HONOR TO WHOM HONOR IS DUE:
The exemplary life of a great leader
April 1939 - June 2021 Written by: Teresa Martínez
Over the past two decades, the Polk County Hispanic community has had the unconditional support of the honorable engineer Eduardo Tapia, founder of the distinguished company Tapia Construction, lifetime director of the Hispanic Club and the hub of the Lakeland Hispanic Festival. His altruistic philosophy guided our mission to spread Hispanic culture, help and improve the community where we live, and promote local businesses. Through the Lakeland Hispanic Festival and other cultural events, the Hispanic Club has helped countless Latino families and countries when they have needed financial assistance and has awarded countless scholarships to students who have deserved academic recognition.
Eduardo Tapia's life has been an example of what a servant of God should be. Her story inspires us to be better citizens, to come together as one Hispanic people and try to improve the world we live in
Viva Polk has the great honor of telling his story to pay a small tribute to the great man and his legacy.
* In 1968, fleeing the communist regime that oppressed them, Eduardo and his wife Zenia decided to leave Cuba with their daughters Jacqueline, Patricia and Zenia. Like all the successful professionals who made the decision to emigrate during those times, Eduardo first had to serve the Castro government in a forced labor camp for 49 months. In this type of concentration camp, they were made to work twelve hours a day planting, fertilizing and cutting the cane fields. They had the right to visit their families for a few hours every two weeks. They were punished if they protested by canceling family visits or delaying their departure from the country. His only crime was wanting to live in a country far from the communist system.
“It was a hard experience, since they treated us like criminals, but it was also an opportunity where we learned to value freedom and family unity. Then, when faced with the vicissitudes of arriving in a new country, we looked back and everything seemed easy ”. Tapia told us with a grateful smile. In 1972 they finally received permission to leave for Spain, a country where they did not know anyone and where they would arrive with nothing. At the airport, the government had taken everything from them, even his wife's wedding ring. They just carried their faith in God. They did not know where they would sleep that night, or how they would feed their girls. Luckily, or by “Dioscidencia”, a friend read in the newspaper the names of those who arrived that day and was waiting for them at the airport. The next day, Eduardo went out to look for work and on the third day, he was already working in an engineering company. A year later, he was in charge of 24 engineers working with devotion. There he had the opportunity to travel to other countries and to do a postgraduate degree at the University of Madrid.Although he was very successful in the mother country, his parents and siblings had had the opportunity to come to the United States and the family wanted to be together. In 1974 they arrived at the New York airport. His brother had already sent his résumé to various engineering companies, and Wellman Lord in Lakeland was waiting for his call. He didn't speak enough English, but when asked when he could start, he proudly replied “tomorrow”.
There he worked for 10 years. He then worked for the Hillsborough County Public Works Department, where for more than 25 years he held the positions of Director of Solid Waste, County Engineer and Stormwater Manager. He received multiple awards for his hard work, leadership, and work ethic.
Upon retiring in 1977, following his vocation as an engineer, his family business, Tapia Construction, was born, which opened its doors in Lakeland, and since then they have built more than a thousand luxury homes, according to the specifications of their clients and in numerous they have sometimes received the “House of the Year” award for their style, beauty and originality. Its premise and key to its success: “If you work doing something for which you feel a vocation, you get paid to carry out your passion. I always wanted to be an engineer.”
The Tapia family lives grateful to be able to live in the United States, a country where hard and honest work continues to be the axis of personal and social progress. For that reason Eduardo always insisted that all immigrants have the responsibility to help others with part of what this country he has given us. He dedicated a large part of his life as Chancellor of the Knights of Columbus, an exemplary member of the Resurrection Church, his club and the festival. We will always remember Eduardo as that man who got up early every morning with the inexhaustible drive to work and help people in need with a smile on his mouth; to that exile who, without fear of adversity, loved life and knew how to put the name of his country high.
*Excerpts taken from the book: “Success in Exile”.
Dr. Ángela García Falconetti / President of Polk State College, Engineer Eduardo Tapia and Teresa Martinez / Trustee Polk State College
Polk State College appreciates the support it has received for so many years from the Lakeland Hispanic Club / Festival. Countless students have benefited from academic scholarships, many of them the first to attend college in their family. In memory of a great leader, the Eduardo Tapia Scholarship for students who demonstrate academic excellence and leadership.