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Alvina Costilla and Barney Quilter honored at MidWest LatinoFest

By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa


June 25, 2013: MidWest LatinoFest organizers and La Prensa recently honored two people who have worked for decades on behalf of the Northwest Ohio Latino community. During a special ceremony at the June 8th festival at Promenade Park in downtown Toledo, Eagle Awards were handed out to longtime Latina activist Alvina Costilla and to Lucas County Clerk of Courts Bernie Quilter for the contributions of his late father, former state representative Barney Quilter.

Alvina Costilla and Bernie Quilter

These Eagle Awards were in addition to the four awarded to Latino veterans—Izzy Ortiz, Hector Flores, Raúl Hinojosa, and George Plasencio and his two children.


Ms. Costilla was honored for her many years of service as a committee member planning past festivals, as well as for her extensive work for SS Peter and Paul Church, the Lucas County Democratic Party, and a number of other local organizations.


“I was surprised. Nobody told me I was going to receive any acknowledgement,” she said by phone from her Maumee home. “It felt good, because when I saw the movement of the people getting together—that was the whole purpose, bring the people together. That was beautiful.”


Ms. Costilla explained she was first asked to represent the parish on the festival committee in 2000. She helped to line up the festival’s many vendors, similar to work she had done professionally during her career for the State of Ohio in employment services.


“The idea was to raise funding for scholarships, which, to me, was very important,” she said. “It’s beautiful to see an organization produce entertainment for our community, especially to raise money for our young people—which is very important.”


Ms. Costilla, 86, stated illness prevented her from assisting with this year’s festival, but she remains active in her church ensuring families have vital information and access to social services. Her husband passed away in 2008.


“He was a great supporter and a very encouraging man, which allowed me to do many things to help people,” she said.


The late Barney Quilter served in the Ohio General Assembly for parts of four decades and through five gubernatorial administrations. According to his son Bernie, one of his proudest moments was securing passage of landmark legislation he sponsored allowing Latinos to take their written exams to obtain a driver’s license in Spanish. Quilter passed away in 2005 at the age of 86.


“It was an honor, certainly was an honor—but it was also shocking, because my father’s been gone so long,” the younger Quilter said of the posthumous award. “But people still remembered him after all these years, so it was truly an honor. It was overwhelming, really.”


The Lucas County clerk of courts stated he could remember as a youth that a lot of his classmates could not speak English. So the passage of bilingual driver’s license legislation became a hot topic in the late 1960s.


“It was a really big issue back then that they were doing this,” said Bernie Quilter. “He got a lot of support for it. The Hispanic community was overwhelmed by it. They loved that he did this. It was the first time anything like this was done; Ohio one of the first states to do this. It worked out well. He was always well-respected in the Hispanic community for it. They didn’t forget.”


The legislation finally passed in 1968 with bipartisan support that Quilter had engineered across the aisle. The bill read in part:


“Except as otherwise provided in this rule, the department of public safety may develop versions of the knowledge portion of the examination required by paragraphs (A) and (B) of this rule that can be taken in languages other than English in written or electronic form. If an applicant for a driver's license wishes to take the knowledge examination in a language other than English, an interpreter may provide translation assistance to the applicant unless the department has developed a written or electronic version of the examination in a language in which the applicant is fluent, in which case the applicant must take that written or electronic version of the examination without the assistance of an interpreter.”


Quilter explained the legislation allowed migrant farmworkers and others to get jobs. He plans to display the award in his office at the Lucas County Common Pleas Courthouse. He also stated it’s a legacy of public service to all communities his father left him. For example, the younger Quilter has made it so Spanish-speakers can look up court cases bilingually on the clerk of courts website. All the brochures are printed in multiple languages.


“Our community is an ethnic community—and that’s what we can never forget. We’re a very diverse community here,” he said. “You try to take good care of everyone you possibly can.”


Quilter stated he admired his father for helping people even in retirement. He explained that former constituents would call him directly with problems, thinking he was still in the state legislature. But the late Quilter would still make calls to Columbus to help out individuals with unemployment or disability assistance—even to get a soldier home in time for a funeral.


But the late state rep did more than sponsor legislation. His son explained that the older Quilter coached Golden Gloves boxing locally, teaching dozens of Latino young men along the way the greater nuances of stepping into the ring.


Quilter served as a Democratic state lawmaker from 1967 to 1994, nearly two decades of that in the House leadership. He rose to the rank of Speaker Pro-Tem. His length of public service preceded term limits imposed on state legislators who came after his retirement.


Copyright © 1989 to 2013 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 06/25/13 19:48:55 -0700.




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