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Published: Tuesday, 3/25/2003

Texas native provided crucial help to farm laborers' union

OTTAWA, Ohio - Vicenta “Cindy” Velasquez, 83, a farm worker who helped her son, Baldemar, and husband, Cresencio, found a prominent farm labor union during the 1960s and who was active in her church in Putnam County, died Sunday in the Blanchard Valley Regional Health Center.

Mrs. Velasquez died of pneumonia that arose as a complication from treatment of pancreatic cancer, Baldemar Velasquez said.

Born Vicenta Castillo in San Benito, Texas, she married Cresencio Velasquez in 1941 and they took their growing family to northern Ohio during the early 1950s to work in the fields.

Baldemar Velasquez, the third of the couple's nine children, is routinely credited as the founder, in 1967, of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. But he said yesterday that his efforts would not have succeeded without the support of his mother and her “circle of friends” who helped recruit early members and enhanced his own credibility.

As FLOC struggled to gain recognition from growers and agricultural processors that employed predominantly Hispanic migrant workers, Mrs. Velasquez remained an activist, Mr. Velasquez said.

“In 1979 we were doing some civil disobedience, sitting down in front of a tomato-harvesting machine,” he recalled. “Not very many people wanted to get out there and do it. But when she and the women went in, the men had to go too.”

Along with working in the fields, Mrs. Velasquez toiled for long hours to support her family, Mr. Velasquez said.

“Mom never skipped a beat. She was up before everybody else to make breakfast, and she was usually the last one to go to bed too,” he said.

Mrs. Velasquez gradually withdrew from picking crops during the 1970s, her son said, but worked sporadically for three years later that decade at the Tem-Cole radish packing plant in McClure, Ohio. On occasion she traveled nationally to speak on FLOC's behalf.

At Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church, she was a eucharistic minister, minister of praise, and Mass server, and a member of the Altar Rosary Society. She taught summer catechism to migrant children and volunteered at the Putnam County Thrift Store. In recent years, she undertook home ministry to older Mexican-Americans in Putnam County.

Mrs. Velasquez's contribution to the overall well-being of the Latino community was enormous, the son said.

“She got a lot of people to stand up for their rights and become active citizens,” Mr. Velasquez said. “She was a real pioneer.”

Survivors include sons Cresencio, Jr., Oscar, Baldemar, Joe, Rick, and Dan Velasquez; daughters, Belia Spradlin, Irma Martin, and Emily Semenik; sisters, Josefa Luera and Amalia Castillo; 31 grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Velasquez' husband, Cresencio, died in 1980.

The body will be in the Love Funeral Home, Ottawa, after 2 p.m. tomorrow. A Scripture service will begin at 3 p.m. in the mortuary. A funeral Mass will begin at 2 p.m. Thursday in Saints Peter & Paul Church, Ottawa.



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