Southwest Michigan slates 2015 Chávez dinner, awards program

contact: Jeanne Baron
| WMU News
Photo of JoAnn Chavez.

JoAnn Chávez

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Southwest Michigan will celebrate the life and work of civil rights leader César E. Chávez Saturday, March 21, during an annual scholarship fundraising dinner that includes the presentation of three regional awards and six regional scholarships for 2015.

Called Celebrating the Legacy of César E. Chávez, the event will be held in the Fetzer Center at Western Michigan University. It begins with a reception at 6 p.m. followed by the dinner at 6:30 p.m. Reservations for the dinner, which costs $40 per person, are being accepted until Wednesday, March 18. Attendees also may pay at the door.

Proceeds from the annual dinner go toward $1,000 need-based Chávez Scholarships, which are for Michigan college or college-bound students in Allegan, Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

This is the ninth year that WMU's Division of Multicultural Affairs has joined with the Southwest Michigan César E. Chávez Committee and area businesses to stage a banquet on or around Chávez' March 31 birthday. The event will feature a keynote address by JoAnn Chávez, vice president and chief tax officer at DTE Energy.

Other local events planned this year in honor of César Chávez include an American Red Cross blood drive on campus in the Bernhard Center Monday, March 23, and the annual Chávez Social Justice March and speaker starting at 9 a.m. Thursday, April 2, at WMU and ending in downtown Kalamazoo.

To make a reservation to attend the Celebrating the Legacy dinner, call (269) 387-4420.

The regional honorees

  • Gillermo "Willie" Dominguez of Lawton will receive the Chávez Committee's longstanding Tri-Community Award. Dominguez is the retired recruitment coordinator and home school liaison with the Van Buren Intermediate School District's Migrant/Bilingual Educational Services division.
  • Donald Kuchnicki of Lansing and the Telamon Corp. Head Start Program will receive the Chávez Social Justice Leadership Award. Kuchnicki has been the Michigan Director of Telamon's National Farmworker Jobs Program for the past five years. Telamon is a nonprofit organization that provides help with child care, employment, housing, education and community development. It operates Early Head Start or Migrant Head Start programs in several Michigan towns, including Bangor, Benton Harbor, Decatur, Hartford, Holland, Pullman, Sodus, South Haven and Watervliet.
  • Dr. Marylou Olivarez Mason of Lansing, executive director of the Hispanic/Latino Commission of Michigan, will receive the Delores Huerta Community Service Award. Olivarez Mason has worked in the areas of civil rights and education for three decades. She initiated the Michigan Hispanic Heritage Month celebration and the Hispanic Student Summit and Legislative Advocacy Day at the state capitol. She was named Hispanic Woman of the Year by the National Hispana Leadership Institute in 2000; received the highest award the Mexican government bestows on an individual outside Mexico in 2005; and was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 2014.
  • Receiving the Chávez Scholarship are Juan Andrade of Bangor, Morelia Chávez Chávez of Battle Creek, Armando Cortez of South Haven, Maria Hurtado of Hartford, Cecilia Paz of South Haven and Luis Enrique Vargas of South Haven. In the fall, Chávez Chávez will be attending Michigan State University while the other scholarship recipients will be attending WMU.

Keynote speaker JoAnn Chávez

JoAnn Chávez is responsible for overseeing tax strategy and policy and compliance for DTE Energy, a Detroit-based diversified energy company involved in the development and management of energy-related businesses and services nationwide with millions of utility customers in Michigan. Previously, Chávez was a tax partner in KPMG LLP's Detroit Business Unit, serving large multinational clients. She earned a bachelor's degree in business and a law degree from the University of Notre Dame.

Chávez is a past and present member of numerous professional and community boards, the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce board, and was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to the Michigan Hispanic/Latino Commission. She was recently recognized by the Latino Who's Who for her achievements in advancing the culture of the Latino American business community.

For more information, contact WMU's Miguel Ramirez at or (269) 387-4420.

For more news, arts and events, visit