This year, two new members will be welcomed into the the Swanton Local Schools Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame. Sesario Duran and Steven T. Haller will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Monday. The threat of inclement weather forced a postponement of the event originally scheduled for Friday.
They will be honored at a luncheon and during the Swanton varsity basketball game. The inductees are also scheduled to speak to Swanton students Monday afternoon.
Sesario Duran was one of the brightest members of the Swanton High School 1958 class. He excelled in all studies, in athletics, and was active in extracurricular activities. He has indicated that the outstanding teachers that he encountered in the Swanton Local School District contributed distinctly to his life choice and his successes.
Duran was a co-founder, officer and 49-year member of the Board of Directors of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). In 1986 FLOC reached a landmark national agreement with Campbell Soup, and the Growers Association immediately raised migrant workers’ wages by $1 per hour and provided the workers with health insurance. Agreements with Heinz, Vlasik and others followed. In the next 10 years FLOC was instrumental in doubling the hourly wage of migrant workers. Duran was instrumental in reaching all of these agreements.
He was also very active in the training, education, and consulting for the urban poor, and assisting them in achieving self-determination.
Duran’s roots are in Texas, but he spent many of his early years traveling. Born in Crystal City, Texas, to a family of 10 children, Sesario remembers leaving school early some years to migrate north to work the fields. Sesario’s dad worked for a railroad company in Texas, but was able to make more money working in the fields in the summer. So, he took summers off to follow the “migrant stream,” a path from the south to the north which migrants frequently traveled throughout the season to find field work.
Sesario and his family first traveled all the way north to Minnesota, planting sugar beets, then moved on to North Dakota to work in the onion fields, and then return to Minnesota to harvest the sugar beets. Then they worked their way south to Oklahoma to pick cotton.
“Being a large family, it was hard,” he said. “We all had to help provide for the family.”
In 1947, Duran’s family moved to Swanton, where they worked in the cucumber and tomato fields – the same fields that he would later work with FLOC to organize.
After graduation from Swanton High School in 1958, he joined the Army. He served for 8 years – 6 months as active duty, and then almost 7.5 years in the Reserves. He says the Army gave him time to think about what he wanted to do with his life, and work toward a college education.
The work ethic Duran learned in the fields prepared him well as he entered his 20s, pursued higher education and entered the job market. He quickly became a “jack of all trades.” He studied psychology and sociology and earned an Associate’s Degree in social work. He studied history and various trades. He has worked repairing vending machines and televisions, and he has worked in factories, including a plant that makes pots and pans. He even worked on the instruments that check measurements on jet engines at Continental Aviation for a period of time, and tutored non-English speaking children. If Sesario didn’t know how to do a job, he quickly proved he could learn.
In 1968, he met Baldemar Velasquez, who at the time was just beginning to organize farmworkers in Ohio. Duran listened as Velasquez spoke at a church gathering, and remembers thinking, “Wow, he was believable, and right away he convinced me to get involved.” Sesario and his brother, Ysidro, who was also organizing in the Latino community at that time, started visiting migrant labor camps and talking to farmworkers about FLOC. “Within a short period of time, we had worker meetings,” he said.
For the next 10 years, Sesario worked with FLOC on the weekends, evenings, and in between jobs to continue to build a base of support in the fields and in the community. “We used to go house to house and invite people to a meeting on a Sunday, and hold the meeting in a park so people could bring their families.”
Sesario’s wife, Lucy, and his two children, Sonja and Tony, were also involved in FLOC’s work. Sesario notes that women played an especially important role in the early years of FLOC’s organizing. “Lucy and I would go out to camps together and talk to people, and sometimes when I would talk to the men they would say things are fine. But when Lucy talked to the women, they would say, ‘We need help.’”
Lucy said she was able to connect on a personal level with the women, and they felt comfortable opening up to her about problems in the fields and in the camps. “The women not only worked in the fields, they also cooked at the camp, cleaned, and then got meals ready for the next day. They knew about all of the problems,” Lucy remembered.
As FLOC grew, Sesario dedicated more and more of his time to the work. For a few years he ran FLOC’s co-op, which served as an organizing base for the community.
“It’s what gave me a lot of gray hairs,” he said. “I was there from 7 in the morning until 11 at night. I didn’t know anything about running a co-op, we just learned by doing.”
In 1999 after a broken hand ended his work at a plant, he began working full time for FLOC. He laughs as he remembers his first day in the office. “Some kid handed me some paper and pencils and showed me a computer, but the computer didn’t even work!”
For the past 16 years, he has dedicated countless hours to organizing the community through the worker center in the FLOC office, working with immigrant workers to find jobs, navigate a complicated immigration system, translate when needed, and continue assisting workers in the camps.
FLOC has celebrated its 50th anniversary, and Sesario is proud to say that he has been a part of all of the major historic moments in its history. He says FLOC gave him opportunities he will never forget. “I was able to travel all over the world with FLOC.”
Other awards received by Sesario Duran in the past have been the 2012 Distinguished Hispanic Ohioan Award, the 2013 Diamante Award: Latino Adult Leadership Recipient, and the 2014 Lifetime of Service and Organizing, Farm Labor Organizing Committee.
Steven T. Haller attended Crestwood Elementary and Swanton High School graduating in 1995.
In his senior season, Haller received NWOAL league honorable mention in football and was selected to participate in the Northwest Ohio All-Star football game held in Perrysburg.
He received his B.S. from the University of Toledo in 2003, his M.S. in Molecular Basis of Disease in 2005, and his doctorate in Biomedical Science in 2012. Following his doctorate, Haller completed post-doctoral training at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences with a post-doctoral fellowship from the American Heart Association.
He is currently an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences where he is also co-director of the Women and Philanthropy Genetic Analysis Center.
During his early college years, Haller worked at Scottdel Cushion, LLC in Swanton. It’s a position he holds in high regard for working with outstanding members of the local community, which provided real world experience while helping to finance his college education.
Haller’s primary interests involve interrogating the molecular mechanisms that lead to end stage renal disease and developing therapeutic cures as well as investigating the molecular mechanisms that cause kidney tissue rejection following kidney transplantation.
End stage renal disease affects more than 650,000 patients per year and nearly 2 million world wide. Treatment cost are estimated at $89,000.00 per patient with an annual cost of $42 billion. Roughly more than 100,000 patients in the U.S. are on the kidney transplant list, but there are less than 20,000 available donors.
Haller has published over 30 peer-reviewed articles in highly respected journals and has received funding on a national, state, and local level from the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, the Ohio Department of Higher Education, the University of Toledo Medical Research Society, and the University of Toledo Women and Philanthropy to support his research. Haller has been routinely invited to present his work at national meetings including annual meetings of the American Heart Association and the American Society of Nephrology.
His work has also gained international attention as he received a travel award and was selected as a finalist for a young investigator award from the combined meeting of the European Society of Hypertension and International Society of Hypertension held in Athens, Greece in 2014.
In addition to his work investigating kidney disease, Haller is an active member of the University of Toledo Water Task Force with the central mission to investigate the potentially harmful effects of algal blooms on the surrounding community. He was recently awarded three grants from the Ohio Department of Higher Education to determine how potentially harmful algal blooms effect those with pre-existing disease states such as lung, liver, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Haller currently resides in Maumee with his Lauren, a 2015 graduate of the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences (M.D., Ph.D.). He is very proud of Swanton and the school system which provided the frame work for his professional education and he routinely enjoys visiting with friends and family in the local community.