Rogelio 'Roy' Dominguez shares journey of his family to the Calumet Region

2012-09-16T00:00:00Z 2012-09-17T17:39:07Z Rogelio 'Roy' Dominguez shares journey of his family to the Calumet RegionBy Jane Ammeson Times Correspondent
September 16, 2012 12:00 am  • 

His family's lesson of courage and values are at the core of former Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez's success.

Attorney Rogelio “Roy” Dominguez, Lake County sheriff from 2002 to 2010, deputy prosecutor and chair of the Indiana Worker’s Compensation Board, first came to the Calumet Region from the family home in Texas riding in the back of a pickup truck (“it had a cab on the top,” Dominquez is quick to point out) with his five siblings. His mother and uncle rode in the front.

They were joining Dominguez’s father, who had journeyed in advance for a job in the steel mills.

“My mom, dad and my grandparents were migrant workers and we used to go with them picking cotton in Texas,” Dominguez said. “We came to Northwest Indiana so that we would have better opportunities. But it took a lot of courage for my parents, leaving many of their family behind.”

It’s the courage of all immigrants like his parents that inspired Dominguez to write "Valor: The American Odyssey of Roy Dominguez" as told to James B. Lane, with a forward by Evan Bayh (Indiana University Press 2011; $18). Dominguez said the book is dedicated to all those whose forebears came to this country and the struggles endured in order to give their children a better life.

“In Spanish the word valor means more than courage it means courage and values,” Dominguez said. “That’s what my parents taught us, the courage to face the challenges we met. The value wasn’t to be a lawyer, it was always to do our best and get a good education.”

The family’s battles to survive had always been daunting.

“In the 1930s, my maternal grandfather, who was a migrant, was working in a 100-degree heat, when his 10-month old son swallowed detergent,”Dominguez said. “He asked the overseer if he could take him to the doctor and the overseer responded by saying 'I thought you were here to work in the fields, not go to the doctor.' So my grandfather walked into town carrying his son to the doctor but by the time he got there, his son was dead, his intestines had ruptured.”

IU Northwest Professor Emeritus James B. Lane first met Dominguez in the 1980s when both were active members of the Latino Historical Society and he believed that his story was worth preserving.

“I’ve had an interest in Mexican-American history in the Calumet Region,” said Lane, who has authored as well as edited a number of area history books including "City of the Century: A History of Gary, Indiana" and "Gary's First Hundred Years: A Centennial History of Gary, Indiana 1906-2006.” “And I respected Roy both as a person and a politician.”

When the two met at an event honoring former Gary mayor Richard Hatcher, the country’s first African-American chief executive in 2008, Lane suggested Dominguez might want to donate his personal papers to the IU Northwest Calumet Regional Archives.

“Roy came to me later thinking I could write something about his life,” Lane said, "but I told him I was an oral historian.”

So instead the two met at the Calumet Regional Archives on a weekly basis and Lane would take tapes of the interviews and transcribe them, giving the transcriptions back to Dominguez so he could make additions and corrections.

“The book is his story in his words,” Lane said. “My contribution was to take his words and help put them in order.”

The values Jesse and Inocensia Dominguez instilled in their children bore fruit. Though he grew up in a gang-infested area of Gary, Dominguez graduated with distinction from Indiana University Northwest before becoming Indiana’s first Hispanic state trooper.

He then earned his law degree at Valparaiso Law School.

“Just when Dominguez was ready to start a family and embark on a promising legal career as a deputy prosecutor, he was stricken by Guillain-Barré syndrome,” wrote Lane in the book’s afterward. “How he coped with and eventually overcame this debilitating affliction is a compelling subtheme of 'Valor.'”

The illness hit Dominguez hard.

“I was 29 years old and I couldn’t walk,” he said. “I was in the hospital in the Parkinson and M.S. ward and I thought, what nightmare is this?”

Recovering little by little, Dominguez needed a cane to walk and his muscles were weak. About the same time, his sister was diagnosed with leukemia, a disease that would eventually kill her.

“She said you know if I had what you had, I would be dancing in the street,” Dominguez said. “It made me realize I’m not the only one.”

Indeed, when Dominguez, who is the father of three and now a practicing attorney, looks back he remembers not only the stellar parts of his career but also, more importantly, the kindness of others.

One of those memories is leaving a building with Evan Bayh who at the time was governor of Indiana. They were part of a group heading to another meeting.

“We were walking down the stairs and it was pouring rain but my arms were too weak to hold the umbrella over my head,” he recalled.

“Governor Bayh was already in the car but he looked up and saw me getting soaked. He got out of the car, grabbed an umbrella from an aide who was holding one out for him and came up to me. He held the umbrella over my head while we walked down the stairs even though he was getting wet. That is the type of man he is.”

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