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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Alvaro Was Admired As A Gifted Community Leader


February 17, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

Wilberto "Papo" Alvaro was not born in Milwaukee but sank deep roots here -- nearly as deep as his proud Puerto Rican heritage.

Alvaro was manager of facilities for the Social Development Commission, earlier serving as director of its Southside Neighborhood Services Center.

He was fatally injured early Saturday when the car he was driving was struck head-on by a vehicle going the wrong way on I-894, according to the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department. Alvaro, of East Troy, was pronounced dead at the scene. He was 53.

The other driver, an 18-year-old Greendale man whose name has not been released, received head and internal injuries. He was arrested on suspicion of homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle.

Dedicated community leader

Friends and family described Alvaro as a gifted community leader, someone dedicated to helping people.

He was born in Cayey, Puerto Rico, coming to Milwaukee when he was 14. There he soon met his future wife, Georgia Hotchkiss. The two were friends, hanging out with other friends, and began to date a year later.

"We always said we grew up together," Georgia Alvaro said.

"He was probably one of the most likable, the most intelligent person I ever met in my life. I was lucky to have him."

The couple celebrated 35 years of marriage on Feb. 3.

Alvaro attended Lincoln, South Division and Bay View high schools, then earned his degree in social services from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1976.

In 1982, Alvaro was working in electrical sales for Cutler- Hammer when he was transferred to Puerto Rico, in charge of sales in the Caribbean and South America. He moved his family to Puerto Rico.

Sons shared dad's heritage

"That's when my brother and I got our first real taste of my dad's culture," said son Joseph Alvaro, also known as Joey.

They were then about the same age -- Joey, 13, and Gino, 14 -- as their father had been when he came to Milwaukee.

"He got to show his sons where he grew up, show us the culture," Joey Alvaro said. "My father was Puerto Rican to the bone. He lived it, breathed it, tasted it. He had a lot of pride in his culture."

Alvaro returned to the Milwaukee area in 1989. He worked for La Casa de Esperanza, a community-based agency in Waukesha, as director of business-community relations. In 1993, he joined the SDC's planning and research department, later being promoted to other positions.

Agency gets expanded focus

"SDC was pretty much known as an African-American agency. He came in and pretty much dispelled all those assumptions," said his close friend and co-worker Andre Robinson.

"And he introduced me to his cousin," Robinson said. "And now she is my wife."

As Southside center director, Alvaro helped expand programs to meet the diverse needs of the Latino and Asian communities, including the Hmong.

About two years ago, he took the position of SDC facilities manager. He was instrumental in accomplishing the agency's recent move to an administrative facility at W. Capitol Drive and N. Richards St.

"He made it happen," Robinson said. "He enjoyed it because it challenged him."

Partner and mentor

Tasha Jenkins, executive director for Fighting Back, recruited her friend to serve on the non-profit's board in 1998. Fighting Back is a youth program to prevent substance abuse.

"He was a definite leader on our board," Jenkins said. "In his work, he was someone who could pull people together around any issue, even people who didn't really want to work together. He was a partner and a mentor for many other Hispanic leaders."

Robinson agreed that their friend served a special niche in the community.

"A lot of people are hurting right now," he said. "Papo knew so many people in the community, so many people loved him. He brought life to every party, every event, everyday work. He was the last person you would expect to die."

In addition to Alvaro's wife, survivors include his mother, Wilda Rosario; grandmother Dominga Tirado; daughter Erika; and sons Gino and Joseph. Other survivors include sister Jamie; brothers Roberto and Richard; grandchildren; and other relatives.

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