When you ask Estanislao “Tano” Tovilla what brought him to Seward County Community College as Chief Development Officer, his answer centers on family and belonging. But the journey that led him to this community college on the High Plains started far away, in Mexico, nearly two decades ago.
“I love this community, and my life here,” he says. “You know, I was born in Mexico, raised in Mexico, and I will be there after I die … but I am a proud American citizen now, and this is the place that has become home.”
Tano and his wife, Paty, arrived in Liberal in 2002, a relocation prompted by his work with Seaboard Foods. He’d earned a bachelor’s degree in veterinary science from the Universidad Nacional Autonomy de Mexico, the largest university in Latin America, and a master’s from the United States-based Belmont University. The couple were both from Mexico City, population 23 million. When Seaboard offered the Tovilla family a choice of living in Liberal or Guymon, Okla., they decided a slightly larger community would help counterbalance their culture shock.
“We thought we’d live here two years, then relocate to somewhere a little more urban,” he recalls with a laugh. “That was 16 years ago, and this is the place we’ve raised our kids, been part of church and the community, made friends. We’re living the American dream!”
Over time, Tovilla branched out from his work as production supervisor to recruiting specialist for Seaboard, and then took a position as recruitment manager for Southwest Medical Center. For the past two years, he returned to agriculture, helping Kansas Smith Farms expand its operations through business development that nearly doubled the number of operating farms.
Along the way, he obtained resident status and then, after another five years, American citizenship. The process gave him insight into issues that clamor for headlines today.
“We came and we did everything right — and still, it took 12 years,” he said. “My brother, who emigrated to Canada at the time we came here, was a resident after six months, and a citizen in two years. My mother jokes that she raised two sons in Mexico, and then the family branched out to all of North America.”
Tovilla is fiercely patriotic about the United States.
“The pride people have, the love they have for their country, you feel it so strongly,” he said. “And our kids, they’re American. They went to LHS, and felt that pride, they’re in college now, and that sense of belonging and identification, they have it inside.” The couple’s son, Emilio, is a pre-law student at Regis University in Denver, having completed concurrent college credits at SCCC during high school, and daughter Ana plans to enroll at SCCC in January.
“She’ll be a Saint like her mother,” Tovilla noted, pointing to his wife’s teaching credentials obtained through SCCC and Newman University. Paty now teaches for USD 480.
As CDO, Tovilla will helm the SCCC Foundation office, and work closely with donors and patrons as the construction of the Colvin Family Allied Health Center begins before year’s end, with the Sharp Champions Center on the horizon. Through the Foundation, Tovilla will also impact the lives of many SCCC students who receive scholarship funding through the non-profit organization’s endowment.
“This is a different field for someone who’s been in the ag business, and I have things to learn,” Tovilla said. “Like all business connections, it’s working with people, and getting people involved.” In addition to his time at the hospital, Tovilla has been an integral part of LEAD, the Liberal community leadership development program, and the Southwest Aquatics Team for children and youth. The latter eventually led to the formation of a swim team at LHS, and has provided a steady stream of capable swimmers and Red Cross-certified lifeguards.
The strength and diversity of the SCCC Foundation Board and the SCCC team overall are impressive, Tovilla said, and he looks forward to years of success as a team.
“We are positioned to move the college to the next level, in terms of its finance, academics, athletics, the foundation, the community connections,” he said. “I’m so excited to be part of that.”
SCCC President, Dr. Ken Trzaska, shares the sense of positive momentum.
“At the college, we continue to shine in adding Tano to our team. It was a long process to find the right fit in the development office and while he has some big shoes to fill, we are delighted that he has joined us in our effort to move Seward Forward through strong collaboration and team work,” he said.
“I go home from work in the evening, and my wife can’t believe I’m so happy. I’m the last one in our household to become part of the Saints family,” Tovilla reflected. “It feels good to be Green!’