped to refuel in Hawaiʻi,” Jodean once told the Hamakua Times for a story about Peace Corps couples on Hawaiʻi Island, “So when I met Romel, I asked a lot of questions, and he was very knowledgeable on history. He was a very fascinating person to me.”
Jodean Marie Behner-Schneider was born in Michigan City, Indiana, and graduated from New Buffalo High School in neighboring Michigan before attending Michigan State. After moving to Hawaiʻi, she earned a master’s degree in educational foundations from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Education and began a long career as a public school teacher on three islands. She taught math and science at Sanford B. Dole Middle School in Honolulu and taught at middle schools on Maui and Hawaiʻi Island before moving to administration and serving as vice principal at Waiākea Middle School, Laupāhoehoe Elementary & High School, Pāhoa High School and ending at Honokaʻa High School in 2003.
Jodean was active with her community wherever she resided and supported efforts to enrich people’s lives through teaching, service and arts and crafts. Jodean became an adept quilter and crafter after retiring from teaching, and for a while partnered with other crafters to sell their creations at a retail store in Honokaʻa. Jodean grew up with two sisters and she and Romel had two sons and four grandchildren.
To honor her memory, Romel established the Jodean Marie Behner-Schneider Dela Cruz Endowed Scholarship for future educators majoring in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – at the UH Mānoa College of Education.
Romel says he hopes students, in particular those who are underprivileged and of Filipino descent, share his wife’s passion for science and math and that they “take her up on the challenge to become future science, mathematics, or STEM leaders.”