Lupita Reyes held out in favor of Holland

Entrepreneurial leaders may seem like misfits in school – but they persevere.

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After graduating from Holland High School, Lupita married Celestino (“Tino”) Reyes and found it difficult to find an apartment to rent. So she shared her concerns with the Ottawa Board of Commissioners. Afterwards, she received notes urging her to go back to where she came from. But she didn’t listen.

Tino and Lupita started their family. To support her, Lupita took a part-time job as a sales clerk at JC Penney at Eighth Street and River Avenue, the former location of VanderVeen hardwarewhere JB and Me is today.

Next, she took a job as a legal secretary, then as an invoice clerk for a trucking company. But she wanted to help more people and she wanted a better paying job. To achieve that, she believed she needed a college degree.

So she drove to Grand Valley State University in Allendale to see a counselor. When she told the counselor that she believed she didn’t have the money or grades to go to college, the counselor demanded to see her high school transcripts.

Lupita drove to Holland High School to pick her up and then drove back to GVSU — all on the same day. The consultant was amazed. But then the advisor amazed Lupita. She told Lupita that her 3.0 GPA might be good enough to get her into college. Next, the counselor asked Lupita what she wanted to study. Lupita thought about social work.

But she still faced obstacles. It was the 1960s and Lupita had yet to tell Tino that she wanted to go to college. The first conversation didn’t go well. Lupita began to doubt her dream, and as she lost hope, she also began to doubt what the college counselor had said.

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A letter came in the mail three weeks later. At first, Lupita didn’t dare open it. If the school didn’t accept her, she would be disappointed – if they did, she would have to tell Tino her dream again.

She was not disappointed. So she made Tino his favorite meal and got out the letter after the children had slept. But his answer was the same. Lupita called her mother for support. This conversation didn’t go well either.

Steve VanderVeen

Undaunted, Lupita found a way. She organized her schedule to be available for her children when they came home from school. Then, when her classes began, she studied every free minute she had.

But there was headwind again. One of her professors told her she couldn’t be a mother and go to school. At home, it felt like Tino treated her with silence.

But that would change. Seeing her success both as a mother and as a student, Tino softened. He also started joking with her, telling her he didn’t want her to be his analyst. He also supported her other efforts.

Then another hurdle. Back at school, for an oral exam, the professor was fifteen minutes late. When Lupita asked him about it, he tried to intimidate her by naming them and threatening to withhold her grade and thus her diploma. Undaunted again, Lupita stood his ground and reported the abuse.

The result? In addition to graduating from university, Lupita graduated with a 4.0 GPA and a job at Holland Hospital. Then, while still working at the hospital, she enrolled at WMU and earned a Masters in Social Work. She later enrolled at Aquinas College and earned a Masters in Management. But that was just the beginning.

In 1981, Reyes joined the fundraising cabinet of the Hospice of Holland. She then left Holland Hospital and began a counseling program at Catholic Human Development. Two years later, she returned to Holland Hospital for a supervisory role. There she was a member of the Holland Public Schools Crisis Team and Partners for Better Education of West Ottawa Public Schools.

In 1995, Reyes co-founded the Holland Community Health Center to provide primary health care to uninsured and underinsured individuals and families. Then she was its director for ten years.

In 2005 she co-founded the Lakeshore Latino Outreach Center. Today she runs her own counseling center. Tomorrow I think she will write a book.

The information for this article comes from an interview with Lupita Reyes, Bob Swierengas “Holland, Michigan”. Digital Commons and WHTC.

— Community columnist Steve VanderVeen is based in Holland. Contact him through

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