Abel Chavez considers himself “a disciple for paying it forward.”
From a life-changing visit to his Los Alamos, New Mexico high school by fellow trumpeter Doc Severinsen of The Tonight Show … to meeting his future wife as students at CU Boulder … to John Davis mentoring Chavez’s son, Armando, on the jazz saxophone long before Davis would go on to become Dean of the CU Boulder College of Music—Chavez has much to be thankful for over a lifetime that’s been equal parts blessings and tragedy.
“One moment your life can be turned upside down and inside out,” says the retired longtime telecommunications government affairs director from Pueblo. “But music is such an important part of our well-being. It can be a therapy for a woman who is experiencing postpartum depression. It can be a therapy for people struggling with Alzheimer's and dementia. It was and still is therapeutic for me.”
Chavez’s heart is so full from the joy of music, family, faith and philanthropy, you might never know how often it has been broken. Chavez lost his wife, College of Music alumna Rebecca Beardmore Chavez, in a 1996 auto collision. Their daughter, Briana Lee Rees, passed away unexpectedly in 2018.
“But I was able to bounce back,” Chavez says, “by using music and philanthropy as a way of healing.”
Chavez established a music scholarship endowment to honor Rebecca in 1996 and made another major contribution in 2018 to pay tribute to Briana. The Rebecca Beardmore Chavez/Briana Lee Rees Music Education Scholarship Endowment has benefitted 80 students to date and is currently valued at more than $110,000.
And in November, Chavez created a new $25,000 endowed fund to foster Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts through the College of Music’s American Music Research Center (AMRC). AMRC Director Susan Thomas calls Chavez’s support for the AMRC’s DEI efforts “inspirational.”
Chavez’s resume is long and impressive: More than 40 years at CenturyLink and all its telecom predecessors. First Hispanic chairman of the board of the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce. Chairman of the board of the Parkview Medical Center. Board member of the United Way of Pueblo, Pikes Peak United Way, Pueblo Symphony and many more.
He joined the College of Music’s advisory board in the 1990s with the goal of improving facilities. Now that the $57 million addition to the Imig Music Building has placed CU Boulder among the top public music programs in the nation, Chavez—as a member of the AMRC's advisory board—has turned his attention to opening more doors to Hispanic, Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) student artists.
Chavez has known for all his life what it’s like to be part of an underrepresented community. Even though Pueblo is 51 percent Hispanic, “we still have issues around diversity, equity and inclusion,” he says.
“The bottom line here is that we have a real opportunity to use the American Music Research Center as a uniting force to bring together people of different cultures, ethnicities, perspectives and walks of life. I see this work as not only educational, but as a strategy to improve the environment in which persons of color are pursuing their educations at CU Boulder.”
Chavez doesn’t look at giving of his time—or his money—as a moral responsibility. It’s in his DNA. “Life is so precious,” he says. “I think the best way we can show our kindness and caring for others is by helping them.”