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PCC success story: Ex-con lives to learn, serve

Raul Lopez, a Pima College student enrolled in the paralegal program, consults with instructor Dee Janssen Lammers about classwork. Lopez, 48, will be honored this week as the 2 millionth member of the national Phi Theta Kappa honorary fraternity.

Raul Lopez, a Pima College student enrolled in the paralegal program, consults with instructor Dee Janssen Lammers about classwork. Lopez, 48, will be honored this week as the 2 millionth member of the national Phi Theta Kappa honorary fraternity.

Raul Lopez watched his friend shoot a sheriff’s deputy, but didn’t say or do anything to stop him.

The two then sped off, leaving the deputy to die.

Days later, the gunman had killed himself, the Navajo County deputy was dead and Lopez was arrested on a first-degree murder charge.

Lopez was eventually convicted of negligent homicide in the 1988 slaying and during the 10 years he served in prison, learned he had cirrhosis of the liver.

Eventually, Lopez got a new liver and another chance. At age 48, he became a fraternity member.

He commutes to Tucson from Coolidge four days a week because Pima Community College’s Downtown Campus offers a legal assistant program.

Last month, his wife, Lucy, persuaded him to join Alpha Beta Chi, PCC’s chapter of the international Phi Theta Kappa fraternity.

Soon thereafter, the amazing news came.

Lopez is the fraternity’s 2 millionth member, and the international president is traveling to Tucson this week to recognize him during Saturday’s induction ceremony.

This reality is far from the mistakes Lopez once made.

The father of three adult children and grandfather to five eventually abandoned alcohol and drugs in favor of plowing through college.

Lopez, a full-time student, does volunteer research work for a Chandler law firm and intends to pursue a law degree.

“I feel an exhilaration on learning – that’s euphoric and higher than what any drug could do for me,” he said.

While he is modest about the recognition, the college isn’t.

“We have been so overwhelmed with acknowledgements and letters. We like to see our students recognized for things that they do,” Robert Carey, the chapter’s adviser and a member of the faculty at PCC’s East Campus.

PCC’s chapter, which is dedicated to high academics, outreach and service work, inducts up to 400 members annually, Carey said. So far this semester, PCC has about 210 new members.

This year, the PCC chapter is also celebrating its 30th anniversary. “Raul being the 2 millionth member is icing on the cake,” Carey said.

Lopez, who has a 3.79 grade-point average, said success came naturally after he devoted himself to it.

“The scripture says that when people are trying to really do something, you leave the rest to faith,” said Lopez, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “I got up, dusted myself off and moved on.”

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MORE INFORMATION:

To learn about Pima Community Colleges programs and degree offerings, call 206-4500.

For questions about what each campus offers in cultural events, evening programming, clubs and organizations, workshops and other services, call the following numbers:

● Desert Vista Campus: 206-5026

● Downtown Campus: 206-7258

● East Campus: 206-7616

● Northwest Campus: 206-2257

● West Campus: 206-6742

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