Remembering Waukesha Police reserve officer Maria Ascension Paz
Maria Ascension Paz, who believed people should leave a community in a better condition than they found it, was described as a community bridge-builder – a person who connected with people from all walks of life.
Paz, 60, who died unexpectantly on Wednesday, March 1, leaves behind that legacy and more, according to the people who knew and worked with her.
A graduate of Waukesha South High School and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a major in elementary education and a minor in bilingual education, Paz worked for 26 years at Cooper Power Industries (RTE Components). She married Juan Paz Sr., also of Waukesha.
But her life wasn't defined by her career or marriage.
Her son Juan Paz Jr. described his mother as selfless and a devoted Catholic who was passionate about her work with St. Joseph Catholic Church in Waukesha and as a person dedicated to community service, including her role as a reserve officer for the Waukesha Police Department.
She practiced what she preached.
"She helped people get back to their faith and stay strong in their faith," he said.
Paz served as a reserve police officer for 15 years. When she joined the reserves it was not a shock to Juan Jr., or her other children Monica, Angelica and Ramiro.
In that role, Maria would often go on a ride-along with an officer or work at a fair or bike race.
"Whatever it was, no task was too little. It was to the betterment of the people's safety and that is what she cared about," Juan Jr. said, noting that his mom also started the neighborhood watch program around their home.
In fact, Juan recalls that she never missed a shift and would fill in for someone if they couldn't cover. She walked her own neighborhood to make sure the area was safe.
"She was always trying to make her community a better place. She was a steward of the community," he said.
Waukesha County Board Supervisor Christine Howard, who knew Paz since high school, said she also had a special impact on people.
"She had an openness about her that made everyone feel special and loved. She was one of the most sincerely real human beings I have ever know," Howard said.
Howard commented how Maria truly lived a life of unconditional love such as she believed Jesus Christ followed. She had a strong faith and never gave up on encouraging Howard to attend Mass.
"My heart is heavy for her family, friends and the community – her shining light and beautiful smile will not be forgotten," she said.
Mary Jane Sanchez, owner of WurkHub in Waukesha, who also has known Maria and her family for a long time, described her friend as an active member of her church and community. Maria was also great at getting people to pitch in and help on a drop of a hat.
"She was always volunteering me for things," Sanchez laughed.
Paz frequently dropped by WurkHub, a digital marketing firm downtown, helping build a community sense there. Sanchez said Paz would often ask if she needed any help at WurkHub.
Without asking, Paz would do things for the company. For instance, she once purchased a printer for the WurkHub and would occasionally bring in coffee filters and coffee maker. Sanchez said Paz stopped by WurkHub as recently as Feb. 27.
Sanchez explained some people try to do the right things. Her friend always did.
"She was so giving, loving and trusting," Sanchez said.
Juan Paz Jr. noted the Waukesha Police Department planned to honor his mother during her funeral and visitation on Monday and Tuesday, March 6-7. A uniformed officer was expected stand guard next to Maria's casket for the duration of her visitation.
"We thought it was unbelievable and a testament to her dedication," Juan said.
He explained nothing can dull the pain of family's loss. However, the outpouring of support from the community has helped them see how important she was to everyone.
The visitation will be held on Monday from 4 to 8 p.m. at Randle-Dable-Brisk Funeral Home, 1110 S. Grand Ave., Waukesha. Prayers will begin at the funeral home on Tuesday at 8 a.m. followed by the procession to St. Joseph Catholic Church, 822 N. East Ave. Waukesha 53186 for the 9 a.m. funeral Mass, with the Rev. Javier Bustos presiding. Burial will follow at St. Joseph Cemetery.