Trailblazers honors local members of the minority and disadvantaged community who are considered pioneers in their respective fields of endeavor. Recipients are lauded for professional and service innovations that have added to the quality of life in the South Bend community. Many of those recognized are considered the unsung heroes of activities that led to the advancement of the status of minority communities in the area. In collaboration with WNIT Public Television, the honorees are featured in short video vignettes that air on television during the month of February.
Mr. Gregorio Chavez, Jr.
Born into a migrant farm worker family from Texas, Mr. Chavez like many Mexican Americans in the Midwest began his life moving back and forth between Texas and the Midwest. Mr. Chavez, a decorated Air Force veteran, has been a leader in the development of Latino community and civic organizations, and Latino and bilingual education in Michiana for decades and is truly a civil rights Trailblazer.
Mrs. Willie Mae Butts
We Honor Mrs. Butts for her decades long support and leadership in the area of civil rights, community development, and racial understanding in the Michiana area. Her many years of service and volunteer work truly make her a civil rights Trailblazer.
Our 2013 Trailblazers (from left) include George Woolridge, Berta Salazar and Benito Salazar, Julia Nabaa and Clarence Abdullah Nabaa, Mary Alford and Bishop Donald Alford, and Norval Williams and Sareena Williams.
Bishop Donald Alfordand Mary Alford
Bishop Donald L. Alford and Mary Alford have been providing spiritual and cultural uplift as well as comfort for community residents for nearly 50 years. The Rev. Alford is a lifelong resident of South Bend, who graduated from Washington High School and Bethel College before graduating from the Worsham College of Mortuary Service. He opened Alfords Mortuary in 1964, the same year that he was ordained as an elder. He founded Pentecostal Cathedral Church of God in Christ in 1972. The Rev. Alford became Prelate of the 4th Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Indiana North Central for the Churches of God in Christ. Mrs. Alford has worked alongside her husband in the ministry, while also developing her own unique niche within the church. Serving in many capacities in the local church and on a regional and national level, Mrs. Alford’s activities include being president of the Missionary Board and Sunday School Superintendent. She is best known, however, for her work in the fine arts department at Pentecostal Cathedral and in the wider church. She established the church’s fine arts department and has written, produced and directed numerous plays that have religious and inspirational themes.
Clarence Abdullah Nabaa and Julia Nabaa
Clarence Nabaa in 1977 became founder and publisher of the South Bend Communicator newspaper, which focused on positive issues and events impacting the area’s African American community. A devout Muslim, Mr. Nabaa also served as imam of the Great News Islamic Center in South Bend and hosted “Community: Mother of Our Lives,” a talk show on Channel 99, public access television. The Nabaas owned Berthena’s Cultural Books and Things in downtown South Bend, which sold ethnic books, African clothing and art. They opened the African American Cultural and Development Center, which hosted cultural events and displays about African American people and historical events. Julia Nabaa focused her efforts on youth in the community, volunteering with the Girl Scouts and other youth groups and initiatives. She served as a teacher and administrator in the child care program of the Hansel Neighborhood Service Center, an agency that coordinated area Head Start programs. After leaving Hansel Center, she operated Julia’s Flowergarten, a licensed child-care home. Continuing to work with youth, Mrs. Nabaa now is a special education paraprofessional at Jefferson Intermediate Traditional School in South Bend.
Benito Salazar and Berta Salazar
The Salazar family has been key in educating about Hispanic culture and keeping that culture alive in the church and community. Benito and Berta Salazar and their son, Benito Jr., perform corridos –narrative songs about heroes, adventure and love stories that are popular in Mexico. Benito Salazar Sr. plays the guitar, his son plays the guitar/bass and Mrs. Salazar sings. Mr. Salazar has served for more than 40 years as director of the Coro Celestial, or “Celestial Choir,” at St. Adalbert’s Catholic Church (now directed by his daughter, Rebecca. At a time when the organ was the only instrument played at many Masses, Mr. Salazar led the local movement to incorporate instruments such as drums and guitars into the service. In Indiana, where Mr. Salazar grew up, his family worked in the potato and mint fields. He was very active in the National Farm Workers Association movement begun by Cesar Chavez, starting in 1967 with boycotting and helping with marches. (The family played at the Cesar Chavez Memorial Service in Indianapolis.) While still a teenager, Mr. Salazar quit working the fields and joined Steel Warehouse in South Bend, where he still works, now as an account manager. A community leader, he was one of the original co-founders and one of the first Directors of La Casa de Amistad, serving its the board of directors for more than a decade. He was a Boy Scout scoutmaster, a member of The Salvation Army Kroc Community Center’s arts committee and helped coordinate United Way of St. Joseph County’s annual campaign for more than 28 years. Mr. Salazar received a key from the St. Joseph County Commissioners in 2010 and the Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major Award in 2013. The couple has five children and nine grandchildren.
Norval Williams and Sareena Williams
Norval and Sareena Williams have worked in the field of public safety and community uplift since making their permanent home in South Bend. Both were born in South Bend, but Mr. Williams remained and eventually graduated from Adams High School before serving his country as a Marine in Vietnam. Mrs. Williams moved with her family to Niles, Mich., graduating from Niles High School and attending Western Michigan University. The couple married in 1969 and lived in California for a while before returning to South Bend. Mr. Williams served his community as a police officer for the South Bend Police Department from 1970 until 1997, retiring with the rank of lieutenant. He then worked as director of security for the Juvenile Justice Center, as assistant chief for the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department and provided security to Oprah Winfrey for 14 years. Mrs. Williams has been active in the NAACP since her youth. She was crowned Miss NAACP in 1963. She is also a member of South Bend Drifters and Women in Motion and Greater St. John Missionary Baptist Church. She retired from AM General in 2010, a job she held since 1972. The couple has two children and four grandchildren.
George 'Jack' Woolridge and Christyne Woolridge
George Woolridge and the late Christyne Woolridge possessed a deep and abiding commitment to this community. The Woolridges provided leadership in the fields of education, finance and community service. Mr. Woolridge, a Central High School graduate who received a master’s in education from Indiana University, worked as an educator in the Mishawaka Public Schools and the South Bend Community School Corp. where he was the first African American human resources director. He played an instrumental role in defusing racial tensions at Washington High School in the 1970s. He also graduated in 1957 from the Indiana School of Mortuary Science in Indianapolis and volunteered for more than 19 years at the Chapin Street Clinic in South Bend. Christyne Woolridge, a graduate of Adams High School, worked for the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce, was vice-president of marketing at Key Bank, WSBT and Hickey Construction. After retiring from Key Bank, Mrs. Woolridge served as a permanent substitute teacher at Madison Primary Educational Center. The couple devoted their lives to community service through their church, First United Methodist, as well as through Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Married on March 17, 1957, the Woolridges have three children. Mrs. Woolridge passed away Christmas Day 2011.
Mrs. White is recognized as a Trailblazer for being the first black crossing guard and one of the first black LPNs hired at Saint Joseph Hospital.
Ms. Robles is a Trailblazer for the voice she has established for not only Latino/a students, but for all bilingual children and their families. Her life is filled with stories of cultural immersion.
John Charles Bryant
Mr. Bryant is a Trailblazer because of his tireless efforts in educating the community about the importance of gathering and maintaining documentation of history and particularly, Black History.
Her strong determination to become a registered nurse and her fight for acceptance into a segregated field has brought Mrs. Welch recognition as a Trailblazer for this community and her profession.
Dr. S. Bernard Vagner