Services today for former teacher, coach and war hero | NevadaAppeal.com

Services today for former teacher, coach and war hero

by Teri Vance, Appeal Staff Writer

Jovita Snodgrass McLean came to the United States to follow a lifelong dream. She left a legacy.

“She was something to live up to,” said her daughter Sheila Corcoran. “We were never pressured to live up to it, but we aspired. She always saw so much more in us than we saw in ourselves.”

Snodgrass, who died Wednesday at 83, contributed to Carson City as an elementary school teacher and tennis coach but only after surviving a life fraught with peril during World War II in the Philippines as Jovita Natividad.

Her youth as an aristocrat was shattered when war ravaged her country and her older brother was taken prisoner in the Bataan Death March.

Now the oldest of the 11 remaining children, it was her responsibility to scavenge for food in neighboring provinces — often having to swim rivers swollen from heavy rains while clinging to a sack of food.

As a member of the Red Cross, she was allowed to deliver rations to soldiers held by the Japanese as prisoners of war but risked her life to sneak military and personal messages within the confines of the war camp.

“She was very brave,” said her son George Snodgrass. “She did stuff as a young girl that a full-grown man wouldn’t do.”

Her humanitarian efforts were bolstered by her search for her missing brother, and she was shot at three times when she finally found him and ran toward him for a hug. He was rescued at the end of the war.

During the final two years of the war, she served as martial clerk to Gen. Douglas MacArthur and she met her husband Staff Sgt. Odis Snodgrass.

After the war, when she was 27, she moved to the United States to marry — she would see her parents once more in her lifetime — and they settled in Carson City 41 years ago.

She made a name for herself as a third-grade teacher who earned teacher of the year status for the Carson City School District in 1975 and also represented Nevada on the national level of outstanding teachers. The waiting list to get into her class was sometimes filled two years in advance.

Cathie Timmons was Snodgrass’ student in 1969.

“I remember loving her,” Timmons said. “She always held our interest and shared stories from her own life experiences when it pertained to the lesson. She was always full of energy.”

As a child, Snodgrass was an avid tennis player but stopped playing when the war hit. She picked it up again at 41.

“It was phenomenal — she just cleaned the clocks of all the high school kids and all the youth and everybody,” Corcoran said. “She was so tiny but so powerful. She was just stunning on the court.”

She coached tennis at the high school and college levels and in her 70s was still coaching her grandson Gabe Grobben, who is now ranked first in his bracket in the Northern Nevada Tennis Association.

But her love of sports was not limited to tennis.

Corcoran said her mother kept three televisions in her bedroom which were always tuned to various sporting events.

“She always knew what games would be playing and when,” she said. “She could tell you every score, every trade and all the stats.”

And her love of life radiated from her.

“She was always so lovely,” Corcoran said. “Even at 83, her skin was Oriental ivory. She was so beautiful.”

Snodgrass lost her husband in 1979 and later was briefly married to Don McLean.

A memorial service will be held 1 p.m. today at St. Teresa of Avila church on Lompa Lane.

She is survived by all of her children, George Snodgrass of Carson City, Sheila Corcoran of Washington, Dwight Snodgrass of Reno and Nina Grobben of Gardnerville, and 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

If you go:

What: Memorial service for Jovita Snodgrass McLean

When: 1 p.m. today

Where: St. Teresa of Avila church