American Patriotic 11

Francisco M. Vega

February 28, 1922 ~ July 25, 2021 (age 99)


Francisco Miguel Nava Vega Lopez Tapia passed away peacefully at home surrounded by his family on 25 July 2021.

Francisco is survived by his wife of 75 years, Phyllis Jean Lackland; two daughters Margaret Vega (Tom Erdall), Liz Vega Calkins (Jeff); and son by affection, George K. Heartwell, Jr. (Susan); brother Lazaro Nava Vega, Jr. (Jan); Grandchildren Frank (Angela), Andrew (Kelley), Ben, Claire and Margaret.

Preceded in death by his daughter, Susan Dabrosky, his parents: Lazaro Nava Vega and Sarah Lopez Tapia de Vega, three sisters, Ninfa, Angelina, Lydia, a brother, Guillermo and his life- long friend and fishing companion, George K. Heartwell, Sr. (Doris).

Born in San Antonio, Texas, Francisco graduated from Central Catholic High School. Attended University of Michigan School of Business and graduated from Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, Michigan in Business Administration. He earned his letter in tennis and track for Aquinas College.

Francisco enlisted in World War II at the onset of the war, and was selected for JAG, an elite training school in Peoria, IL; A skilled typist, he specialized in decoding. After landing on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, on the D Day Invasion, he was stationed on the summit of the Eiffel tower transmitting codes. Francisco fought in five campaigns including Battle of the Bulge, the largest and most deadly battle in World War II.  He earned the bronze star as well as other medals of recognition for his leadership and service.

He is the proud descendant of General Santiago Tapia, who fought at age 13 with General Santa Anna, former president of Mexico. Tapia became the governor of three Mexican states including Puebla from 1862-66. Mexico City metro named Santiago Tapia Station in his honor.

A lifelong entrepreneur, business consultant in the US and Central America, and a passionate leader at the national level, Francisco volunteered with many community organizations including: 15 year Board Chairman, Kent County Department of Social Services; Economic Development Corporation of Grand Rapids, Michigan;  One of three founders of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan; Founder and Michigan Chairman, Republican National Hispanic Assembly, Washington D.C.; Grand Rapids Art Museum Board; Grand Rapids Sister Cities; Committee Chair: Ethnic Heritage Celebration; President: League of Latin American Citizens;  Grand Rapids City Commission; one of the 12 member national board, SER Jobs for Progress, Dallas Texas; Received the Governor Milliken appointment for Michigan Advisor Council for the Spanish Speaking, President of LAUPA, Latin American Council of Western Michigan and a member of the Panel of Americans for 10 years. He co-conceived and implemented the first Hispanic festival and parade; re named Hall Street School and Grandville Blvd to honor Cesar Chavez, and was instrumental in the development for the Millennium Park. In 1955, Vega designed and owned the first private cemetery open to all people regardless of race or religion.

Vega was a pioneer of bilingual education, Co-chair of the Grand Rapids Board of Education Advisory council on Bilingual Education and received the Distinguished Service Award of Michigan Education. He served as translator and interpreter for the chief of staff for the President of Mexico at the dedication of the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

He has awards from numerous organizations both state and nationally.

In 1975, Vega conceived and was co-founder of the National Hispanic Scholarship Fund, now the largest scholarship fund for Hispanic students in the U.S.

Francisco was always quick to offer his assistance whether it was reading to Spanish speaking children, or finding a way to unite families separated by war or borders.

As a leader in the Latino community and grassroots organizer for civil rights, Francisco worked with Cesar E. Chavez and Dolores Huerta in the late 60’s and remained passionate about the rights of others, equality and education throughout his life. He frequently traveled to the White House, advising Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Ford and Bush, Sr. as a presidential appointee on the Spanish Speaking Advisory Council to the Small Business Administration, Alliance for Progress in 1961 and assisted in coalescing the Latino vote.

An avid fly and trout stream fisherman, hunter and explorer, Francisco was a true man of the outdoors, poet of nature, and designer of ideas. He will be remembered for his insatiable curiosity in all things, fascination with technology, personal strength, love of family, compassion, dreams and genuine love of life. He will be missed for his depth of wisdom, his appreciation of art, architecture, history, music, his acknowledgement of the profound beauty of nature and his anticipation of each new day.

Perhaps, his life is best summed up in a song by Frank Sinatra, “My Way”

“I’ve lived a life that’s full

I traveled each and every highway

And more, much more

I did it, I did it my way” 

Our deep appreciation to Fernando, Kia and Qua for their exceptional care.

A private family burial was held at Woodlawn Cemetery, Grand Rapids, MI.

A Celebration of Life event is planned for early fall.

Donations can be sent to the Francisco M. Vega Scholarship at Aquinas College.

We have set up a scholarship fund for Francisco at Aquinas College. It will be awarded yearly to a Latino/a student who is in entrepreneurial business and shows an interest in community action.

Designate: the Francisco Miguel Nava Vega Lopez Tapia Scholarship
Thank you for keeping his passion for equality and education alive.


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