Mary Lou Chapa and Linda Chapa LaVia

Influential Mother, Daughter Named Waubonsee “Fab 40” Alumnae

Mary Lou Chapa, left, and her daughter, State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, sit outside of Rep. Chapa LaVia’s downtown Aurora office. Waubonsee Community College is proud to honor the highly successful mother/daughter duo as part of the college’s “Fabulous 40” initiative.
Sugar Grove — A history of strong women runs in the family for State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia. Her mother, Mary Lou Chapa, is a successful local businesswoman who overcame racial prejudice and sexism to flourish in the realty business. Her maternal grandmother also had the entrepreneurial and community-minded spirit that has been passed down to her. Waubonsee Community College is proud to honor both mother and daughter, Mary Lou Chapa and State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, as members of the college’s “Fabulous 40” alumni.

As part of the college’s yearlong 40th anniversary celebration, Waubonsee is honoring 40 alumni and students who embody the mission, vision and values of the college. These individuals represent the diversity of Waubonsee’s students and the college district, as well as the diversity of the college’s mission as a comprehensive community college.

Chapa learned a lot about business and tenacity from her mother. Born and raised in Texas, Chapa remembers her mother taking a little red wagon all over town selling goods to make money for the family. She and her husband, Benito, came to Aurora from Texas and started their family, which would include four children — Linda being the youngest.

When Chapa decided to enter the realty business in the late 1960s, she was told that it was a “man’s business” and that she should reconsider her decision. There were no minority and few women realtors at the time.

“Everybody thought I was nuts to go into business myself,” she said. “Everybody thought I would fold, but I’ve been around as long as I have for a reason.”

Owner of Chapa Realty, Inc., which has been in business for 37 years, Chapa became a role model to local businesswomen and a fixture in the local economy. She was the first Latino realtor in the area.

“It’s been a good life,” she said. “I’ve worked with second and even third generations of families now.”

Earlier in her career, Chapa enrolled at Waubonsee and earned a nurses’ aide certificate to expand her knowledge base and opportunities. Although she never professionally used her degree, she saw her education as a positive experience.

“It was interesting and very rewarding,” she said. “It was something different. The teachers were all very helpful.”

Chapa is on the board of directors for Mutual Ground, the Visiting Nurse Association, Salvation Army and Harris Bank. She is a past member of the YWCA board and the Aurora Economic Development Commission. She is a member of the Aurora Tri-County Association of Realtors, the State Board of Realtors, and the Hispanic and Greater Aurora Chambers of Commerce. She was also named Aurora YWCA’s “Woman of Distinction.”

She has given back to the community by helping raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Cancer Foundation and Mutual Ground. She has also helped a number of other women become real estate agents and realtors.

With all of her success, though, like any other mother, she is more proud of her children’s achievements, including seeing her youngest child elected to represent Aurora and the 83rd district in the Illinois House. “One of my proudest moments was when Linda was elected,” Chapa said. “She had found her niche.”

Although Rep. Chapa LaVia obviously had phenomenal role models in her parents and has a realty background as well, she has found her own distinct path to success.

After starting her higher education at Northern Illinois University, Rep. Chapa LaVia decided to return home and enroll at Waubonsee. She studied journalism, wanting to become the first Hispanic female news anchor.

“Waubonsee is an amazing community college,” she said. “It is a doorway to get to the next level.”

While at Waubonsee, Rep. Chapa LaVia was an involved student in the classroom and out. She also worked at the Aurora Beacon to help pay for her education.

“It was an amazing time for education in my life,” she said. “I really wanted to succeed. I met so many great faculty members who pushed you to succeed. They really cared. When you get that sort of enthusiasm, you want to go further. Anybody can do anything if you have the heart.”

Rep. Chapa LaVia would go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Illinois-Chicago. There she was a cadet in the ROTC program. She would then serve as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army until 1993 and in the National Guard, where she was a First Lieutenant, until 1998.

“The training I received in the military, I have applied to my life now — caring about each other, being a public servant,” she said.

She remains active in military organizations including the Navy League, Post 84, Military Officers Association of America and AMVETS.

“One of the things I’m most humbled by is being able to do things for men and women who wear the uniform for our country,” Rep. Chapa LaVia said.

With her military experience and business acumen gained from working in the realty business, Chapa LaVia decided she could make a positive impact on the community through elected office. She went door-to-door, knocking on 31,000 doors to get her message out. Her tenacity paid off, and she became the first Hispanic elected to the Illinois Legislature outside of Cook County and the first Democrat elected in the 83rd district in two decades. She is the only female veteran in the Illinois House and Senate.

Now in her third term serving the 83rd district, which includes much of Aurora, her hometown, some of Rep. Chapa LaVia’s legislative passions include education, crime prevention, health care and job creation. She has gained acclaim for her efforts to reduce gang violence through community organizing projects.

“I love doing what I’m doing, making people part of the process,” she said. “When you help people, that’s when you know you’ve done a good job.”

Rep. Chapa LaVia stays active in the local business community. She is a member of the Greater Aurora Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the African-American Chamber of Commerce and the Tri-County Board of Realtors. She and her husband, Vernon LaVia, own several businesses including Defibrillators USA LLC. They donated a defibrillator to the Illinois House and Senate following one of her colleague’s collapse on the floor.

“Anybody can save a life,” she said.

Rep. Chapa LaVia has received numerous recognitions and awards during her career. She was named one of Crain’s Chicago Business’ “40 under 40,” an East Aurora High School Distinguished Alumna, the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans Inaugural Semper Fi Award, the Veterans Outreach Program of Illinois Outstanding Veteran Award, the Hesed House Hesed Hero Award and the Illinois Democratic Women Hillary Rodham Clinton Award. Like her mother, she was also named a “Woman of Distinction” by the Aurora YWCA.

The mother of two daughters, Veronica and Jaqueline, Rep. Chapa LaVia now passes on the strong mentorship and the legacy she received from her mother to her own children.