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Boroughwide News

July 1, 2004

Bronx mourns passing of Michael Nunez, a driving force in borough
by John Roche

L-r) Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Jr. shares a laugh with South Bronx Board of Trade president Michael Nunez, who passed away this week.

The death this week of longtime community activist Michael Nunez, who served as president of the South Bronx Board of Trade and with numerous other organizations, will leave a tremendous void in the community, according to his family, colleagues, and friends.

But while Nunez, who died Saturday morning of an apparent heart attack at the age of 74, leaves large shoes to fill, his decades of professional involvement, leadership and volunteer activism also leave a legacy of commitment that should inspire others to continue his widespread efforts to further nurture and improve the Bronx and its people.

"Michael always believed in the south Bronx, in the borough as a whole and especially in its residents, and committed most of his adult life to making the Bronx a better place," said Joseph Ramos, a longtime friend and colleague. " As we mourn the passing of this great man, we should also each commit ourselves to building on the foundation that he put down for us in terms of seeing that the Bronx and its residents have every chance, resource and opportunity to live up to their full potential."

In addition to his work as president and one of the founders of the South Bronx Board of Trade, which fosters trade and commerce while seeking to promote a positive image of the borough, Nunez has been a driving force as an executive board member of the New Bronx Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Board of Directors of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, a longtime member and former president of the Bronx Rotary Club, and executive director of Puerto Rican Home Attendants Services, Inc., a home care agency with over 500 employees, among other affiliations.

According to his wife, Millie Pacheco Nunez, her husband was passionate and selfless in his desire to help people learn to help themselves. "Michael came from a very humble and poor family, but he was able to rise up because of his spirit, his determination and his belief that there isn’t any obstacle that can’t be overcome," his wife explained. "And in the many things he was involved in, what was always at the center of it was that desire to help people see that they too could be empowered, that they too could rise up, that they too could not only make something of themselves but also make their community better by doing so. That was his love and his legacy. That is what kept him so driven to always help anyone in any way he possibly could."

Nunez grew up on Dawson Street in the Bronx, and after graduating Morris High School in 1948, he served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War from 1951 through 1953.

He began his pursuit of a college degree while in the service, but cut that short to take full time work in the computer field during its infancy to support his first wife, Ruth, whom he eventually had three children with.

In the early 1960s, he became a member and then president of the Robert F. Wagner Democratic Club, which led him in the direction of the political involvement, civic activism and community-oriented professional work that would mark the remainder of his life.

In 1964, Nunez was selected as special assistant to the executive director of the South Bronx Neighborhood Orientation Center, which provided services to welfare clients and pioneered the rehabilitation of substance abusers. He went on to serve as a consultant with Project Advance, designing training programs for those involved in community empowerment and economic development.

Soon after, Nunez served as the assistant director at the Hunts Point Community Program Center, leading community outreach and providing technical assistance to neighborhood programs. He was then tapped to be coordinator and outreach officer to the South Bronx Concentrated Employment Program, a position in which he developed services for the community for federally sponsored manpower training programs.

After serving as senior project manager at the Harlem Commonwealth Council, in 1969, he returned to the Bronx as executive deputy director for programs at the Hunts Point Multi-Service Center, Inc., coordinating community and private sector economic development projects. In 1971, he became CEO of the Bronx Venture Corporation, a community-based economic development corporation.

Over the years, he continued his pursuit of education, earning a bachelor’s degree from the College of New Rochelle, a master’s degree in economic developmental science from New Hampshire College, and a certificate in financing and community development from the continuing education program at Harvard University.

Nick Lugo, the president of the New Bronx Chamber of Commerce, said that Nunez was a tireless worker toward the betterment of the Bronx on all levels, and largely credited him with the rebirth of the chamber, as one of its three founders. "Mike was such an intricate and integral part of the Bronx for so many years and in so many ways," said Lugo. "He was involved politically, professionally, socially - really in every aspect of the Bronx. If we’re celebrating the resurgence of the Bronx, and looking ahead to an even brighter future for the borough, a great deal of credit for that has to go to Michael Nunez."

According to Elias Karmon, who has been a friend and colleague of Nunez since 1950, Nunez provided strong and stable leadership to whatever position he held or whatever organization he served with. "There will only ever be one Mike," said Karmon, who will have 18 trees planted in Nunez’ honor outside Jerusalem this week. "His commitment and dedication enabled him to see that whatever he was involved in ran smoothly and successfully. He had a unique set of talents, skills and a stability that made him someone you knew you could count on, or turn to get any goal accomplished or any problem resolved. He was passionate and energetic, but went about his work with a clarity, a level-headedness and a stability and strength that I believe was unmatched."

Jeffrey Richardson, the chairperson of the South Bronx Board of Trade, described Nunez as a father figure and mentor to him and many others. "The night before Mike died, he and I were laughing after I called him ‘Marathon Man,’ because he and I were out at meetings and events every night last week," Richardson said. "I often asked him where he got the energy, because it seemed the more work he did and the more things he was involved in, instead of being draining on him, it was energizing,"

Richardson added, "Although Mike’s passing is a big loss for our organization and for the Bronx, largely because of him we have a strong and able board of directors and membership, so we will find a way to go on, even though we lost our leader and the driving force behind so much of what we do."

Nunez is survived by his wife; his daughters Thea and Consuelo; his son Joel; his step-son Julius; his granddaughters Lauren, Taryn, Louisa and Sophia; a grandson Joel; his 96-year-old mother Josefina; his brother Louis and sister-in-law Cecilia; nieces Victoria and Caroline; and many other relatives, loved ones and friends. He is pre-deceased by his first wife, Ruth, and a son, Michael.

Following his death on June 26, Nunez was waked Tuesday at Thomas Montero Funeral Home, and a memorial service was planned for Thursday.

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