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NMSU Hall of Fame football player, Univision co-founder leaves legacy of giving

Danny Villanueva, a former Aggie football star, former NFL player and Spanish-language television pioneer, leaves behind a lifetime of success, a loving family and a legacy of giving that has benefited New Mexico State University in many ways. His support for various university programs over decades included several million dollars.

Head and shoulders of man
Danny Villanueva (Courtesy Photo)

Villanueva passed away after suffering a stroke earlier this week. He was 77.

“Danny Villanueva was an outstanding Aggie, a great football player and a generous philanthropist," said NMSU President Garrey Carruthers. “He came from a small town in New Mexico and rose to become a very successful entrepreneur in both television and real estate. We are sad to hear of his passing, yet very proud of all his accomplishments. Our hearts go out to his family.”

Villanueva, a native of Tucumcari, N.M., attended NMSU on a football scholarship and after graduating in 1961 played for the Los Angeles Rams and the Dallas Cowboys. After he retired from professional sports, Villanueva was a pioneer in Spanish-language television, co-founding Univision. He also co-founded the investment firm Bastion Capital in 1992 and co-founded Rustic Canyon/Fontis Partners, an investment firm aimed at helping family businesses.

In 1991, he established the Danny Villanueva Scholarship Endowment to recognize NMSU students who excel in leadership and community involvement. The endowment has funded more than 40 scholarships to students through the NMSU Foundation.

Fundraising for the scholarship endowment started with golf tournaments, but a suggestion from NMSU’s Chicano Programs resulted in the establishment of an annual breakfast, which brought national leaders to the university and raised $500,000 for the endowment.

“Danny Villanueva had a heart for New Mexico State University,” said Cheryl Harrelson, Vice President of University Advancement and President of the NMSU Foundation. “Through his generosity, many students were able to attend NMSU, but it wasn’t just his generosity that impacted the university. It was his belief that everyone deserved an education, and NMSU was a worthy organization to provide it.”

In 1999, NMSU awarded him an honorary doctorate.

Villanueva was a key contributor to the “Doing What Counts” fundraising campaign in the early 2000s. He served as chair of the campaign and donated one of the anchor gifts, designating a portion of that gift to Myrna’s Children's Village, a preschool program that serves children of students and faculty and staff. The program was named in honor of Danny’s wife as a birthday present.

In 2002, Villanueva presented a major gift toward the university's stadium annex project, later known as the Fulton Center. It serves academic as well as athletic purposes, and Villanueva's gift funded the Danny Villanueva Victory Club dining facility.

“New Mexico State football and the entire athletics department lost a true legend with the passing of Danny Villanueva,” said NMSU Athletic Director Mario Moccia. “Danny was a Hall of Famer, one of the greatest Aggie football players of all-time. His passing makes today a very sad one for all of AggieNation. I personally feel very fortunate to have met him and spent time with him and his friends who expressed bright days ahead for our athletic program.

“We will be memorializing him this upcoming season and will be announcing those plans at a more appropriate time. Our thoughts and prayers are with his entire family during this difficult time.”

In 2007, Villanueva joined a team of investors to build Arrowhead Research Park. Now Arrowhead Park is a public-private land development partnership that links research, industry and entrepreneurs contributing to economic development in New Mexico and the surrounding region.

Villanueva was a member of the NMSU Foundation Board of Directors, ending his term in December of 2014.

“Danny will live on forever in our hearts, and throughout our campus,” Harrelson said. “We are a better university because of him, and that will never be forgotten.”