Chavez and Campos celebrated at Sears Recreation Center re-opening


On the birthday of an American labor leader and civil rights activist, local Hispanic leaders and others gathered Thursday to celebrate the renaming of the Arthur Sears Park Recreation Center for Cesar Chavez.

They also celebrated the life of local leader Ovelia Campos, whose legacy is felt in the newly renamed center and in the park itself.

Abilene ISD board member Bill Enriquez said the similarity in the lives of Chavez and Campos comes down to great sacrifices made for others.

“The center’s renaming is significant for the Hispanic community because there is a national Hispanic figure, someone we can really identify with,” Enriquez said. “That’s the significance, all the sacrifices he (Chavez) made for other people to come through in life.”

Likewise, the recognition of Campos, who died in October, recognizes years of effort to make Abilene — and what is now the Cesar Chavez Recreation Center — a better place, he said.

“The heart and soul of it all is Ovelia,” said Enriquez, who worked with Campos on a revitalization committee in the early 2000s.

Holding up a copy of the plans that came out of that period, Enriquez said the “little book” took time to materialize, but yielded great results.

A portrait of Ovelia Campos at Thursday's grand opening of the Cesar Chavez Recreation Center in Arthur Sears Park.  The photograph will be displayed at the center, where the late Campos was known as a champion of Abilene's Latino community.

“She worked extremely hard to organize all of us,” he said. “…I can tell you that all the improvements we see in this park are due to his efforts.”

Campos led with a soft touch that turned into a big push for change, Enriquez said.

“Anything that happened in this community, if help was needed, they were on the forefront looking for the resources to make it happen,” he said.

Continued:Antonia’s family pays tribute to their mother and her role as a lawyer in Abilene

Tribute to Caesar

Samuel Garcia, president of the Hispanic Leadership Council, said he believes over time “we’ll learn to really appreciate the significance of this name change.”

“If you grew up a Latino, if you grew up Mexicano anywhere in this country – and you grew up learning about Cesar Chavez – you will now be able to connect (to) these stories, the way he did. beaten,” Garcia said.

Chavez’s work initially targeted migrant workers, but “has expanded to all workers”, he said.

His efforts eventually included walkouts “that reached all the way to Abilene,” Garcia said.

“The high school kids reached out and left because they didn’t feel like they were being treated well,” he said. “And where did they come? They came to this center. This is where they entered, (where) they took their classes. So there is a lot of history in this building.”

History, Garcia said, that will resonate long into the future.

Lessons taught

City Parks Board member Robyn Wertheim, who approved the name change, offered a dedication, while Mayor Anthony Williams delivered a proclamation.

Wertheim, who works in Rep. Stan Lambert’s office, said she has her own memories of Easter egg hunts, watching sporting events and other fun times at the park.

Chavez, she said, taught us “a lot about minimum wage, child care, organizing (and) peaceful protest.”

Farm labor leader Cesar Chavez pictured at a rally in Salinas, California in 1970. Sal Veder |  Associated press

Quoting him, she said, “We cannot seek success for ourselves and forget about the progress and prosperity of our community.”

Williams called the name change a “great day and a very special occasion”, adding that Abilene has “not always done a sufficient job” of acknowledging “leaders of color” – including Campos, who has also served on the city’s planning and zoning commission.

His example, along with the legacy of other important leaders throughout the city’s history, is “what makes Abilene special,” Wiliams said.

“An occasion like this allows us to assess the value (of) everyone who has made this country and this community great,” Williams said.

JoAnne Campos-Tolentino looks at a portrait of her mother, Ovelia Campos.

In charge

Garcia remembers meeting Campos when he got involved in Hispanic counseling.

She was welcoming, but also obviously “responsible”, taking notes and “telling everyone what to do”.

But Garcia said Campos judges people by their hearts and “never had any preconceived ideas about anyone”.

Deeply devoted to her own family, especially her two grandchildren, she was an excellent organizer, key not only to the Sears revitalization effort, but also a founding member of the Board of Directors.

She worked in the human resources department of the Abilene Independent School District, he said.

Thursday, the decorations of the new Chavez center were in red, his favorite color.

“She expected more from us,” Garcia said of her leadership style. “But she never did it in a tough way. She did it in a way that was loving.”

living legacy

Campos learned his values, Garcia said, from his own family.

She recounted how her father used to let his children eat the “good” bits of chicken, choosing to dine on the neck or other less desirable portions, he said.

It was a living lesson, showing the need to sacrifice for those we love and for everyone in need, Garcia said.

Her daughter, JoAnne Campos-Tolentino, said her mother wanted to make sure the Hispanic community was represented and continued to do “great things, whether it was representing the community or going to the university”.

That desire is at the heart of the work she has done teaching children in Abilene how to get scholarships, complete paperwork and get financial aid, she said.

Her mother’s essential spark, Campos-Tolentino said, was driven in part by her desire to be a role model for her.

“She saw so many times that we weren’t represented, and she just felt like it was something that needed to be done,” she said. “It was something she had to do. She knew other people weren’t going to do it.”

The new Cesar Chavez Recreation Center at Sears Park.

That often meant doing it herself and then helping other people learn how to “do it too,” Campos-Tolentino said.

Her mother always encouraged her to “keep going” and represent Latinos in the professional world, she said.

Campos-Tolentino, who works with JCPenney’s offices in Plano, is part of a Hispanic leadership group as part of his job, inspired by his mother’s example.

Asked what Ovelia Campos would think of the recognition, Campos-Tolentino replied “she would love it”.

“No matter the color, she thought if you worked hard in your community you should be recognized,” she said. “She was such a good person, she didn’t believe in necessarily having to be acknowledged herself. But right now she says, ‘I’m glad they remember everything I’ve done. “”

Family and friends of Ovelia Campos gather for a photograph around her portrait.

Brian Bethel covers city and county government and general news for Abilene Reporter-News. If you enjoy local news, you can support local reporters with a digital subscription to

About Caesar Chavez

Cesar Estrada Chavez was born on March 31, 1927, on a small farm near Yuma, Arizona. His life began as a migrant farm worker when his father lost the land during the Great Depression.

His family emigrated to northern California, and Chavez left school after eighth grade to help support them by working in the fields.

He became a community and labor organizer in the 1950s, then founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962.

This group later merged with the Farm Workers Organizing Committee to become the United Farm Workers union.

Adopting principles of nonviolent protest from figures such as the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi, Chavez used means such as hunger strikes, marches and boycotts to draw attention to the plight of workers agricultural.

His dedication won him many admirers, including Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Jesse Jackson.

Chavez died in his sleep on April 23, 1993. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

His motto, “Si Se Puede”, translates to “Yes, it can be done”.


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