Manny Sanchez, one of the founding members of the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees, said an emotional farewell to the board Thursday, saying that while his title at the university had changed, his pride in the institution had not.
“I am ending my status as a trustee at NIU, but not my status as a lifelong ‘Go Huskies!’ NIU alum … and I’m proud of that,” he said in an emotion-choked voice.
Sanchez’s smiling face, booming voice and infectious laugh have been a fixture at campus events from NIU Foundation fundraisers to football games throughout his 15-year tenure on the board. He was a tireless promoter of NIU, whether talking to fellow alums or lobbying on behalf of the university in Springfield.
His devotion to NIU in began in 1966 when he arrived on campus as a first-generation college student full of street smarts earned growing up on the West Side of Chicago.
However, he was not prepared for what he found in the cornfields of DeKalb County. “It may only have been 65 miles west of Chicago, but for me it was 65 worlds away from where I grew up.”
He adjusted quickly, however, and flourished.
He graduated with a degree in political science in 1970, and then went on to the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his law degree and served as president of his class.
Returning to Chicago to practice law, he eventually founded Sanchez Daniels & Hoffman, which today is the nation’s largest minority-owned law firm. He also built a reputation as a civic leader, serving on many the city’s most prominent boards and foundations.
Reflecting on Sanchez’s success, NIU President John Peters said that the outgoing trustee epitomized the story of the thousands of first-generation college students who have had a transformational experience at the university. “You think about Manny … Manny is the NIU success story. He is what NIU is all about,” Peters said.
When the call came from Gov. Jim Edgar in 1995 to become a founding member of the NIU Board of Trustees, Sanchez jumped at the chance. By 2001, he was elected chair of the board, becoming the first Latino in Illinois to head up a public university board and one of a select few in the nation’s history.
While involved in all aspects of university business, he placed special emphasis on expanding opportunities and support for Latino students.
During his tenure as chair, he organized a groundbreaking conference that brought together key lawmakers, national policymakers, renowned educators and Latino community leaders to begin dialogue on how to improve college retention and graduation rates for Latinos.
His many other contributions included playing a major role in successful efforts to pass Senate Bill 770, which resulted in the university’s acquisition of 200 acres now know as the West Campus – the largest land acquisition by NIU in the last half century.
Sanchez also helped preside over a campus building boom that included dozens of construction projects such as the Convocation Center, NIU-Naperville, the Center for Latino and Latin American Studies, a new Campus Child Care Center, the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center, Barsema Hall and the renovation of Altgeld Hall.
However, he is most proud of serving as part of the search committee that brought Peters to the university 12 years ago.
“I think that is the proudest accomplishment I have as a trustee,” he said. “Look at where we have gone thanks to that great leader.”
While he is stepping down from the board, Sanchez will remain active in issues related to higher education. Last year, President Obama appointed him to serve on the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to try to elevate the whole situation for Latinos in this country,” said Sanchez, reiterating his belief that some sort of educational opportunity beyond high school is the key to improving lives for future generations.