An Iowa native who met multiple times with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro is mourning the passing of the 90-year-old, who’s being laid to rest today in Havana.

Sandra Levenson is originally from Mason City and is executive director of the New York City-based Center for Cuban Studies. Whilie he’s been in ill health for some time, Levenson says Castro’s death on Friday hit her hard.

“I felt very sad,” Levenson says. “I think that Fidel will go down in history as one of the great revolutionaries of the 20th century. If you don’t like revolution and you don’t like revolutionaries, then, of course, you’re not ever going to like Fidel Castro.”

Levenson first met Castro in Cuba in the summer of 1969 after she graduated from the University of Iowa with a political science degree. She’s since made some 300 trips to Cuba. The goal of the center she heads is to improve U.S./Cuban relations.

“It’s been very interesting to me, watching the media reports since Fidel’s death that despite the fact that at least half the world’s population seemed to adore Fidel Castro that we’re only capable of looking at Fidel Castro from the point of view of the United States.” In the ’60s, Levenson says she thought of herself as a democratic socialist and from the very minute Castro came to power, she was “fascinated” by him.

“He stands along side Nelson Mandela, Ho Chi Minh, Simon Bolivar,” she says. “To many people throughout Latin America, Europe, the Caribbean, Fidel Castro managed to build, as Eduardo Galeano once wrote, ‘the least unjust society in Latin America’.”

Levenson says she’s concerned about the incoming Trump administration and the future of U.S./Cuban relations. She plans to return to Cuba in late December and early January with more trips lined up into next spring.

(Reporting by Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)

Audio: Pat Powers interview with Sandra Levenson 16:00.