What he got was a life-changing experience that led to two careers, one as a dance instructor, and the other as an elementary school teacher.
Humberto, or Berto, as he was called by family and friends, died March 8 of a heart attack. He was 57. He was a fifth-grade bilingual teacher at Tyler ISD’s Douglas Elementary School, where he had taught since 2004.
“He came late into education, but he really took it to heart,” his oldest sister, Marta Zuber said.
Born in Corpus Christi in 1955, he was one of 11 children. Growing up he was very athletic. He played football, basketball and baseball in school, continuing his love for sports through intramurals in college, his nephew Jon Arriola said.
He earned a kinesiology degree from West Texas State University (now West Texas A&M University) and planned to become a coach.
However, his life took a turn, and he spent four years in the U.S. Army in his late 20s, and when he got out he moved to Austin, and that’s where he learned to dance.
It started with lessons at Arthur Murray Dance Studio to impress a woman. But what he found through dance changed him, Jon said.
Berto gained confidence. He took more risks. And he put himself out there to meet people. Plus, he was good at dancing.
Jon said he and Berto called this effect, the dance factor. The changes that people experienced through this performing art were profound, Jon said.
It moved people from “I can’t” to “I can” from “I haven’t done that before” to “Let me try,” Jon said.
“Just the self-confidence alone is just such a huge positive factor in your life,” Jon said.
Berto saw this, and he wanted other people to experience it. So he became a dance instructor and brought his nephew Jon, who was more like a brother, into it as well.
For more than 20 years Berto taught dance, first through Fred Astaire Dance Studios in Austin and Tyler, then on his own through his company, Thanks for the Dance.
As his clientele passed away or no longer wanted to or could continue, Jon and others encouraged him to pursue a career as a teacher.
“Eventually what led him to education is that he wanted to continue teaching,” Jon said. “He didn’t want to continue a dance business, but he wanted to continue teaching.”
After obtaining his teaching certificate, Berto started at Douglas. Hired as a fourth-grade bilingual teacher, he moved to fifth grade three years ago. There, he taught math and science and he loved it, school Principal Christy Roach said.
His personality came through in many ways. On his door instead of a sign reading “Gone to lunch” or “Gone to PE,” his read “Gone Dancing.”
Although he taught fifth grade, students from kindergarten on up knew who he was and talked to him in the hall, Ms. Roach said.
His colleagues loved him, too. He could be silly, but he also knew when to get the job done.
“He was always just so kind, just willing to do whatever it would take to benefit the children, just really, really genuine,” Ms. Roach said.
“He was just a very happy and helpful person,” Ms. Perdomo said. “As a teacher, he really loved what he did. He loved the children. He did what he could to help them.”
Although he wasn’t officially her mentor, he informally took on the role helping her with resources, ideas and class management, she said.
“We worked side by side every day, and I’m truly going to miss his presence,” Ms. Perdomo said.
The school held a candlelight vigil Wednesday in his honor after his funeral. Ms. Roach said they had a great turnout with his family members, school staff and some students in attendance.
“We just wanted to give the family one last tribute from the Douglas family to his family,” Ms. Roach said.
Arriola enjoyed food, so Ms. Roach said it was fitting that they had a dinner at the school that night.
“He loved food,” she said. “If we had anything going on, he would say, ‘Where’s the food?’”
In addition to the dinner, people were able to visit his classroom and see how he had left it. Former students, staff members and his grandson also spoke, Ms. Roach said.
“He left behind a lot of friends, family, colleagues that will certainly miss him,” she said. “I think we are better people for knowing him. He just loved life and lived life.”