THURSDAY, JANUARY 26, 2012 ■ The Daily Telegram ■ www.lenconnect.




Citizen of the Year finalists

Gilbert Salazar is named 2012’s Citizen of the Year

PHIL COMAR Adrian native rides his motorcycle hands-free to benefit Parkinson’s research. C2

LESTER ELLIOTT Volunteering at Provincial House has been Elliott’s calling for three decades. C3

MARILYN HILL Red Cross volunteer helps people recover from disaster and tragedy. C3

Gilbert Salazar plays pool with Doug Meredith at the HOPE Community Center. Salazar’s volunteer activities in the community include helping the HOPE Center and the Special Olympics. TELEGRAM PHOTOS BY LAD STRAYER

Salazar’s numerous community activities include helping with Special Olympics and volunteering at the HOPE Center.
By Renee Lapham Collins
Daily Telegram Special Writer

DEB STRAYER Animal rescue is a passion for Strayer, who has seven Brittany Spaniels at home. C4

EVERY YEAR, The Daily Telegram invites readers to submit nominations for Citizen of the Year. These are individuals whose volunteer work has helped make their community a better place to live.

DO YOU KNOW A VOLUNTEER WHO DESERVES RECOGNITION? Let us know for our “Volunteer of the Week.” feature. Email or contact Anthony Sacco at 424-6576 or Please list your name, hometown, daytime phone and which group the volunteer assists.

FEELING INSPIRED? The Lenawee Community Foundation maintains a database of volunteer opportunities in Lenawee County. To find an opportunity that fits your skills, visit volunteer.

ADRIAN — Gilbert Salazar likes to drive things. Big, tangible things like the 40&8 train full of HOPE Center athletes going to the annual Special Olympics games ... and intangible things, like the fundraising ideas that help keep the train going year after year. Salazar’s numerous volunteer activities in the community have made him The Daily Telegram’s Citizen of the Year for 2012. When he was a kid growing up in Adrian, Salazar never thought much about what he wanted to be but he did know it would have to involve a good education. “Both my parents worked in factories so I spent a lot of time with my grandma, Emma Salazar,” Salazar remembers. “She preached the importance of getting an education. So I always tried to do good in school because that is how I knew I would better myself.” Growing up on the east side, he said, “you knew where your place was but you also knew where you wanted to be. I got to where I am through a lot of opportunities that were given to me to help me be successful.” It took him a few decades but Salazar finally received his bachelor of arts degree from Siena Heights University in 1986, while he was working at the Chevy plant in Adrian and raising two kids with his wife, Mary Ellen. Son Gil Jr. now lives in Phoenix while daughter Sarah works for the Adrian Dominican Sisters. A Vietnam-era veteran, Salazar spent four years in the Air Force after being drafted in 1968 and then lived 15 years in New Mexico, where he was an assistant at a medical research facility. Three years ago, he retired from GM. “I had a lot of time on my hands when I retired,” he said. “My fishing buddy, Barry Bovee, lives around the corner. He stopped over and asked if I would like to join the 40&8. That was three years ago.” Since then, Salazar has been a “tireless” volunteer, according to Grimaldi Gonzalez Sr., “Chef de Gare” or post commander for the 40&8 veterans group. Gonzalez, who penned one of the four nomination letters for

Gilbert Salazar is pictured at Siena Heights University, selling popcorn to benefit the Siena Heights veterans’ group.

the award, has known Salazar for three years. The 40&8 is an organization of veterans who raise funds for charity. Among the beneficiaries of the local chapter are the HOPE Community Center, Special Olympics, scholarships and youth sports. This year, Gonzalez said, the group provided scholarships to three students going to nursing school. “But we are big into Special Olympics,” Gonzalez said. “Gilbert is the one individual in charge of this area through our Youth Sports committee.” Gonzalez said Salazar has sold hundreds of pins and organized a charity golf outing at Wolf Creek with all the proceeds going to Special Olympics. Last summer, he was able to present a check for $2,500 to Special Olympics at the opening ceremonies for Area 29 at Adrian College. He also transported athletes to and from games and gave them rides on the 40&8 train, Gonzalez said. “He has become a very good friend and he is very down to earth,” Gonzalez said. “If you need him, he is there for you. There is nothing he would not do for another human being. And he

loves Special Olympics.” Gonzalez said Salazar is the “top train driver” for the 40&8 train, ferrying up to 500 kids a day last summer during the Special Olympics event at Adrian College as well as driving the train in the Tecumseh holiday parade and the Adrian Winterfest parade. “He does everything with a smile,” Gonzalez said. Salazar calls Gonzalez “a leadership figure, a mentor.” “I try to support him as much as possible in the 40&8 organization,” Salazar said. This year’s Citizen of the Year also is a volunteer for the HOPE Community Center. He coaches the softball team and takes the members to Kapnick Orchard for cider and doughnuts. Program director Scott Watson calls Salazar a “genuine people person.” “I have known him for a few years now,” Watson said. “He is a passionate guy, a go-getter, very personable. Whatever project we have, he is first in line to volunteer.” Watson said Salazar is willing to do anything from painting a door in the HOPE Center building to working with committees on fundraising efforts.

“He is willing to serve his fellow man in whatever capacity we need him,” Watson said. Salazar admits he “likes to drive things,” but he isn’t necessarily referring to the 40&8 train. “A lot of people want to do things but don’t know how,” he said. “So, I like to go out and get the ball rolling.” Salazar said he gets ribbed frequently by friends for the timing of some of his ideas. “Sometimes, we’ll be out to eat and I’ll get up and go to the restroom and when I get back, I’ll have come up with some idea for something,” he said with a grin. “My mind just does not stop. I’m always thinking of how I can make money for these groups. Everyone is fighting for the same dollar so you really have to be a little more creative.” In addition to nomination letters from Gonzalez and Watson, Salazar also was praised by his wife of 40 years, Mary Ellen, and by Rudy Alaniz, post commander for the Underwood/Orr American Legion Post in Tecumseh. Alaniz called Salazar an “exemplary member” and credited him with the success of the monthly Mexican dinner, which raises funds for much-needed renovations to the post hall. “He also spent two days doing a fall yard cleanup for another veteran,” Alaniz said. “That is his unselfishness — putting others before himself.” For his part, Salazar just doesn’t really think what he does is any big deal. “There’s lot of other people who do more than I do,” he said. “Don Dickey, he’s a good friend, he does more than I do, although we do a lot of things together. “He brings a lot of joy to everyone — he has a big heart, he gives of himself to make people happy. He rubs off on other people.” Salazar said the main reason he is successful at being a volunteer is his willingness to stay with the commitment. Sometimes, it’s not easy. “You really commit yourself to things you wouldn’t otherwise do,” he said. “Once I make a commitment, I fulfill it.” Salazar’s philosophy of life is pretty simple. “I’ve done a lot in my life but there still is a lot left to do,” he said.

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