SIGNAL PEAK — They graduated high school together and then went on to attend Central Arizona College at the same time. Classmates Michael Flores II and Adriana Saavedra were honored Saturday evening, Nov. 20, for their contributions to the college and community with Vaquero Awards.

A third award recipient, longtime CAC coach Al Shirley, was elected into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

“I always say when I speak in public that the Class of 1998 has given so much to Coolidge,” Flores said, who is currently the President of the Coolidge Unified School District Governing Board.

Flores’ grandfather, William Flores, was the former Dean of CAC and along with Dr. Don Pence, was one of the founding organizers who originally brought the college to Signal Peak and Pinal County.

Flores said his grandfather’s outreach was integral for the college to become “the beautiful flower of Pinal County.”

Both Flores and Saavedra said much of their childhood was spent at CAC, doing activities like swimming in the summer and taking college-credit courses in high school.

“I remember my sister and I running around the rose garden here,” Saavedra said. “I remember the college-for-kids program, where we dissected sharks and owl pellets, which was gross and awesome.”

Flores, who attended CAC and later graduated from ASU with a degree in applied psychology, credits the CAC psychology professors with helping him overcome struggles related to dyslexia, which he never knew he had until college.

“When they diagnosed me, it was the happiest day of my life,” Flores joked. “That whole time, I never knew what was really wrong. CAC has been such a huge part of my life and helped make me who I am.”

Flores went on to work at Desert Winds Counseling and has spent the past few decades heavily involved in Coolidge community efforts such as the Coolidge Youth Coalition and alcohol-and-drug prevention programs. Saavedra actually stayed on at CAC to work as a librarian, and has gone on to become Director of Library Services.

“As a freshman I frequented the library so much that one of the librarians asked me if I wanted a job,” Saavedra said. “They gave me a compelling offer, saying: ‘You are always here anyway, if you work here we’ll give you tasks and when you’re done we will pay you to do your homework.’”

Later, Saavedra met her husband while working at the library.

The awards ceremony was the first in two years, as CAC did not give out Vaquero honors during the pandemic. The criteria for Vaquero Awards include those “who are our most ardent supporters and number one ambassadors.”

A keynote speech was delivered by Dr. Ofelia Zepeda, from the CAC Class of 1974. Zepeda is Tohono O’odham and is a linguistics professor at ASU, and is a distinguished author and poet.

The alumni Wall of Success was first established with 2009 to celebrate the school’s 40th anniversary. Prior to handing out awards, host Rick Gibson honored past Vaquero Award winners who had passed away including: former legislator Frank Pratt, CAC registrar Cherie McGlynn, Ak-Chin Chairman Louis Manuel Jr., and Richard Ervin Myers, who helped transform Eloy’s original Toltec School into a local history museum.

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Aaron Dorman is the Casa Grande reporter at PinalCentral, covering government, schools, business and more. He can be reached at adorman@pinalcentral.com.

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