Six months after being named the chief executive officer of the Clovis Veterans Memorial District, Lt. Col. Lorenzo Rios has worked to refine what the district’s focus will be.
“The first three months were dedicated to really listening, learning and taking note of what this district does,” he said. “Now, as we move forward, we’ve started a process of exploring where the district is going.
“The board has asked me to explore some things with the Heritage Center, and I’m working closely with the community to bring partners together to see how do we best serve our community by maximizing its utility,” Rios said.
The Heritage Center, projected to open in Spring 2016, will serve as an education center focusing on the regional history of Clovis and emphasizing veterans.
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“They’ll have some veterans’ tributes in there, but there’ll also be some tributes to the lumber industry, the flume — a 42-mile flume that helped create some of the realities that we have year,” Rios explained.
“The Heritage Center will ultimately be a place that provides an experiential learning environment,” Rios said. “What that means is, it’s not just a place where you go to see a bunch of cool things. It’s a place where you go and experience the history of our valley.”
In addition to the Heritage Center, the district looks forward to a new civic center that will be centered around a new library, senior center and transit hub, Rios said.
Prior to being named CEO at CVMD, Rios served for more than 20 years in the military, where he was decorated veteran and served in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rios was born in Tecoman, Colima, Mexico, and spent his early life in Washington, where his family ended up settling down several years after Rios was born.
The son of migrant workers, Rios became frustrated with the labels put on him as he entered into the school system.
“When you get to school, then all of the sudden you’re a migrant, so you go into migrant [education] and there’s these special programs designed to take care of you, but you don’t know that you have any special needs — the special needs are now being placed on you as a label,” Rios said. “When I’m asked, ‘Were my formidable years tough?’ They weren’t tough until I was educated that supposedly they were tough.”
Rios started to become bitter, he remembered.
“I started believing and living down to expectations, as opposed to living up to my potential,” Rios said. “My mom and dad — they had it right. They would say, ‘Mijo, you don’t live up to this, it’s just you being lazy. It’s not that God blessed you with anything less.’
Enlisting in the Marine Corps was what changed Rios’ thinking.
“The Marine Corps was this wonderful cathartic experience — it was cleansing, if you will,” he said. “When I went to the Marine Corps, what I discovered was, they strip you of any preconceived notions.
“And all of a sudden, this meritocracy, where merit prevails,” Rios continued. “Not who you are, where you come from, what part of town you come from, or your skin is too dark or too light. It’s now this basis of merit.”
Rios would serve in the Marine Corps for roughly a year before having to leave when his father fell ill.
While enrolled in Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, Rios was invited to join the college’s Army ROTC program.
Over the next 20 years, Rios enlisted as an officer in active duty, taught classes at West Point and served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan before coming to Fresno State to serve as a professor of military science. At Fresno State, Rios would serve as the commander of the college’s Army ROTC Bulldog Battalion.
While at Fresno State, Rios worked to train students for leadership roles, said Nancy Kobata, who worked with Rios there.
“We implemented a leadership series here at Fresno State, we implemented an etiquette dinner for our cadets, we did commissioning ceremonies,” Kobata said.
In August, Rios officially retired from the Army and took his job with the district.
“In this position, I have the opportunity of working with some remarkable people. This district has five board members that are elected from the community, and I have the opportunity of working with them and taking their vision and applying it in their community,” Rios said. “And I have to tell you, I’m excited.”