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Celso Rodríguez roast draws crowd of friends, family, and colleagues


By Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent


Friends, family, and colleagues of longtime and legendary Latino community activist Celso Rodríguez filled the Sofia Quintero Art & Cultural Center on April 29, 2011 to honor and pay tribute to the man many will always call the Mayor of (Toledo’s) Broadway.

Celso Rodríguez being roasted by his friends in the Latino community with Robert Torres in the backgroud. Photo courtesy of Arturo Quintero.


The occasion was a roast of Rodríguez before he left Northwest Ohio to start a new career working with his brother Mario as an electrical contractor in San Antonio, Texas. While the obvious sadness of the community over losing a visionary overshadowed much of the joviality, as Rodríguez told this reporter at the start of the evening, “It’s a reason to party.”


And indeed it was, from the minute it started with the beautiful and emotional rendition of the “The Star Spangled Banner” by Yvonne Ramos.


 Among those seen in the crowd and/or participating in the festivities were Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, a trio of Toledo councilmembers – Adam Martínez, Mike Craig, and George Sarantou, former Toledo political luminary and now Canton, Ohio’s Director of Development Robert Torres, and many other community leaders including: Linda Alvarado, Dolores Rodríguez, Hernán Vásquez, Lourdes Santiago, Joe Balderas, Milva Wagner,Linda Parra, Tony & Maryori Rios, Lulu Perales, Hector Flores, Mary Jane Flores (the widow of the late and lamented Lucas County Judge Joseph A. Flores) and Arturo Quintero, widower of Sofia Quintero, in whose honor the center is named.


Rodríguez received official proclamations from the City of Toledo (Mayor Mike Bell did not attend because of a prior commitment), Toledo City Council and Lucas County recognizing his many contributions to the community. You’ll see many of them later in this article.


Also spotted at a table in the audience was community activist Andreanna M. Rivera-Pérez, who came up from Findlay for the event as a guest of La Prensa La Revista Editor Claudia Annoni.


The head table at the dais was equally impressive with former WNWO-TV sports reporter Jim Tichy and erstwhile El Tiempo reporter Kevin Milliken flanking the tuxedoed honoree.


Hands down, Tichy stole the show delivering a barrage of PG-13 rated one liners and zingers (several about Celso’s incredible mane of black hair) that had the audience roaring with laughter.  Let’s face it, Tichy was so good that he could easily become the Roastmaster General of the United States!  But Milliken rose to the challenge and delivered a few well-placed humorous barbs of his own. Yes, he definitely noted that hair as well.


The event was co-organized by Torres and his co-host the vivacious Lulu Perales, who was also responsible for coordinating the sumptuous dinner buffet. Lulu brought down the house several times when she took her turn as a roaster and displayed several of the items of intimate apparel she had bought for her former husband as a going-away present. You just had to be there.


Other Rodríguez family members who paid tribute to the honoree were Celso’s daughter Raquel and Dolores Rodríguez, both sharing sentimental stories with the audience of more than 60 attendees. His longtime friend Robert González also had some tales to tell.

A video of visual highlights of Rodríguez’s career was produced by Anthony Durán of Diversified Services, who also provided some great music for the event.  One of the most fascinating clips showed Rodríguez as a reporter covering the swearing-in ceremonies of Judge Flores. The tape had long been considered as lost by WNWO, but Rodríguez had given a copy to the Flores family, and Mary Jane Flores had just found it after all these years – just in time to be included in the video, thus having it come full circle.

Celso Rodríguez being roasted by
Kevin Milliken (l) and Jim Tichy (r).

However, for those who missed the video—which was unfortunately shown after the roast concluded—here’s a short list of Celso’s history and many accomplishments:


Celso Rodríguez was born and raised in Uvalde, Texas, which cowboy movie trivia fans know is also the birthplace of Latina Dale Evans.  Celso joined the U.S. Air Force shortly after his 17th birthday and spent four years serving his country including 2 ˝ years in Germany.


After leaving the military in 1966 he moved to Ohio where he has spent the last 45 years, with more than four decades of service as an activist in Toledo’s Latino community.


He began working with La Raza Unida de Ohio as a Field Representative in 1970.  A year later, he became Director of the Youth Development Program at the Economic Opportunity Planning Association (EOPA), the anti-poverty agency in Toledo.  In 1974 he became Executive Director of the Guadalupe Community Center, Inc.   During his three-year tenure at the community center, Rodríguez increased the agency’s budget five-fold and expanded needed services.

After leaving the center in 1977, he joined the-then ABC television affiliate WDHO-TV (TV-24) as a sports and farm news anchor on an early morning news program.  A year later he became a general assignment reporter.  His beat included city and county government as well as the state and federal courts.  In 1983, Rodríguez became News Director, a position he held for several years.  During this time, he was offered a job as an Executive Producer with ABC News in Chicago, but he turned it down choosing to remain in Toledo.


In 1987 Rodríguez went to work for the Toledo Blade as a Circulation District Manager.  His responsibility was to ensure that newspapers were delivered in a prompt and proper manner to subscribers.  During this time he served as Secretary of the Blade Newspaper Guild union local for six years and attended several national newspaper conventions.  He took early retirement from the Blade in 2000.


In 1989, Rodríguez started a radio program on WRED 95.7 that lasted for seven years until the station was sold.  His first advertiser was attorney Richard Neller, and later that year he joined Neller and Dawson Baker as one of the three original incorporators of La Prensa.


Shortly before his retirement from The Blade, he co-founded in July of 2000 El Tiempo and then bought out his business partner, Kelly Rivera. The newspaper continued to serve the Latino community in Toledo until January 28, 2011, when Rodríguez elected to suspend publication.

Rodríguez has a long list of volunteer service to the community which includes having co-founded the oldest Mexican Festival in Toledo through the Mexican American Patriotic Association in 1972.  He was treasurer of MEChA at the University of Toledo in 1973 when he co-founded and co-chaired the 1st MEChA Scholarship Dance (Now in in its 38th year.)   In 1985 he co-founded the Mexican American Cultural Association.


Celso Rodríguez with Linda Alvarado

He was a charter board member of Adelante, Inc. and served ten years on its board of trustees, four years as board chair.  In 2001 he co-founded and co-chaired Latino Fest the largest Latino festival in the Toledo area.  He served on the University of Toledo President’s Latino Advisory Committee and co-founded of the Latino Alumni Affiliate. 


Wait! There’s more! Rodríguez served on three committees with the Toledo Public Schools. He has served as treasurer and vice-president of the Northwest Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He co-founded VIVA South Toledo Community Development Corporation in 2003 and served a board chair for six years.  He co-founded Nueva Esperaza (New Hope) Community Credit Union in 2110.  And he served on the Crime Stoppers Board of Directors, the Toledo Lucas County Housing Fund Board and the Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc. Central Board of Trustees.


Now do you see why Toledo is going to miss him?


The only thing missing from the event was Rodríguez having been given an opportunity to respond to all those humorous barbs as is usual at roasts.  So as a public service (and thus worthy of consideration for a Pulitzer) are his morning-after thoughts -- which you must admit are pretty coherent for a guy who didn’t get home from his after-party until 5 am.


“I’m humbled by the fact that people in the community felt strongly about the fact that I’m leaving for a while (emphasis added) because it is not often that people are given this kind of a sendoff,” said Rodríguez.


“The things I did in life I did not do for recognition. I had the opportunity to do it, and I was there and given an opportunity, and I helped where I could,” he added.


Rodríguez thanked everyone “from the bottom of my heart” for coming to the affair. And he spoke of his move as “starting another chapter in his life. One door closes and another one opens. And now I will reinvent myself once again.


“I never have been shy about turning away from challenges. That’s what my life has been…I have always taken advantage of whatever opportunity presented itself. I never know what I can do unless I try it,” he said, hoping that his words will be an inspiration for young people.


This reporter believes they will.


Vaya con Dios, mi amigo.


hector flores

raquel and hardhat

simon rodriguez and carmen barbosa

mike craig and linda alvarado

tony and maryori rios




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Revised: 05/03/11 13:14:42 -0700.





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