Maria Carmen (Juarez) Velasquez was born in Parsons, Kansas, in 1921 during the Mexican Revolution when her parents among many were finding refuge in the United States. They later moved to Chicago, IL, where Carmen grew up and attended school. Carmen developed polio at a young age and spent her childhood through age 14 in hospitals and convalescent homes. As a young woman, she found love in Albert Velasquez from Grant County, IN. They got married and moved to Fairmount to live with Albert’s family. They later moved to Marion while building a family of their own, eventually of ten children.
Carmen had received intense medical care in her childhood, and would observe the social workers and nuns who cared for her. During that time, she grew more and more grateful and developed a strong desire to help others. While attending school in Chicago, she had learned the English language, and would use her bilingual skill to help people in need.
Having also spent her young years during the Great Depression, Carmen instilled a passion to help struggling migrant workers and their families who lived in poverty from following the crop and, in many cases, facing language barriers. She herself represented a one-income family. Although she stayed home most days with her children, she would frequently visit the migrant farm worker camps.
“In the Grant County area, there were about ten camps,” said Carmen’s daughter, Tina Masterson. “She would go around and see what they needed, even in surrounding counties.” She added, “People would begin to hear about her, and would travel all the way from California and Texas to find her for a point of connection. They just needed someone to talk to.” Masterson said her mother lived a full life up through two years before she passed in 1985 at the age of 64. “She had a handicap, so just walking around was difficult, but you wouldn’t know it. She was a strong woman, and her faith was the root of all her work.”
Another daughter, Cathy Mitchell, said despite her mother’s adversities, she would always step up when she saw a need. She would help the police, the hospital, and many other agencies through her English-Spanish skill. She cited one of her major contributions gained traction through the St. Paul Catholic Church and Third Order of St. Francis members. She would collect clothing and goods for those in need. The collection and distribution developed from her home to St. Paul Catholic Church, eventually to what is now known as the St. Martin Community Center. “They do so much for Marion, and it all started on our front porch.”
Carmen was instrumental in the creation of Associated Migrant Opportunity Services, Inc. (AMOS), a nonprofit advocacy organization funded by the Indiana Office of Economic Opportunities.
In the summer of 2021, a mural of her portrait was painted downtown Marion on the Grant County Rescue Mission’s main building as part of a community project to carry on her legacy and the legacies of other influential women.