In Memoriam: Pomona College staff member Irineo De Leon

A large bell tower and clock overlook the sunset.
Irineo de Leon, a Pomona College custodial staff member, died of COVID-19 Feb. 8. (Chris Nardi • The Student Life)

Pomona College custodial staff member Irineo De Leon died of COVID-19 the morning of Feb. 8, according to a Facebook post from Pomona politics professor Susan McWilliams. De Leon worked as an evening shift housekeeper, mainly in Sumner Hall, for 29 years.

De Leon is survived by his wife Mary De Leon, who worked at Pomona as a custodial staff member in Carnegie Hall, as well as family members near Claremont and in Guatemala, according to Brenda Rushforth, assistant vice president of human resources and chief human resources officer.

 A GoFundMe page organized by economics professor Fernando Lozano for De Leon’s family has raised more than $3,000 from over 30 donors. Many Pomona faculty whose offices and classrooms are located in Carnegie Hall donated to the memorial fundraiser. 

De Leon was honored by his colleagues during Pomona’s Staff Council Forum Feb. 17, according to Rushforth.

“He was a hard worker and will be truly missed by many,” she told TSL via email.

McWillliams said she and her family were in shock after hearing the news of De Leon’s passing. They had seen him a short while before learning he had contracted COVID-19 and later heard that his health was better. 

“It seems impossible, because Irineo seemed able to power through anything,” McWilliams told TSL via email. “Irineo was a great colleague and a smiling presence in my life.”

De Leon “entertained and scared” McWilliams’ kids with stories of the ghosts he’d seen during late nights on campus. She said her daughter still sleeps with a teddy bear that he and Mary gave her almost a decade ago, she said.

De Leon had been featured in several articles sharing his stories of a ghost that lives in Sumner Hall. Many believe the ghost is that of Gwendolyn Rose, who died in 1887 of a broken heart in Sumner Hall when it functioned as a hotel.

“Mr. De Leon doesn’t find Gwendolyn scary or dangerous, in fact, he’s quite matter-of-fact about his encounters. When people doubt him and ask, ‘Is there really a ghost in Sumner Hall?’ He answers, ‘Oh, yeah. She’s down in the basement,’” a 2014 Claremont Courier article stated.

McWilliams said it had been a difficult few years for De Leon and his family. De Leon was one of the 264 workers Pomona furloughed in the fall and had difficulty accessing unemployment, according to McWilliams.

“Irineo powered through it all, but I feel for his family now having to endure his absence on top of everything else,” she said.

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