Fresno businessman Frank Villegas, whose longtime family business Chihuahua Tortilleria thrived for more than six decades in the Valley, is the 2014 Chicano Alumni Legacy Builder.
He and his family, known for being early supporters of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers as well as Fresno State students, will be honored at the Annual Chicano Alumni Awards Banquet at 6 p.m. Friday, April 11 at the University Square Hotel across from campus (4931 N. Cedar Ave.).
Presented by the Chicano Alumni Chapter of the Fresno State Alumni Association, this annual award recognizes a Fresno State alumnus who has made significant contributions to the Chicano experience at the university and to the community at large.
Tickets for the event are $50. Proceeds benefit the Chicano Alumni Scholarship Endowment, which was established to recognize and reward students for academic achievement and community involvement.
The chapter will also recognize Fresno State Chicano Scholar recipients at the banquet.
The organization’s Chicano Alumni “Perro Chato” (Bulldog) Award will be presented to Frances Pena-Olgin, who retires in May after 34 years as Fresno State’s longtime director of University Outreach Services . The award is given to a board member for serving “with great Bulldog spirit and dedication to the Chicano Alumni, campus and community,” said chapter president Esther Ramos of Univision KFTV 21 in Fresno.
Olgin said the Villegas family supported Chavez and the United Farm Workers union in the 1970s, donating food for union members during boycotts and strikes.
“Frank Villegas has been a great supporter of the community in a variety of ways,” Olgin said. “In particular, his support of the UFW stems from the earliest days of the fight to unionize farm workers by way of providing food, shelter, transportation and funds at various times and places. When help was needed, the Villegas familia was there to help.”
A native of the state of Chihuahua in Mexico, Villegas was raised in Fresno and attended Edison High School and Fresno City College, playing football for the Rams. He later attended Fresno State but became immersed in the family’s tortilla business before graduating.
With his older brother Fidel and family, the Villegas’ established Chihuahua Tortilleria in 1947 and built it into the second largest tortilla manufacturing and distribution plant in Central and Northern California with more than 300 employees at its peak.
They moved from a plant on F Street just north of Ventura Street to a new builidng known as the Chihuhua Plaza on Fresno and E streets, next to Highway 99, that was part of an effort to spruce up Chinatown.
Olgin said the Villegas family has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Fresno local causes.
“Giving of their time, treasure and talents, the familia Villegas has hosted countless community gatherings in their plant, the plaza and in their home,” Olgin said. “They sponsored innumerable individuals and events. Whenever the community needed monetary contributions, food or a place to host an event, we could call on the Villegas familia.”
For many years, the family sponsored the Chihuahua Road Run that was founded by Fresno attorney Victor Salazar, a former Fresno State instructor and Fresno County clerk, to raise funds for scholarships.
Olgin said in Chihuahua Tortilleria’s early years, there was limited assistance available to help unemployed and poor people. Many families would go to the Chihuahua Tortilleria for help.
Villegas helped found numerous Latino organizations such as the Fresno chapter of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Radio Bilingue and El Comite Civico Mexicano as well as serving on several others.
Villegas served on the President’s Advisory Council at Fresno State under Dr. Harold Haak and on the Fresno Fair board of directors and its advisory committees. He has served as an adviser for Governor Jerry Brown, Congressman Tony Coelho and Mayor Karen Humphrey.
He was invited to the White House several times to meet with presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and federal officials on national Hispanic issues. He was honored by Reagan in 1985 as Minority Manufacturer of the Year.
Previous Chicano Alumni Legacy Builders include the late Phillip Patino, a coach and teacher who founded the annual Si Se Puede Hispanic Male Conference at Fresno State to help inspire Latino high school boys; the late Ernesto Martinez, a Fresno State professor emeritus who founded Los Danzantes de Aztlán; Phillip Sanchez, the first Hispanic Cabinet member and a U.S Ambassador; and Fresno County Superior Court Judge Armando Rodriguez.
Tables and sponsorships are available for the banquet by contacting banquet chair Frances Pena-Olgin at 559.908.9816 or firstname.lastname@example.org.