WILLCOX Favorite Son and Daughter Award
Favorite Son 2014 - Manuel J. “Manny” Gonzales
WILLCOX -- One favorite son and a favorite daughter were honored Thursday evening at the 32nd annual Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame Dinner at the Willcox Community Center.
The Arizona Range News and Willcox High School Alumni each sponsor an award.
Steve Reno, advertising representative with the Range News, made the presentation that night to both Manuel J. “Manny” Gonzales, as well as Daryl Lyn Benavides Broome.
Reno began his presentation by saying that the Range News honoree “is a little younger than many of our past winners, and works in a vocation not as common as many of our past nominees.”
“That vocation is one many of us admire and appreciate,” making it easy for us to look at Gonzales as our favorite son, he said.
Reno described Gonzales as “born and raised in Willcox, rarely venturing out of town. So who knew they would travel the world as an adult?”
He said that Gonzales did “typical kid things, like constantly fighting with his siblings,” according to his sister, Lydia Torres.
“Who knew he would keep on fighting as an adult?” Reno said.
“Who knew that a youngster who was easy to scare with his Auntie’s ghost stories --so scared that he and his cousin, thought they were running from ghosts to get home in the dark, so scared that he ducked in his own room and yelled, ‘See ya later cousin,’ rather than run the extra block and a half to cous’ home – who knew from that story, that in adulthood, he would become one of the most courageous people you’d ever know?”
“Who knew that a teenager considered wild and out of control could become a Willcox citizen peerless in his volunteerism and his caring for and teaching of others?,” Reno said.
Raised by a large extended family “all right here in town,” Gonzales would leave Willcox “as fast as he could, one day after he graduated high school,” he said.
“Who knew that a big brother who was a know-it-all would turn out to be an adult who soaked in a lot of stuff he didn’t know to become a fine leader of men and women?,” Reno said.
While as an 11-year-old, Gonzales wouldn’t let sister Lydia “touch his shiny bike, chasing down that 8-year old scamp and scaring her to tears when she tried to joyride on it,” that same kid grew up to be an adult who asked her “to help him handle his shiny new bachelor furniture.”
“Who knew that a boy who was known for riding around town with friends on bikes, carrying boomboxes and listening to rap music, would become an adult leader in giving away bicycles – minus the boomboxes – to today’s youth?” he said.
“Who knew that a kid considered very athletic and competitive would take on a career that required a lot of physical ability? Oh, wait, that one makes sense,” said Reno, drawing laughter from the audience. He went on to say that it also makes a lot of sense that Gonzales “was a teenager on the wrong path until a military recruiter got this high school senior to join the Marines.”
“But who knew this poor Marine with no college education would quickly turn into one of the finest examples of a military leader, reaching the highest rank of any non-commissioned officer by becoming a sergeant major?” Reno said.
“Our world traveling favorite son visited glamorous locations like Iraq, Afghanistan and that tropical paradise in the horn of Africa known as Djibouti.”
Gonzales “only left that incredibly dangerous adventure behind because of family,” he told the audience. “Having missed his older brother’s nearly fatal accident and being unable to be near when his beloved grandfather passed, he decided enough was enough when his grandmother needed him, and gave up a full-time military career,” Reno said.
“But not only are we grateful for his service to his country, we have also been fortunate to have him join our community – whether it be as a volunteer for Toys for Tots, teaching youth personal defense through martial arts, serving the community through his work with dangerous high voltage equipment for the power company, or serving by running a successful gym business and using that standing to sponsor many local activities, or participating himself in Rex Allen Days as the leader of the local color guard presentation.”
Reno went on to say, “Manny, we know you still serve your country through the military reserves as you have somehow found the energy to do it all, and we just wanted you to know, Manuel J Gonzales, that you are our favorite son.”
In closing, Reno thanked Torres, as well as Gonzales’ cousins Trevor Ward and Eric Gonzales for their contributions to his presentation.
When it came his turn to speak, Gonzales thanked the Range News for honoring him, and the Cowboy Hall of Fame and Willcox Chamber for allowing him to be honored at the evening’s event.
He went on to say that while it’s hard to keep anything secret in Willcox, he knew something was up when his family was behaving strangely, and especially when the company he works for – Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Company – sent out an e-mail asking for a volunteer to drive the Willcox Favorite Son or Daughter in the Rex Allen Days Parade, and his offer was ignored.
Gonzales talked about growing up in Willcox, saying that “family values are definitely a cornerstone of the Willcox community.”