Longtime advocate for Aurora-area Latinos dies at 83
Art Velasquez of North Aurora was passionate about education, civil rights for Latinos, Democratic politics and the rights of laborers.
Right up to his dying day, he was on his telephone, trying to connect people he thought should be working for those causes.
Velasquez, 83, died Sunday. Friends, political allies and others will celebrate his life at a wake from 2 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Daleiden Mortuary, 220 N. Lake St., Aurora. He will be buried in his birthplace of Lockhart, Texas.
"He was just in love with the community (of Aurora)," said Kane County Board member Barbara Hernandez.
She met him when she was a high-schooler interning for state Rep. Linda Chapa La Via. Velasquez became her mentor, including working with her on the Aurora Youth Summit she organized. Wherever he went, Velasquez "grabbed people," she said, to connect them: " 'This is someone you can reach out to' ... he would have someone already to be introduced."
Velasquez was "an advocate for the community, a champion for our youth and a soldier in the fight for equality for the Latino community," Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin said in a news release.
Velasquez moved to the Aurora area in the 1970s. By trade, he was an international representative for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters of America.
He was the president of the League of United Latin American Citizens Council 5218, a civil-rights organization.
He was passionate about providing educational opportunities to Aurora youths. He believed education was the key to improving their lives, Hernandez said.
He took to attending East Aurora District 131 school board meetings, pushing its leadership. Last year, he arranged for Comcast to take 50 students and their families to a White Sox game, and helped establish the "Road to College" event to help families learn about the steps to attending college.
"Arturo was an extremely generous man who gave his time, money and energy to improve our community," said Beatrice Reyes-Childress, assistant superintendent for educational services, in a news release. "In East Aurora we have many supporters, but there are a handful of giants who walk among us, and Art was certainly one of them."
In 2012, he tried running for office, seeking the Democratic nomination for Kane County Board District 2. He lost to now-board member Theresa Barreiro in an amicable race; he was a family friend, having worked with Barreiro's mother on civic issues years before.
In 2015, Velasquez was Grand Marshal of Aurora's Fiestas Patrias Parade.
"We remember him smiling with pride as he waved at the many supporters along the parade route. As they cheered for him, he was actually clapping and cheering even louder for them. That is the Art Velasquez that we know best -- one who turned the spotlight on others even when it was meant for him," Irvin said.