One woman changes thousands of lives

CONCORD Michael Blackwell resented having to enter the Hispanic Learning Center of Cabarrus County for the first time. It was punishment, after all.

Blackwell was 16 when a judge ordered him to perform 117 hours of community service after he was stopped going 117 mph on Concord Parkway.

But his attitude changed after meeting Doris Goedeke, the center's founder and executive director. He became one of its most devoted tutors, logging 1,000 hours, he said.

Blackwell, who'd opened a motorsports shop at age 13, said Goedeke offered business tips and instilled the confidence he needed to succeed in life. He became the youngest world champion in professional sport compact drag racing in 2007.

"She always helped me keep my head up about everything," Blackwell, now 24, said recently at his 25,000-square-foot B.R.E. Motorsports shop off Pitts School Road.

Blackwell joined Mayor Scott Padgett and others in addressing a packed July 30 memorial service for Goedeke, who died at age 64 on July 25 after a long bout with cancer.

Goedeke influenced thousands of children and adults through the center's after-school tutoring and other programs, said her husband, Tom.

She was from San Salvador, El Salvador, where she studied medicine and chemistry at the National University of El Salvador. Living and working in Los Angeles in 1983, she met her husband, and the couple had daughters Andrea and Stephanie, now 27 and 24.

The family relocated to Concord in 1991 when Tom, 61, a US Airways line maintenance mechanic, transferred from Los Angeles International Airport to the international concourse at Charlotte/Douglas, where he checks planes before they depart to Europe.

Doris Goedeke became an avid volunteer at her daughters' public schools. She also served on the committee that set up the local public bus system, on the Cabarrus Arts Council, the local police promotion board and the board of McGill Family Medicine Health Center.

"It was tough going with her anywhere because so many people knew her," Tom Goedeke said with a smile.

After seeing how newly arrived Hispanic children desperately needed help with literacy and English language skills, she founded the nonprofit Hispanic Learning Center and was its executive director for nearly 10 years. She went without pay until more recently, her husband said. The center is for children of all backgrounds and will resume its after-school tutoring in October, Tom Goedeke said.

The center opened in downtown Concord but has operated most of its years at the former Bayless Presbyterian Church on Kerr Street Northwest, which was donated by the Charlotte Presbytery and refurbished by many volunteers, from a Charlotte Girl Scout troop to local Lowe's store workers.

Pre-school children learn survival English and social skills in one program, while working adults learn English in an evening class.

The center hosts programs to help immigrants understand everything from motor vehicle laws to basic banking and insurance, and it's partnered with numerous agencies to raise awareness of the needs of immigrants. It organized the HLC International Festival in downtown Concord last year.

And Doris Goedeke led it all.

"She was the Hispanic Learning Center," said Dr. William Pilkington, Cabarrus Health Alliance CEO and public health director who also served on the center's board. "The rest of us just watched and admired."