Adolfo Gamez retired from Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) in April 2014 as director of Corporate and Foundation Relations and Development Operations, after 35 years of working in the education system. Born and raised in Tolleson, Ariz., he grew up in a family of nine brothers and sisters.
His father was a farm worker, his mother a homemaker, and the whole family used to go to California in the summers to work in the fields. Gamez, who was only seven or eight at the time, said it felt like a vacation to him, despite all the hard work. During time off, his family would go to the ocean, or to the boardwalk in Santa Cruz.
Gamez currently serves as the mayor of the City of Tolleson, Ariz., but he never thought he’d go to college. He credits Reyes Medrano, a family friend who worked in Financial Aid at Glendale Community College (GCC) with making it an option. Medrano encouraged Gamez to apply for financial aid, which he received, but didn’t stop there.
According to Gamez, he didn’t have a car to travel the 16 miles from Tolleson to GCC, and buses were not available at the time. Medrano, who lived in the community, gave Gamez, and three or four other young men, a ride every day. Gamez said of Medrano, “He was crucial in my life in that he opened doors for me.”
Opting for a change in scenery to put a little distance between himself and some of his friends who wanted him to blow-off studying in favor of partying, Gamez attended Northern Arizona University (NAU) after GCC.
While at NAU, Gamez became involved with Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A.). He became the president of M.E.Ch.A. while at NAU. In addition to making many life-long friends, many of whom are in important positions today, Gamez said he also “learned the importance of getting involved internally in the political system, the educational system, so that one can make change. That’s the only way you do it— by being in the system.”
After graduating from NAU in 1978, Gamez returned to his community with a desire to “give back.” His first job was as social worker for Tolleson Elementary for 13 years. In 1978, he also ran for Tolleson City Council, but lost by 10 votes. Gamez ran again in 1981, winning by 11 votes, and has been with the City of Tolleson ever since. He was elected mayor in 1995.
Gamez said, “Growing up we didn’t have a lot.” There was not a Boys & Girls Club, for example. “If you were lucky enough to have $0.15 you could go swimming in the high school pool in the summer. But a lot of us used the canal,” Gamez said. He also said, he saw some shady deals going on in local politics. He made a pact with a friend as a child to someday get involved in city government to do things right and provide things for children.
From 1984 to 1985, Gamez worked on getting funding for the Boys and Girls club he proposed when he got elected. The building opened in 1988 and is still serving the community now. His friend served on the City Council with him for a while, and Gamez sums up the experience by saying, “We kept our promise.”
Gamez started at EMCC 22 years ago as a college recruiter, of which he said, “It was a blast.” The lack of sports made it harder, but he said it was “very well worth it” and that he misses recruiting. There are actually several people working at EMCC today who were recruited by Gamez while in high school. Being the director of Multicultural Services, his next position, was a similar experience for Gamez – making sure students of color were recruited and had access to resources.
He next ran the Genesis West Program. Gamez described it as “a very successful program,” and said his time with it was very engaging. Dealing with students who didn’t like traditional high school, a program was developed to give them the opportunity to attend courses at EMCC and receive both high school and college credit simultaneously. The program is now defunct, but Gamez is clearly proud of his association with it, and pointed out that it helped a lot of students succeed instead of dropping out.
But the accomplishment from his time at EMCC of which Gamez is most proud is “being able to bring together private and public interests” during a “tug of war” over the creation of the Skill Center. Gamez, who had already become the mayor of Tolleson at that point, arranged a meeting between Dr. Homero Lopez, who was EMCC’s president at the time, and the mayors of Litchfield Park, Avondale, Buckeye, and Goodyear and himself. An agreement was reached and they went about trying to convince the College Board to put the Skill Center at EMCC instead of GCC.
“That’s when the real work started,” said Gamez. But it all paid off for EMCC in the end. Gamez was then effectively drafted to be the director for the Skill Center because he “knew all the players” and had a good grasp of what local industries were looking for in Skill Center graduates. His “temporary” appointment as director there lasted eight years.
His final position at EMCC, as director of Corporate and Foundation Relations and Development Operations, was focused on fundraising. According to Gamez, Dr. Lara, the current president of EMCC, said, “you’re the best fundraiser I know.” Gamez didn’t disappoint; in his five years in the job, he developed an endowment fund of 1.2 million dollars.
Gamez said, “Not having resources just makes you a stronger person.” And he said he always told students “opportunities are right in front of you.” When asked about hardships in his life Gamez said he’s “been very blessed” and has “nothing to complain about.”
While at GCC, Gamez met the woman he refers to as “my inspiration.” Gamez has been married to his wife, Tina, a journalist for the Daily News-Sun in Sun City, since 1981. The couple has an 11 year old Jack Russell Terrier called Wally, whom they refer to as their child. Gamez says they take Wally to Sonic every Sunday for a burger patty – no bun.
Gamez will continue as the mayor of Tolleson. He has two years left in his current term, and said he will probably run again for another four-year term, but after that, he may “hang it up”. He said that if he did spend another term in office he would have spent a total of 34 years in the Council.
He intends to keep busy during his retirement. He said he may get a part-time job and will, no doubt, have a very long “honey do” list to tackle. Gamez added he would like to learn to bake, and hopes to spend a lot of time playing golf. He will remain in Tolleson, and will stay concerned with politics.