Finding strength in community: Senior resident keeps active in cultural work and West Valley Joggers & Striders Club

Danny and Madelyn Moon

From service work in Mexico in her youth to Marathon runs throughout her fifties and sixties, 80-year-old Saratogan Madelyn Moon continues to inspire runners around the community.

Lines of women stand in hot, humid air with no chairs provided, feet sore from working hours on end. Their hands and fingers fly over canning machines designed in the late 1950s, stuffing peaches and pears into hundreds of tin cans each day. Noticeably among them in similar height but in a much younger and energetic disposition is Madelyn Moon, who was then 15 but now resides in Saratoga with her husband Danny Moon.

In the narrow 10-minute window between the breaks in their shifts, the older ladies would protect Madelyn—not from factory conditions, but by warning her about her future.

“You see these?” An older woman pointed at the varicose veins on her legs. “Don’t get these and be like us. Go to college. If you get an education, nobody can ever take that away from you.”

Now at 80, Madelyn said those words have remained one of the strongest driving forces for her determination. She has since taught English for children in San Felipe, Mexico, worked for Santa Clara County helping to recruit Spanish-speaking employees, and was one of West Valley Joggers & Striders (WVJS)’s first few female runners.


“The source of my strength:” Growing up with Mexican roots

Having grown up in East San Jose after moving from Oakland at age three, Madelyn was surrounded by a Spanish-speaking population. As the youngest of seven siblings, she was strongly influenced by her grandmother Sanchez and her two uncles, one of whom was a Spanish teacher who later became principal of Mountain View High School and Los Altos High School and the other of whom introduced her to many aspects of her Mexican heritage, including traditional food and practices in Catholicism. Her mother, who is Spanish and French, simultaneously fueled her interest in contributing to the Mexican and global community.

“I was very proud of my Mexican heritage and, heading into San Jose State, was extremely interested in people from different countries and cultures,” she said. “So in college, I joined the international club. But the values instilled in me from my upbringing in my Catholic church and the many Mexican-American associations I joined left a huge impact on me.”

From her experience at school and her job balancing awareness of growing up in two cultures, Mexican and American, Madelyn was inspired to become independent by getting a college education.

Even when she was tempted to drop out after struggling immensely with eight units of Latin in college, her conviction to remain steadfast by her values persisted.

“I took the forms to drop out of college to my guidance counselor, and he said, ‘I will sign it, Ms. Sanchez, but is this the way you're going to treat life every time something gets difficult?’” Madelyn said. “And that taught me a big lesson: That strength and mentality you gain from learning how to become independent—it lives with you forever.”


Community service: Reconnecting with heritage

With her strong Catholic faith and a long-held desire to further contribute to her Mexican community, Madelyn was helped by her priest to secure a scholarship to conduct community work on a farm called The Grail in Loveland, Ohio. Her farmwork there—walking a mile in the snow each morning to church, milking the cows, teaching people how to build porta potties—inspired her to pursue community service in Mexico.

In the following two months, she traveled to San Felipe and taught English and hymns to religious children there.

“We taught catechism [religious education] and grew very close to the families,” she said. “They caught fish and slept in adobe huts under the stars, but it was clear they were happy. And that got me really interested in knowing more about my Mexican culture and my religious background.”

Thus, immediately upon her return to California, Madelyn started working for Santa Clara County as a minority recruiter, helping to enlist Spanish-speaking people by aiding them with their work and interview applications. Through continuing her community service efforts, Madelyn discovered that the strength and courage she gained from her past experiences built on top of each other to give her the will and determination at each stage of her life: from working as a teenager to getting her own job, then eventually getting married and taking care of her son.

At three and a half months old, Madelyn’s son Michael Moon had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. Even though hospital staff told Madelyn that he wasn’t going to make it, she insisted on taking care of him.

“I said no [to the doctors],” she said. “I asked a priest to give him a blessing while he was unconscious, and then Michael opened his eyes. And I knew then that was a sign. My deep faith told me he was going to make it.”

Now, Madelyn and her husband Danny visit Michael, 54, four to five times a week at his home. Madelyn's determination to take care of her family, a quality she's seen over and over since childhood—from her grandpa Ramon taking care of her grandmother Petra in the kitchen to her supporting the family by getting a job with her siblings—solidified her inner strength and faith.

That strength manifests in various aspects of her daily life. When she first joined WVJS in 1987, for example, her running speed and physical strength made it possible for club president Walter van Zant to recruit more women, a philosophy that would come to define the essence of the club in the years to come with more diversity. 

Now at 80, Madelyn continues to support the club each Saturday morning, helping to time runners and carry the necessary equipment to their running courses.

“I grew up with a lot of love in my family, and that love has spread to every aspect of my life,” she said. “And the source of that came from my faith in believing in the ability to find beauty in different things. That’s what I live by. Be what you are, and you’ll learn to love the things around you.”

Photo courtesy of Madelyn and Danny Moon.