ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Dr. Rudy Valdez had humble beginnings, growing up in Chicago in the 1960s to parents who had emigrated from Mexico.

“I actually thought that we were rich. The reason I thought we were rich is because we would go to the community center called the Urban Center in the thing. And I could have it’s much any one of us could have much cheese or chocolate milk that we wanted. So we’re like, Wow, this is good,” he recalled.

With his parents making sacrifices to ensure Valdez and his siblings were on the right track, he worked hard in school and eventually enrolled in the engineering program at the University of Illinois Chicago.

“That’s where I met my wife. She was my boss … in the food court because I had to get a job closer to food labs and stuff like that, close to the school. And she was the person in charge of student employment,” he remembered.

After graduation, Valdez moved to Rockford and began working at Sundstrand, which became Collins Aerospace. His engineering prowess led him to an assignment on NASA’s Space Shuttle program.

“Best job ever I was I worked for NASA. That’s a program, I should say. And the space shuttle, it was it was great. I got to be the astronaut go-to when I was the program manager, so I was able to send people down to watch launches. I went to watch launches myself, but they want to take advantage of it and send other people there,” he said.

As his professional successes grew, so did Valdez’ commitment to giving back to the wider community at large and Rockford’s Hispanic community in particular.

“The most important thing, two things that I remember my parents say, my father specifically is, throughout the years the message was, take care of your community because the community took care of us in our time of need,” he said.

Valdez has since donated his time to local schools and non-profits and has been recognized countless times for his generous contributions to area programs. He even ran for Rockford mayor.

Valdez said he is looking ahead to where he can make a difference in the lives of his community.