Legacy can often be described as leaving your mark on the world or continuing traditions. For Juanita (Jonni) Garcia-Maldonado Sayres ’65, legacy has meant a life-long commitment to serving others and having a positive impact in the ﬁeld of education.
Sayres graduated from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1965. Following her graduation, she began her path of impacting others through advocacy and education. From serving in the Peace Corps to teaching for several years in Afghanistan, Sayres has always enjoyed helping students achieve their dreams.
In celebration of her 80th birthday, Jonni’s children came together to give her the best birthday present a Woods alum could imagine. Nikki Sayres shared that it was a well-thought-out process among her and her siblings. “We were trying to think of how to honor Mom with something that would bring her joy but would also reﬂect the selﬂessness that is part of her character,” Nikki explained. As Nikki and her siblings continued to brainstorm, they brought up subjects that their mother valued through the years with education being at the top of the list. “Growing up in our household, the values of education and service were ﬁrst and foremost for her and my father,” she said.
Through the years, SMWC has held a special place in Jonni’s heart. “She talks about the College a lot. She loves to attend her Reunions. Taking a break from chemo, as she was traveling from the West Coast to the East Coast, she stopped in Indiana and went to the 2022 Reunion,” Nikki said, “When you’re going through something like cancer, and you get a break of time – when someone chooses to spend that time on something like that, that tells you that it’s really signiﬁcant to them.”
After researching opportunities to do something for her mother with SMWC, Nikki and her siblings, Jason, Joel, Rory and Kelli, all gathered on a Zoom call and agreed to establish an endowed scholarship in honor of their mother at The Woods. “Thinking of the hundreds of students our mom helped through her career as a college placement and scholarship counselor, her Board of Education service, and so many other ways, we knew that continuing to have an impact on education would be very meaningful for her,” Nikki said.
When Jonni’s ﬁve children presented her with the letter to reveal her birthday gift, she was speechless. “When they handed me the letter, I didn’t even react because I was so awestruck. I just thought, ‘Wow, this is a great idea.’ I’ve talked about The Woods a lot, so I think the kids realized how important it is to me,” she said.
Jonni shared that she credits SMWC with her transformative commitment to advocacy and the rights of others as well as her love for education. “When I started at The Woods, I thought, this is good – small class sizes, they had math – that was the academic pull to The Woods for me.
The other was the supportive environment. I had always known about Mother Theodore, (since I attended Our Lady of Sorrows Grammar School and Providence High School, all staﬀed by the Sisters of Providence) but I didn’t truly understand her until I came to The Woods. She has really been the guiding light for a lot that I’ve done. I’m very grateful to The Woods,” Jonni said.
Reﬂecting on the inspiration that their mother has been to them, Nikki and her siblings continue to be reassured that establishing an endowed scholarship was the right choice. “I would hope that the recipients would use the opportunity to make the most of their time at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and explore who they are, just like our mom did, and know they are capable of doing great things,” Nikki said.
In describing her hopes for the scholarship for future recipients, Jonni shared, “If it would be the key or turning point for a student to aﬀord The Woods, that would be fantastic. I hope that they will open themselves up. Everyone gains something from The Woods. I’d want them to know that it’s broader than the classes; it’s the full experience.”
To learn more about how to honor your loved ones, contact the Oﬃce of Advancement at 812-535-5270.