EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Longtime El Paso educator and speech therapist Julieta ‘Julie’ Apodaca lost her month-long battle with COVID-19 Saturday night.

Plaque dedicated to Julie Apodaca after being awarded Teacher of the Year in 2009-10. (Family Courtesy Photo)

Apodaca’s family confirmed her death to KTSM in a phone call Sunday evening. She was a teacher at Clardy Elementary, where she taught first and fourth grade until her retirement in May 2020. She was named Campus Teacher of the Year for the 2009-2010 school year. Before teaching at Clardy, she was a speech therapist in the Ysleta Independent School District for many years.

According to her family, Apodaca is the second in the family to die from COVID-19 in just a month. Her cousin, Freddy Valles, band teacher at Guillen Middle School, died from the virus on February 12.

“She was careful. She always wore her mask and made everyone wear theirs. Unfortunately, COVID-19 came into her home,” said her sister, Ann Apodaca.

Ann Apodaca says she was their mother’s caretaker. On February 1, they learned one of the nurses who cared for her mother contracted COVID-19. The family was all tested, and those results came back negative on February 5. Just days later, breathing symptoms set in, and she was hospitalized the day after her cousin Freddy died.

Her brother was also hospitalized briefly with the virus after the exposure by the home healthcare nurse. He was released from the hospital after a brief stay.

“My whole family is absolutely devastated by both these losses. They were both far too young. And such genuinely good people,” Ruby Montana said of her cousin Julie and uncle Freddy Valles.

Ann Apodaca says her sister Julie was excited when she signed her mother and herself up for the vaccine through the City in December. Despite having underlying health conditions, neither woman was called to be vaccinated. Ann Apodaca says she can’t help but wonder if she’d received a call earlier if things would be different.

“There are still people that believe they don’t need the vaccine, but public safety should come first. My dad always said ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of pain,'” said Ann Apodaca.

Julie Apodaca was a devout Catholic who was very active at the Cristo Rey Catholic Church in the Lower Valley and spent a lot of time volunteering at St. Paul’s Methodist Church Food Pantry in her Cielo Vista Neighborhood. She was also an active member of the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), even after her retirement last May.

Julie Apodaca is survived by her mother, Lucia Apodaca, her son, Sebastian Madrid, sister Ann Apodaca and brother Jose Apodaca. A niece and two nephews also survive her, along with dozens of extended family members.