Wendy Vanessa Garcia-Raygoza will be remembered for her willingness to help others and for her relentless love of family.
Ms. Garcia-Raygoza served as an overnight residential victim advocate at True North Columbia, where she aided survivors in navigating crises. She provided emotional support for victims of domestic violence.
“She was such a pillar of light, and I’m not exaggerating,” said Elizabeth Herrera Eichenberg, executive director of True North. “I mean, this woman was so dedicated to being of service to other people, and she always had a smile on her face. She just beamed this wonderful loving energy that was nonjudgmental and that really just wanted to be there for people, not just clients, but her co-workers, too.”
She was willing to put anyone’s needs above her own, Michelle Mullenax, Ms. Garcia-Raygoza’s girlfriend, said.
Ms. Garcia-Raygoza, 24, died Feb. 21 in a head-on collision on Route WW.
She was born June 16, 1994, in Pomona, California, to Juan Garcia and Martina Raygoza. Her family eventually moved to Columbia, where she graduated from Rock Bridge High School. She attended Moberly Area Community College, where she met Mullenax in a Spanish class in 2014.
Mexican culture was important to Ms. Garcia-Raygoza, and she had a passion for Mexican food and music, Mullenax said.
“She could survive on tacos, hot sauce and limes alone,” Mullenax said.
Although she excelled in her career at True North of Columbia, Ms. Garcia-Raygoza’s life ambition was to be a police officer — a career her co-workers said she would have succeeded in.
Ms. Garcia-Raygoza wanted to be a police officer because “that’s who she was,” Herrera Eichenberg said.
“She was a person who wanted to serve,” Herrera Eichenberg said. “She was a person who wanted to protect those that are defenseless.”
Above all, family was most important to Ms. Garcia-Raygoza.
One of five children, she wanted the best for her family. Her maternal grandparents and siblings were dear to her, Mullenax said, and she took great pride in her family name.
“Her siblings were everything to her,” Mullenax said. “She was there for them no matter what.”
Ms. Garcia-Raygoza extended this love for family beyond her immediate relatives. She took in Mullenax’s son, Adam Ferrugia, and loved him as her own, Mullenax said. Ms. Garcia-Raygoza met the boy when he was 3, and she provided financial assistance and taught him the morals and values instilled in her by her family, especially by her grandparents.
“I know that was really important to her — making sure that she was a good role model for Adam and her nieces and nephews, too,” said Jessica Cook, a hotline services coordinator at True North and Ms. Garcia-Raygoza’s supervisor. “So just hearing her talk and seeing the love in her face when she would talk about her family, I think really exemplified how kind she was.”
Ms. Garcia-Raygoza and Adam, now 8, grew close. People often said they looked alike because they both wore glasses, Mullenax said.
“She always took him to the barbershop with her,” Mullenax said. “She really cared about her hair and taught him to do the same. She taught him not only how to take care of himself but also how to take care of someone else.”
Ms. Garcia-Raygoza was an example of someone who makes the Columbia community great, Herrera Eichenberg said.
“These are the type of people that take care of the ones that nobody wants to take care of,” she said, “That’s the type of person Wendy was.”
Ms. Garcia-Raygoza’s survivors include her significant other, Michelle Mullenax, and son, Adam Ferrugia, of Fulton; godson, Joziah Mendez-Garcia; father, Juan Garcia of California; mother, Martina Raygoza, and stepfather, Raul Alderete, of Columbia; grandmother, Ramona Lopez-Gutieres of California; brother, Raul Alderete-Raygoza of Columbia; sisters, Alejandra Alderete-Raygoza and Blanca Garcia, both of Columbia, and Yessica Garcia-Raygoza of Utah; and nieces and nephews, Zoe, Zaira, Zaina, Manuel Jr., Frankie, Jayden, Liam, Anthony, Alonso and Ana. Her grandparents, Eleuterio Raygoza, Guadalupe Perez and Juan Garcia, preceded her in death.
A funeral is set to take place from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursday at Parker-Millard Funeral Service, with the family receiving family and friends afterward.
Memorial contributions may be made to True North of Columbia, P.O. Box 1367, Columbia, MO 65205, or The Central Missouri Humane Society, 616 Big Bear Blvd., Columbia, MO 65202.