Robert Ontiveros, ‘giant in Quad Cities community,’ dies at 83

Longtime businessman, philanthropist and “giant in the Quad Cities community” Robert “Bob” Ontiveros, 83, died Tuesday, Feb. 8, in Moline. His wife Blenda and other family members were by his side.

A celebration of life ceremony will be held at a later date. Funeral service arrangements were not available on Wednesday.

Blenda and Robert Ontiveros CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

In 1974, Robert and Blenda Ontiveros founded Bi-State Packaging, selling packaging materials out of the back of their family station wagon. That small, family-run business grew into Group O – a multi-faceted business enterprise specializing in supply chain, packaging, and incentive marketing solutions. With more than 1,000 employees across 40 locations today, the Milan-based Group O has been recognized as one of the largest Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States.

“The loss of ‘Bob O’ will be felt throughout the Group O family and the many communities he supported,” said Kimberly Fox, Group O vice president of human resources, in a news release issued Wednesday. “We will miss him more than words can express. He was not just our founder, but a hard-working man of character who truly believed that everyone wins when people get an opportunity to show what they can do.”

In addition to founding Group O, Mr. Ontiveros and his wife were involved in numerous organizations to help the Quad Cities community. Scores of messages on social media Wednesday paid tribute to Mr. Ontiveros calling him a “great man,” an “exceptional man” and a “giant in the Quad Cities community.”

Mr. Ontiveros’ granddaughter Maria Ontiveros, with whom he founded Mercado on Fifth in downtown Moline, described him as the visionary behind the project. “He was always coming up with ideas to include more people and have better community collaborations.”

“Starting with Community Health Care and the Boys & Girls Club, he saw an opportunity to transform that corner into something the Floreciente neighborhood would be able to use, be proud of and something that would stir further development,” Ms. Ontiveros said Wednesday morning. 

She added that the Mercado and all its outreach to help minority entrepreneurs “has grown beyond what either of us had envisioned. He was so proud.”

The family plans to continue Mr. Ontiveros’ legacy of charitable giving through the Bob and Belinda Ontiveros Ontiveros Foundation. Over the years, the Ontiveros family has been huge supporters of education including many Quad City institutions as well as programs that provide leadership and business opportunities for minorities, Ms. Ontiveros said. 

Mr. Ontiveros also was the founder of the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Moline.

In an open letter to the Ontiveros family, the chamber said: “Bob was a strong community leader, a kindhearted person, and a visionary. He shaped and changed our community to what it is today; for his impact has forever changed the Quad Cities area and beyond. We are grateful to have been a part of his journey and we will continue to work towards his dream of a world where there is equality in business.”

He also was being remembered as a “true friend” of educational broadcasting.

“Bob was a true friend, advocate and supporter of local public broadcasting,” said Terry Wilson, director of development, WQPT Quad Cities PBS. “He thoroughly understood and embraced the importance of educational television and community outreach, and the lifelong learning opportunities they create. In fact, the Ontiveros Family Fund provided the lead gift in our recently completed capital campaign that replaced our transmitter and antenna, and ensured the future of WQPT. “

Ontiveros’ influence extended into the Quad Cities community through his support of many other organizations including Black Hawk College Foundation, Augustana College, Western Illinois University, Niabi Zoological Association and Community Health Care Clinic — with the Moline clinic’s construction funded by Mr. and Mrs. Ontiveros to provide low-cost care to those without a primary physician.

The couple’s leadership, commitment and community influence were evident in their philanthropic endeavors dedicated to supporting initiatives within the immigrant and minority communities. These efforts included West Gateway Partners and Mercado on Fifth — an open-air night market held each summer in the Floreciente neighborhood featuring live entertainment, food trucks and local vendors.

“Bob lived a life of service to community, led all his endeavors with what I can only call an ‘otherworldly’ wisdom,” said Alexandra Elias, CEO and president of Renew Moline. “His business acumen and professional philosophies created a phenomenally successful company; and his personal generosity and goodwill benefitted Moline tremendously.”

“Few people can really claim to have bettered the world around them, but Bob’s positive influence extended far beyond the space he occupied,” Ms. Elias added. “We were the beneficiaries of his time on earth and our community is a better place because of him. Our thoughts today are with Blenda and Bob’s large and devoted family. His is a significant and important legacy.”

Additionally, Mr.  Ontiveros served as a trustee of Augustana College and was an active member of both the Illinois and U.S. Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, along with other community and business organizations, such as Boys & Girls Club of the Mississippi Valley (BGCMV) and Junior Achievement of the Heartland. 

“Bob was so much more than a supporter of the BGCMV, he was our heart and soul,”  said Brian Laufenberg, IHMVCU president  and CEO, and BGCMV chairperson. “Before BGCMV opened its doors in 1994, Bob was already dedicated to our mission of enabling all young people, especially those that need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, responsible, caring citizens. He will forever be a part of BGCMV.”

In 2020, Mr. Ontiveros gave Black Hawk College its largest donation in school history – a total of $1 million for scholarships. It included $600,000 to fund a student services position to work with students of diverse backgrounds, first generation students and others.

The couple also helped establish the Western Illinois University-QC Small Business Development Center and International Trade Centers. 

In 2018, the couple were honored by WIU with honorary degrees of doctor of humane letters in recognition “of a distinguished career as an entrepreneur and business owner, dedication to the Quad Cities area and commitment to promoting access to educational opportunity,” according to information from WIU.

Throughout his years of leadership, Mr. Ontiveros was recognized with numerous honors and awards. Among those, listed by Group O, were: 

  • Order of Lincoln — the State of Illinois’ highest honor, recognizing his professional and community achievements
  • Outstanding Community Leadership — State of Illinois Comptroller
  • U.S. Department of Commerce — Legacy Award
  • Minority Business Hall of Fame — Inductee
  • Black Hawk College Alumni Hall of Fame – Inductee
  • Lifetime Achievement Award — National Minority Supplier Development Council
  • Lifetime Achievement Award — Chicago Minority Business Development Council
  • Lifetime Achievement Award — Negocios Now
  • Honorary Doctorate — Augustana College

For Ms. Ontiveros, her grandfather will be at The Mercado in spirit forever. “He’d check in every Friday (and ask) ‘Do you need any help down there?’” she recalled. “He was so supportive and proud of everything it became.”

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