- About Us
Manuela “Nellie” (Caudillo) Kaniski, age 85, died peacefully on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018
in Santa Ana, CA.
Born Manuela Caudillo, on June 28, 1932 in San Bernardino, CA. She grew up in La Colonia
Indepencia, Anaheim, CA where she lived with her 7 brothers and sisters. She was raised during
the heart of the 1930's U.S. Depression years of our country. Deep poverty, and little opportunity
for many Americans, but not exactly so for her parents, grandparents, and extended family.
Because these folks were hardened, near-professional farm workers, their labor was always in
demand, and they easily found field work in the cotton and fruit fields of California. No "Grapes
of Wrath" experiences for these folks.
She attended Anaheim High School, and Washington Union High in Fresno, CA. After
graduating from high school, she attended and completed the Nursing Program at Fresno City
College. She worked as a community nurse in the rural San Joaquin Valley for several years.
In 1952, Nellie enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, during the Korean War conflict. So,
what would make a young lady like our Nellie, you might ask, leave her home to work as a nurse
in poor, rural San Joaquin Valley towns, then join the tough life of a Women Marine during the
Korean War conflict? It surely wasn't for a top-paying career, or for the $72 monthly pay for a
Marine Corps private-first-class recruit! Perhaps it was simply that she was always a First Class
Person, never afraid to challenge the world she saw in her young life.
She was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, South Carolina. She met her
husband, the late Robert Paul Kaniski, while they both served there. They were married on July
2nd, 1955 in Robert's home state of Michigan. They were both proud Marine Corps Veterans.
Nellie devoted over 30 years of her life to mentoring the at-risk youth population in Orange
County. Much of her work was focused on helping students achieve their academic dreams.
Thousands of these students have moved into highly successful careers in service to others.
Nellie earned a Masters degree in Educational Counseling. She worked with the Rancho
Santiago Community College District, at Santa Ana College, under the EOPS Department
(Extended Opportunity Programs and Services). Nellie retired from Santa Ana College after 28
years of dedicated service.
As a community leader, Nellie founded and directed the Adelante Young Women’s Educational
& Leadership Conference, whose goal it is to motivate and inspire young Latinas to pursue a
path towards higher education.
Nellie was the Executive Director of MANA (Mexican American Women's National
Association), a 44 year-old non-profit organization, dedicated to community service,
educational leadership and advocacy in Orange County. Service to Latinas was her community
She also supported the following:
The Eddie Nash Foundation
UMAVA, United Mexican American Veterans Association
LULAC, League of United Latin American Citizens, Anaheim Council
NOW, California National Organization of Women
Somos Primos; Dedicated to Hispanic Heritage
GEAR UP, Santa Ana College
SAC, EOPS/CARE Advisory Committee
SAC, Santa Ana ¡Adelante! Committee
SAC, Tessmann Planetarium
Measure Q Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee
Bowers Kidseum Parents’ Empowering Lectures
The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation of Orange County
AAUW, American Association of University Women
Nellie received countless awards and honors including:
The National Adelante Mujer of the Year
2014 Named LULAC Santa Ana Woman of the Year
2013 Seniors Making a Difference Award
2011 Received the Soroptimist Ruby Award: Women Helping Women.
2010 Named one of Senator Lou Correa’s “Women Making A Difference”
2006 MANA Betty Baca Founders Award
2005 LULAC Orange County Citizen of the Year
2004 MANA Orange County Women of Service Award
2001 Las Primeras Military Service award
She is survived by her three children: Mary Jean Lueras and her husband Richard; Patricia Ann
Sullivan and her husband Kevin; and David Andrew Kaniski and his wife Christine.
Grandchildren: Richard Lueras, Adam Lueras and his wife Ashley, Dylan Lueras, Quentin
Lueras, Heather Wright and her husband Jason, Steven Gazda and his wife Amber, Maria Meyer
and her husband Jim, Andria Gazda, Nicholas Sullivan, Katie Sullivan, Annie Sullivan, Ryan
Kaniski and his wife Clarice, Rylee Travis and her husband Taylor.
Great-Grandchildren: Jacob Wright, Owen Wright, Mollie Wright, Hayden Lueras, Parker
Lueras, Joshua Meyer, Zachary Meyer, Evan Kaniski, Isla Travis
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to MANA of Orange County in support of the
Adelante Young Women’s Educational & Leadership conference.