As a single mother in her 30s with six children, Cleo Herrera set a lasting example for her family when she earned a master’s degree in psychology.
“Although there were other single mothers attending college at the same time as my mother,” said her daughter Laura Herrera Rodriguez, “she stood out because she was one of the few who finished.”
Herrera Rodriguez said her mother rarely mentioned the determination, persistence and hard work it took to earn her degree.
“She didn’t talk about those three things much,” Herrera Rodriguez said, “but she demonstrated them to us during those years she attended college. We were unaware of her struggles because she did not complain or mention them. That example was practiced by all of us when we became adults.”
Herrera, of Osseo, died on May 15 from complications of COVID-19. She was 82.
After graduating from Chadron (Neb.) State, she worked primarily in child protective services. She worked in Pine Ridge, S.D.; Lincoln, Neb., and Houston before moving to Minneapolis in 1988.
“She was living in Houston,” said Herrera Rodriguez, “and her sister, who was a Minneapolis police officer, needed her help starting a foster home.”
Herrera was born to Charles and Sarah Steele on July 30, 1937, in Pine Ridge. While Herrera was growing up, the family, which eventually included 11 children, lived in several towns in northwestern Nebraska and western South Dakota as her father worked as a ranch hand.
Herrera Rodriguez, who lives in Coon Rapids, said faith was paramount to her mother.
“She was a Seventh-Day Adventist,” said Herrera Rodriguez, “and her Christianity was most important to her because she was able to help others and got full enjoyment from that. That is the one thing that will always remain with me, something she instilled in us when we were very young, to follow the Bible.
“Yet, despite her beliefs, she did not judge or condemn those of her children who chose to go another way,” she said.
In addition to her daughter Laura, Herrera is survived by sons Frank Herrera of Hanover, Md., Benjamin Herrera of Spring, Texas, and Joe Herrera of Alliance, Neb.; and daughters Sherri Escobar of Houston, and Toni Herrera of Lincoln, Neb.; brother Charles Steele of Gallup, N.M., and sister Sandra Steele of San Antonio, Texas; 16 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by daughter JoAnn Garnier, her parents and eight siblings.
A service has been held.