Martin Ortiz (1919-2009), founder of the Whittier College (CA) Center of Mexican American Affairs, was an educator who inspired students by his words and deeds for generations. Ortiz was born in Wichita, KS. His parents migrated to the United States and settled in Wichita soon after the end of the Mexican Revolution. Ortiz loved going to school, even though at the time he knew little English. He dropped out of school at age 13 after being ridiculed by one of his teachers. That experience taught him, “Don’t cry – qualify,” which became a slogan he would use with his students
Three years after dropping out of school, Ortiz enrolled at North High School and excelled in the classroom. In his senior year he was elected student council president, the first Latino at North to hold the position. He graduated in 1940 as class valedictorian.
He attended Friends University due to his friends’ encouragement and their help paying his tuition before joining the Marines to fight in World War II. While in the Marines, he learned to speak Japanese and Samoan and served as a language specialist and aerologist.
After the war, Ortiz earned his bachelor’s degree at Whittier College and a masters at George Williams College (now Aurora University). He returned to Whittier College in 1958 to teach sociology. In 2004, Ortiz was awarded an honorary doctorate fromWhittier College.
Ten years later, Ortiz founded Whittier College’s Center of Mexican American Affairs to help recruit Latino students to college and to help them obtain scholarships and jobs. He worked tirelessly to reach out to Latino youths to show them the importance of a higher education. Many of the students he helped enroll were the first in their families to attend college.
Several of the school’s cultural events are now collectively called the Ortiz Programs. Whittier College established the Martin Ortiz Endowment Scholarship Fund in 1994, to assist the college’s Hispanic/Latino students.
Besides education, Ortiz was involved in many local, national and international programs, including advising and consulting with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Public Health and with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Friends and colleagues say he never forgot his Wichita roots. He was inducted into North High School’s Hall of Fame in 2005.