Vega, Francisco

Francisco Vega was an early and long-serving advocate for Hispanic people in Grand Rapids and West Michigan. He owned the Kent Memorial Gardens and founded several organizations that served the Hispanic community. He represented the voice of Hispanic Americans in his role as board member at the Kent County Department of Social Services. He was also involved in the development of Millennium Park recreational park.

Biographical Highlights

Born in 1922 to Mexican American parents, Francisco Vega was raised in Texas. He graduated from high school and joined the army, participating in some of World War II’s major battles. After the war, he married and moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he graduated from Aquinas College. He pursued a career in business and became the owner of Kent Memorial Gardens. He was very active in community organizations that served local Hispanics.

Historic Roots

Francisco Miguel Nava Vega Lopez was born February 28, 1922, in San Antonio, Texas. His high school was a private military school, and he graduated in 1940. He came from a family of entrepreneurs. He and several of his siblings had businesses at young ages. He volunteered for the United States Army during World War II. Other branches of the service rejected him because of his Mexican ancestry. He distinguished himself in the military, fighting in five campaigns, and was discharged in December 1945. In 1946, he married his wife, Phyllis. A strong Catholic, he moved to Grand Rapids to attend Aquinas College under the GI Bill. He briefly transferred to the University of Michigan but returned to Aquinas and graduated in 1950. He began working in Grand Rapids theatres, then cemeteries, becoming the owner of Kent Memorial Gardens in 1959.

Importance

Vega was an early and long-serving advocate for Hispanic people in Grand Rapids and West Michigan. He founded several organizations that served the Hispanic community and volunteered his time on a variety of others. He also brought the voice of Hispanic Americans to local leadership, such as his role as board member at the Kent County Department of Social Services. He was also involved in the development of Millennium Park, a recreational park built on the site of a gravel mine.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Vega helped found the Latin American Council (now Latin American Services) in the 1960s and the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan in 1978. He was on the Department of Social Services board from1977 to 1992. Vega was president and organizer of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) for West Michigan, and he was a cofounder of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. He served on other community boards, including Millennium Park. He was involved with local initiatives to honor Cesar Chavez, including renaming a section of Grandville Avenue for Chavez.

Key Related Ideas

Born in a Mexican American family in Texas, Vega graduated from high school and fought in World War II. After the war, he came to Grand Rapids to attend Aquinas College. Here he had a career in business and became an advocate for local Hispanic people and a volunteer for a number of organizations.

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Cesar Estrada Chavez: A Mexican American farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist, Chavez was born in 1927 and died in 1993. He cofounded the United Farm Workers. He used nonviolent methods to gain rights for Hispanic workers.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • The Hispanic Center of West Michigan is a nonprofit organization serving the needs of the Hispanic and broader community. They strive to provide an avenue for education and openness to promote discussion of the distinctions and values of different nationalities and cultures and offer services that individuals and families in the community need to help them achieve self-sufficiency. https://hispanic-center.org/
  • The League of United Latin American Citizens for West Michigan is a branch of the national organization. LULAC advances the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, health and civil rights of the Latino population of Grand Rapids and surrounding areas. http://my.lulac.org/site/Clubs?club_id=1135&pg=main

Related Web Sites

  • The Kent County Department of Social Services: Vega served on its board for fifteen years. http://www.dhr.state.md.us/kent.htm.
  • The Michigan Republican National Hispanic Association: The website http://mrnha.org/ has details about the organization’s efforts and services.
  • The Millenium Park Web site at http://www.millennium-park.org/ has information about this lasting Grand Rapids tribute to the new century, one of the most recent installations in the Kent County Parks system.

Bibliography and Internet Sources

Clipping file and oral history in the SOUL of Philanthropy collection in the Grand Rapids History and Special Collections of the Grand Rapids Public Library