July 1, 2004
Bronx mourns passing of Michael
Nunez, a driving force in borough
by John Roche
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
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
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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