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Published: Sunday, 12/3/2006

Mechanic, welder, and farm worker a civil-rights marcher

ERIE, Mich. - Manuel R. Valdez, 85, a mechanic, welder, and farm worker who marched with labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, died Friday in St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

He had heart problems complicated by diabetes and asthma, his son Manuel, Jr., said.

Mr. Valdez retired in his late 60s from Mason Consolidated Schools, where he was a bus mechanic for more than a decade. Before that, he was a welder at Neo Products in Erie, which made hardware for appliances.

"He had a third-grade education, but he was mechanically inclined," his son said.

Mr. Valdez was born in San Antonio and, with his family, worked in farm fields, following the crops north into Ohio and Michigan.

He and his wife, Fabiana, settled in southeast Michigan in 1948. He worked for Willys Motors and Royster Fertilizer.

And he and his family continued to work farm fields, mostly in Michigan, into the late 1960s. He heard a talk by Mr. Chavez and was inspired.

Mr. Valdez told his children "that people shouldn't work in conditions they have to work under," his son said, adding that his father was in Chavez-led marches in Columbus and Washington in the late 1960s.

He and his wife also helped people in need in the Mexican American community.

"He had a very strong sense of justice and fairness," said Virginia Ortega, a longtime family friend and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. "It's a special personality who can help people fight for justice and causes that seem so difficult to overcome."

His wife died Dec. 11, 1997.

Surviving are his sons, Ruben and Lalo Martinez and Manuel, Jr., and Rudy Valdez; daughters, Maria and Cindy Valdez; sisters, Paz Valdez and Milia Rodriguez; 16 grandchildren; 20 great-grand children, and two great-great grandchildren.

The body will be in Bedford Funeral Chapel, Temperance, after 6 p.m. Tuesday. Funeral services are pending at St. Joseph Church, Erie.

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