Prestigious award named for 162nd Fighter Wing Minuteman Committee member, community leader
By Capt. Gabe Johnson, 162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 18, 2009
TUCSON, Ariz. -- When Tucson community and business leaders gathered to present the Tucson Light: William G. Valenzuela Legacy Award, the guest of honor was told he was attending a Valentine's Day party in downtown Tucson's Stillwell House, Feb. 13.
Bill Valenzuela, a 162nd Fighter Wing Minuteman, Arizona State Chair Emeritus for the National Committee of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, owner of W.G. Valenzuela Drywall, and a noteworthy philanthropist quickly figured out the Valentine's Day ruse.
"When I saw Mensching, I knew something was going on," joked Valenzuela referring to Brig. Gen. (ret.) Joe Mensching, former 162nd Fighter Wing commander. "I knew tonight had nothing to do with Valentine's Day."
Sandi Eghtesadi, event coordinator and fellow 162nd Fighter Wing Minuteman Committee member, invited more than 100 of Valenzuela's family, friends and colleagues to surprise him with the city's first Tucson Light award named in his honor.
"I've known him for eight or nine years. He is such a humble man," said Eghtesadi, "He's given so much to the community. We didn't have any other choice but to honor him in a special way. And with all of the support of his family and friends here today... this is only the beginning."
The William G. Valenzuela Legacy Award, intended to capture the spirit of all Mr. Valenzuela has given to the community, will recognize the accomplishments of future Tucsonans who aspire to his level of service.
He made significant contributions in raising the level of awareness among civilians about the military and the sacrifices of servicemembers. He spearheaded many projects to open lines of communication between the business community and military through a variety of projects including ESGR Boss Lifts and Statement of Support signings.
"He inspired me to volunteer when I didn't know I could," said Eghtesadi. "He has opened doors for people to become involved in their community and inspired us to give back to those who've made freedom possible for us. He is a true leader."
"I've seen him from a human perspective that is truly unbelievable," she said. "When everyone is out enjoying time off for holidays like Memorial Day, he's out there cleaning the grave sites of fallen servicemembers."
Tucson attorney Michael Murray has been friends with Bill Valenzuela for 35 years. Together they served the Tucson's Marine Corps League and ESGR.
"Anyone who wins this award in the future will have to be of a very high caliber if they are going to follow Bill Valenzuela because he's an outstanding guy," said Murray. "He's very generous without ever saying so. He's given so much to so many organizations, and you will never hear his name."
Jack Camper, president and CEO of the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, served as a master of ceremony for the evening. He recalled a recent anecdote to highlight Valenzuela's generosity.
Camper said the producers of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" recently called on Valenzuela to donate drywall services to a Tucson family as part of an upcoming episode.
The family's oldest daughter Lizzie Bell, 14, was diagnosed in infancy with Diamond Blackfan anemia, a congenital disorder that affects only 600 to 700 people worldwide. The new home replaced her family's old one that had mold, a termite infestation and cracked concrete.
Valenzuela quietly did his part and drywalled the home.
"That's who Bill Valenzuela really is... just an outstanding guy," said Camper.
Valenzuela graciously passed on the evening's high praise.
"What a beautiful, beautiful night for me, but don't fool yourselves... you're the people that make me look good to them," he said to his friends as he gestured to his family. "Thank you for what you have taught me. I'll never give up on you. I'm with you all the way."
According to Brig. Gen. (ret.) Ron Shoopman, former 162nd Fighter Wing commander, a leader always shows his true colors when he's being recognized in front of a crowd. "Did he talk about his accomplishments? No. He looked around the room and talked about each and every one of you and the good works you have done," he said. "This man inspires people."