An older white woman and formal clothing, sitting in a room of empty seats.
Mary Ann Tenuto-Sanchez lived a long life dedicated to social justice—and rock 'n' roll. Credit: Courtesy John Tenuto

Mary Ann Tenuto-Sanchez, a social worker, union lawyer, and 52-year resident of Oakland, passed away peacefully on Oct. 1, 2023. She was 86.

Mary Ann was born Nov. 21, 1936, to Catherine and Andrew Goes in Indianapolis, Indiana. Soon after her birth, the family moved to South Bend, where she was raised and lived until her high school graduation from Saint Mary’s Academy in 1954. 

Mary Ann attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work in 1958. From there, she moved to Chicago, where she met and married Frank Tenuto in 1959 and worked as a social worker for Catholic Charities. She gave birth to four sons over the next few years: Frank, John, Michael, and Robert. The family moved back and forth between Chicago and Indianapolis. 

Mary Ann was moved by the civil rights and anti-war movements sweeping the country in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and developed a lifelong dedication to social and economic justice. In 1968, she worked on Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign in Indiana. 

Mary Ann Tenuto-Sanchez with her young family in the 1960s. Credit: Courtesy John Tenuto

After Mary Ann and Frank divorced in 1971, she and her four sons moved to Oakland. She was drawn to the Bay Area because it was a center of progressive activism, and because her doctor told her the better climate would help with her sinuses. She purchased a home in Temescal, where she raised her family and lived for 50 years. A picture of Angela Davis hung in the dining room, and Mary Ann enjoyed bringing her sons to peace marches and rallies in People’s Park in Berkeley.  

Mary Ann continued the social work she began in the Midwest in Contra Costa County, and soon became involved in her union’s collective bargaining negotiations. Experience at the bargaining table motivated Mary Ann to go to law school, her strong drive propelling her through night classes while she worked full-time and raised a family. She received her law degree from Golden Gate University in San Francisco in 1979 and was admitted to the bar soon afterwards. 

As a new lawyer, Mary Ann became chief legal counsel for the United Stanford Workers Union Local 680, a position she held for ten years. She later worked as an attorney for the National Treasury Employees Union in Oakland for another decade, representing IRS workers in Fresno and Ogden, Utah.

Throughout her life, Mary Ann was passionate about helping underprivileged and disadvantaged people. In retirement, she co-founded the Chiapas Support Committee, which raises money for indigenous people in Chiapas, Mexico. The committee is located in the Omni Commons in North Oakland which houses a number of grassroots organizations. Mary Ann became involved in the administration of the Omni in addition to her work with the CSC. 

Through the CSC, Mary Ann met Jose Sanchez. They married in 2001. She would deliver the money from their fundraising in person to Chiapas, often sleeping in a hammock in the jungle on these trips. The money raised was spent on building pharmacies, schools, and other much-needed infrastructure and services. Mary Ann stayed involved in this effort up until her passing. She was beloved by the people of Chiapas for her unwavering commitment to their cause and struggle.

Mary Ann Tenuto-Sanchez (center, in glasses) on one of many trips to Mexico as part of the Chiapas Support Committee she co-founded. Credit: Courtesy John Tenuto

Mary Ann will be remembered as someone who always cared deeply about what was happening in the world and was active in helping those less fortunate than she was. She was a lover of classic rock ‘n’ roll music, her alma mater, the University of Michigan, and NBA basketball.

She was loved and will be missed by many, her large family most of all. Mary Ann is survived by her husband, Jose Sanchez, her sons Frank, John, Michael, and Robert Tenuto, her five grandchildren, Stephen, Christina, Alissa, Michael Jr., and Daphne, and her six great-grandchildren, Mason, Liam, Kenah, Madison, Allison, and Halle.