By: Autumn Van Ravenhorst
August 1, 2017
“Everything about Juan was about giving back,” said Amy Walerius Villarreal, wife of Juan Villarreal. “He truly wanted to make the world a better place.”
Juan, who passed away in October 2015 from pancreatic cancer, was born in Maple Island, a small community near Hollandale in Washington County. Following high school, he joined the Air Force and lived all over the world for eight years. He moved to Texas after his time in the military, later accepting a job with Federated Insurance and ended up back in Minnesota.
“I was working at Federated at the same time he was, that is how we met,” said Amy. “The rest is history.”
Juan’s community involvement was diverse, as he offered his time and talents to the Adopt-A-Highway program, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Crisis Resource Center of Steele County, to name a few. Juan and Amy’s son, Tony, became close with Juan’s BBBS Little, and to this day they remain great friends.
Juan was diagnosed in February 2013, and Amy remembers how, through almost three years of cancer and treatments, Juan did not abandon his commitments.
“Juan had a friend who committed suicide, and it bothered him so much,” Amy remembered. “He needed to get out to the world that he never wanted anyone to feel like nobody cared about them. He wanted to be that person they could talk to. He would have chemo then come home and be hooked up to a pump, and there was this one time when he got a phone call at one in the morning and went to the hospital to console a kid. He came back home, got into bed and got another call. He went and came back at 5:30 a.m. then got ready to go to work. He never complained once.”
Right after he passed away in October 2015, Amy and the family knew they needed to do something to give back and keep his legacy alive. That is what she said he would have wanted. Amy’s brother, Matt Walerius, went to her with an idea and the Juan Villarreal Junior Memorial Fund was born. On the one-year anniversary of his passing, family and friends came together and hosted the first Chubb’s Brew-BQ Savor the Flavor fundraiser.
“The background of the name comes from a joke between Juan and my brother,” Amy said. “They were always teasing one another on who weighed more. So they started calling each other ‘Chubbs.’ That was their name for each other.”
The group had thought of several events to hold in his honor, but none were sticking.
“A run would not have been Juan,” she said. “But beer and barbecue? That was right up his alley.”
The fundraiser is open only to those 21 and older and features barbecue and brew tasting, a silent auction, swag and live entertainment by The Leopards. Non-profit organizations also have the opportunity to have informational booths at the event. Throughout the day, a tasting contest is held with People’s Choice awards given in both barbecue and brew.
The first year brought in approximately 300 people and nearly 100 silent auction baskets as well as cash prizes, trophies and memories.
“The support has been unbelievable,” Amy said. “The feedback has been, oh my gosh. Just incredible. We have a feeling it will grow.”
Last year, the funds raised totaled $5,000 and went to an extracurricular fund within the school district that allows students to participate in activities who may not have been able to financially.
The committee consists mostly of family members, in addition to Korey Borchert of Legacy Signs, who heads the brew side and other aspects, and Jeff Hansen, who runs the barbecue.
The event will return on Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Retrofit Company on 1010 Hoffman Drive #A in Owatonna (this story has been edited to reflect a change in location) with very similar aspects to last year’s event, but Amy added the committee has a few new items up their sleeves. The Juan Villarreal Junior Memorial Funds also has officially been recognized as a 501.c.3 nonprofit, which will continue to help bring this event further than it already has in such a short time.
“We had so much fun,” Amy said. “We were sad to see that it was over, but we are excited to start the planning again.”
Autumn Van Ravenhorst is a writer, multimedia consultant and hot mess mom. She is the lead columnist for Southern Minnesota Scene Magazine, contributing writer to a range of publications and enjoys getting in the nooks and crannies of her community. She’ll fill you in on the movers, the shakers and philanthropic nature of Steele County.