Juan Zelaia, an honorary member of the Center’s Advisory Board, passed away on August 10 at the age of 95. Born in Oñati, Gipuzkoa, in 1920, Zelaia was a towering figure of the Basque business world, but also renowned for his many and varied philanthropic endeavors in support of Basque culture in general and the Basque language in particular.
After completing a doctorate in industrial engineering from Bilbao’s School of Engineering in 1947, Zelaia went on to head several different companies.The battery company Cegasa, founded in 1934 thanks to the technical inspiration of a Basque-Chilean relative, was the family starting point from which he developed his later industrial initiatives. These included Tuboplast Hispania (plastic packaging for cosmetics, chemists, etc.: Vitoria-Gasteiz and Vichy, 1964) and Hidronor (recuperation, treatment, and management of industrial waste, 1973). He was Executive President of all three, and actively participated in industries in other sectors such as food and drink, commercialization, cartridges, etc.
Zelaia was a well-know benefactor for numerous Basque cultural initiatives such as the ikastolas or Basque-language medium schools, the terminology and lexicography center UZEI, and the Tximist Expedition to Everest. In 2000 he was awarded both the Sabinio Arana Prize and the Basque government’s Lan Onari award for his lifetime committment to Basque business. Likewise, he received both the Antton d’Abbadia Award (2002) and the Gold Medal of Gipuzkoa (2003) from the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa for his services to Basque culture, as well as the Argizaiola Award from the Durango Book Fair (2008) and the Nabarralde Prize (2014).
Linked personally by family ties to the Basque-American diaspora, he always encouraged the meeting of both Basque Countries (the one on European soil and the one found throughout the world). As promoter and president of K.A. Euskal Fundazioa, he sought to make this a cultural meeting place for all Basques.
Here at the Center we would like to express our deepest sympathy to his family.