We would like to recognize four of our founders who paved the way for many Latinos and Latinas via the Latin American Research & Service Agency, LARASA. Their work has directly impacted the lives of many Latinos in Colorado to this day.
Bernard “Bernie” Valdez
An icon in the Denver community, Bernie Valdez opened the doors and received numerous accolades for his work on behalf of the Latino community. Denver Mayor Thomas G. Currigan recognized Valdez’ outstanding qualities and in 1963 made him the first Hispanic to serve on a Denver Mayor’s Cabinet. Valdez was appointed Manager of Denver’s welfare Department, later called the Social Services Department; he held this position from 1963-1979.Valdez was also the first Hispanic to serve as a member of the Denver Board of Education and was eventually named President of the Board, serving from 1975-1977. Honors bestowed on Valdez include an Honorary Doctorate degree in Public Service from Metropolitan State University of Denver, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Relations Award, and the naming of LARASA’s Annual Bernie Valdez Awards Ceremony in his honor. Also named to honor his work in the Latino community are two significant Denver Buildings: the Bernie Valdez Heritage Center and the Valdez-Perry Branch Library in north Denver. He was a founding member and the first chairman of LARASA’s Board of Directors. He also founded the Latin American Educational Foundation (LAEF) and National Council of La Raza (NCLR). The work that Bernie Valdez did for our community is the reason he has left a Founder’s Legacy on our organization as well as the reason he was chosen as the namesake of our awards event!
Since the beginning, Steinhauser has been a consistent supporter of LARASA’s programmatic initiatives and events. Recognized as a national expert on prevention of age discrimination in the workplace and effective management of an age diverse workforce, Steinhauser is also a fine arts photographer. He views the world through the lens of a college professor of aging and social issues at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, as well as a long-time human rights advocate and president of diversity consulting firm Sheldon Steinhauser & Associates, Inc. Steinhauser has received numerous awards for his work in social justice and diversity, including an honorary doctorate in Public Service from Regis University, the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award and the Award for Professional Staff Excellence of the Anti-Defamation League. Since first entering photography competitions in late 2003, his work has been exhibited in juried competitions in the Washington D.C. area, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Colorado. In his own words: “My photographs speak of connections to the simple realities around me in my Colorado home, and the diversity around the globe that fills and enriches our lives–the children who give us hope, the older adults who give us wisdom, the beauty in the landscape that nourishes our inner self, the ‘things’ we see that help us to not take ourselves so seriously–and so much more.” Steinhauser was praised editorially by The Denver Post in 1985 as the “Gentle Lion” for his long and distinguished career. It is because of his contributions as an advocate for diversity that Sheldon Steinhauser has left his Founder’s Legacy on our organization.
Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales
A community organizer, youth leader, political activist, civil rights advocate, poet, author and one of the founders of the Latin American Research & Service Agency, LARASA, and Escuela Tlatelolco, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales was a modern era Chicano renaissance man. Growing up in the streets of East Denver amid poverty, prejudice and human want, Corky was able to overcome these obstacles and rose above such an environment to become a champion both in the boxing ring and the political arena. A golden gloves champion in his youth, Corky used his celebrity status to connect with the young Chicanos and challenge them to confront the problems in their communities. In the mid 1960’s, he founded an urban civil rights and cultural movement known as the Crusade for Justice. Out of this movement came events like the 1969 West High School Blowout, where Corky helped organize Chicano students to protest the inadequacy and racism that Chicano students suffered in the Denver Public Schools system. He soon became a central leader in the Chicano Movement and La Raza Unida political party. A strong proponent of civil rights, in June 1968, Corky led a Chicano contingent in the Poor People’s March to Washington, D.C. While there, he issued his “Plan of the Barrio” which called for better housing, education, barrio-owned businesses and restitution of pueblo lands. In March, 1969, he organized and initiated the Annual Chicano Youth Liberation Conference. The first conference produced “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan (the Spiritual Plan of Aztlan)”. Most notably, Corky is internationally known as the author of the epic poem, “I am Joaquin” which illustrates the struggle of the Chicano/Mexican people in America. It is because of his work in civil rights that Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales has left his Founder’s Legacy on our organization; his struggle for the rights of all Chicanos across Colorado and the southwest inspires us to continue that work today.
Honorable Roger Cisneros
Born and raised in Questa, New Mexico, Hon. Roger Cisneros’ trajectory of scholastic excellence began at a young age. In 1943, Mr. Cisneros joined the Air Force and was a cryptographer during WWII until the he was Honorably Discharged in 1946. Afterwards, he attended the University of Denver where in 1950, he obtained a Business degree. He would later go on and obtain a Law degree from Westminster Law School in 1957; at the time, he was one of only five Latinos who practiced Law in the State of Colorado. A champion of civil rights, Hon. Roger CIsneros has served Colorado’s Hispanic Community for over 45 years. His early struggles with the English language, herding sheep in lonely terrain, running barefoot in the sand, riding horseback for days and reading at every opportunity prepared him for his role as a distinguished attorney, able legislator and leader extraordinaire. One of his first cases as an attorney was the 1960 Gallegos v. People, which involved an involuntary confession by a juvenile. That case led to the Supreme Court of the United States recognizing the constitutional rights of juveniles for the first time. Cisneros was elected to the Colorado State Senate in 1964 and served his Denver district for 12 years. In 1978, Governor Richard Lamm appointed him to the State of Colorado District Court. Judge Cisneros also served on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission as well as the Denver Human Relations Commission. In honor of Mr. Cisneros and his dedication to the community, one of the jury rooms inside the new Denver Justice Center was named after him in 2009. Judge Cisneros is one of the founders of the Latin American Research and Service Agency (LARASA), the Latin American Educational Foundation (LAEF), and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). It is because of all the work the Honorable Roger Cisneros did to advance the lives of Latinos and the citizens of Colorado that he has left a founder’s legacy on our organization.
A person of humble beginnings from Raton, New Mexico, Ms. Lena Lovato Archuleta attended the University of Denver where her legacy of volunteer work and educational advocacy began. An outstanding educator and community activist with an impressive list of “firsts,” Archuleta was the first Hispanic female to be a DPS principal in the Denver Public School District (DPS); the first secretary of the Latin American Research & Service Agency (LARASA) Board of Directors; she was also a founder of both LARASA and Mi Casa Resource Center for Women, Inc. This former teacher, librarian and administrator was also the first Hispanic president of the Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association, the Colorado Library Association and the Latin American Educational Foundation (LAEF). In April 2002, the Denver Public Library commission unveiled the Cesar Chavez Leadership Hall of Fame and created the Lena L. Archuleta Community Service Award. Her portrait is in the gallery of Latinos/Latinas at the Woodbury Branch Library. In October of 2002, DPS dedicated and named a new elementary school in Montebello after Archuleta. She is the first Denver Hispanic woman to have a school bear her name. For six years, Archuleta also participated on the National Board of Directors of AARP, where she lobbied on state legislative issues. In 2009, she was awarded LAEF’s Sol Trujillo National Lifetime Leadership Award for her commitment to education in Denver. It is because of her hard work and dedication to our community that Ms. Lena Archuleta left her very own founder’s legacy on our organization.