Artwork by the late Gereon Rios can be seen in several public spaces in Tuolumne County, and a new scholarship fund created in his honor aims to help a new generation of local artists make their mark as well.
Rios’ three sons, Eon, Temoc and Andro, have established the Gereon Rios Memorial Scholarship Fund at the Sonora Area Foundation for recent graduates from Sonora High School who are looking to study art in college.
“My dad was always very much an advocate for higher education and art,” said Eon Rios, of Redwood City.
Gereon Rios died on April 23 last year at 75 after a life that saw him go from working in Central Valley fields as a young boy to an accomplished painter, sculptor and art professor.
He was perhaps most known locally for his public sculpture that honors Vietnam War veterans at the Tuolumne County Library’s main branch on Greenley Road, as well as another dedicated to all former service members at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in East Sonora.
The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors formally recognized Gereon Rios in 1991 for donating more than 400 hours to complete the sculpture at the library, which consists of six bronze plaques.
Eon Rios and his brothers all grew up in Sonora and moved away to go to college shortly after graduating Sonora High. Temoc Rios currently lives in Grass Valley, while Andro lives in Sunnyvale.
The Sonora Area Foundation provided a scholarship to Eon Rios in 1997 when he enrolled at the University of California, Davis, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in neurology, physiology and behavior.
He later earned a doctorate degree in immunology and medical degree from Stanford University, so he said it seemed like a natural extension to create a scholarship fund to honor his father’s legacy and provide more opportunities for students in Tuolumne County to get a higher education.
“The community was very supportive of me pursuing a higher education,” he said.
Darrell Slocum, executive director of the Sonora Area Foundation, said the new fund will provide a $1,000 scholarship for students graduating Sonora High School who are pursuing a higher education in art.
The foundation has 82 scholarship funds that provided 125 scholarships to students last year totalling $570,000.
“To have him (Eon Rios) come back and give back to a community he doesn’t really have any connections with anymore is touching and shows his family’s commitment to education and Tuolumne County,” Slocum said.
Gereon Rios and his family immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when he was a child and were farm workers. Background information provided by the foundation stated that he went to school only a few months out of the year because he was harvesting crops the rest of the time.
At 15, Gereon Rios launched his art career by opening his own sign-art studio after he and his family moved to Fremont. Two years later, he was recruited by the Fremont City Council to create the city’s seal.
Gereon Rios had to put his pursuit of a higher education on hold in 1967 after beginning a two-year tour in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War while he was still a Mexican citizen. He was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for his service.
He later earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from Mills College in Oakland, before moving to Sonora in 1977.
After moving to the area, Gereon Rios started teaching art at Columbia College and opened the Sonora Academy of Fine Arts two years later. He moved to the Bay Area after retiring in 2011 and then to Grass Valley, where he died last year.