After long careers as public servants, Mike and Linda Cordero are now donating their retirement years to … public service.
In recognition of the Corderos' “outstanding civic and charitable work to make the Santa Maria Valley a better place,” Organizing Sponsor, the Santa Barbara Foundation, along with Gold Sponsor the Santa Maria Times, have named the Corderos 2022 Celebrate Philanthropy Honorees.
“As Santa Maria residents for almost 50 years, Mike and Linda have dug in, gotten dirty, helped those in need, and truly made a difference,” said Ann McCarty, nominator, and Executive Director of North County Rape Crisis & Child Protection Center.
“They have served (and still serve) on boards, they have attended more fundraisers than any of us can count, they have spoken out, they have stood with each of us in solidarity.
"Mike and Linda are pillars of the Santa Maria community, and together they richly deserve this prestigious honor.”
The Corderos chose careers in public service, with Mike a 39-year career police officer, followed by his continued service as a Santa Maria City Councilman. Linda has served for 50 years in the Santa Maria Bonita School District, currently as a board member.
The Corderos have served and volunteered on numerous committees and boards, including the Santa Maria Elks, North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center, North County United Way of Santa Barbara County, Boys & Girls Clubs of Mid Central Coast, North Santa Barbara County Women’s Fund, and Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara County, among others.
We sat down with Mike and Linda, in their friendly, Halloween-decorated home, to talk about community, volunteerism, and the discomfort of being honored.
Linda explains: “We’re not often in zones of discomfort, but this has caused a bit of angst. I know we keep busy. I know we’ve made some significant choices about what we choose to participate in. But I think Mike would agree we don’t do what we do to be important or perceived as important.”
Mike adds, “I’ve never been good at having YOU tell me I’m good at something.”
The couple got more visibly involved in the larger community after retirement, because as public servants in their careers, they were more focused on the sub-communities adjacent to their professions – education and public safety.
From her first year of teaching, Linda was always either on a school committee or a district committee. During that time, she focused her attention on language and reading, which she considers central to success in learning and in life.
“Reading just unlocks everything,” she said.
Mike’s journey began after a promotion at the police department. He was invited to help at the North County Rape Crisis & Child Protection Center, which he says turned into “a 30-year hitch” for he and Linda.
“That’s how it started for me,” said Mike, “and then it went from this committee to that committee or participating in events for the Boys & Girls Club.”
Mike appreciated the value of the opportunity to be with kids, playing and lending a hand, in uniform. Other long-term associations include CommUnify, The United Way, and The Elks Club — host of Santa Maria’s now world-famous rodeo.
“You might say some of our public service was accidental. Someone just asked, ‘Can you do this?’ and we said yes,” he said.
The Boys and Girls Club invited Linda to join the board right after she retired from teaching.
“We had been participating in their events for years. I had no experience with the clubs in my youth, but Mike frequently talked about growing up in Santa Barbara and how important the Boys Club (as it was called at the time) was for him, and the opportunities he had because of them.”
According to Mike, “I grew up knowing I wasn’t going anywhere or doing anything.” Many of his peers ended up in prison or dead from overdoses. But Mike’s father provided stern oversight: no drugs, no fighting, no running from fights.
“He left an indelible mark on my life that I live by today,” Mike said.
Character influences choices. “I could have easily gone to the other side. One morning I woke up and went left instead of right and here I am, a retired policeman on the city council.”
Linda grew up in different circumstances, but with similar values. Linda’s mom told her and her sisters, “You can do anything you want, and education is how you will accomplish that.”
Her passion for education is reflected in every facet of her life.
Mike points out that this is the couple’s 50th year in the community, and that with Linda as a teacher, Mike got to talk to generations of kids in Santa Maria in her classroom, showing them the human face of their local police force, showing that the uniform is worn by a neighbor and is there to help.
Asked how people can get started helping the community, Linda recommends building a habit of joining committees, attending events, getting involved.
“Otherwise, you don’t have any say over what’s going to happen,” she said.
"That said, “Sometimes, saying ‘yes’ too often can be overwhelming, but by the same token, when you really care about what you’re doing, then you want people to see that as part of who you are. If you sit back and do nothing, you’ve lost your voice.
“For a long time, philanthropy was associated with how much money you donated. Yes, we donate some, but we’re public servants. We come from very working-class backgrounds. We don’t have millions or even thousands to donate; we give what we can.”
Linda may not like the spotlight, but she acknowledges that one advantage of being honored may be “a chance to model what a regular person can do to be helpful in the community. Anybody can do it.”
And while the Corderos may be a little uncomfortable in the spotlight, Mike won’t let it go to his head: “On the way home today, someone asked me, ‘Aren’t you Mrs. Cordero’s husband?’”