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Father and Son Graduate - Both with High Honors

Luis Estevez of Lawrence adjusts his graduation cap Photo by Eagle-Tribune/Carl Russo
Luis Estevez of Lawrence just graduated from Northern Essex Community College at age 48. His son is about to graduate from Lawrence High School. Estevez, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic at 16, worked at Polartec as a supervisor. When the factory closed, he went back to school and earned a degree in business management from Northern Essex.

By Paul Tennant

HAVERHILL — The Estevez family of Lawrence strives for academic excellence.

Luis Estevez, the dad, just graduated from Northern Essex Community College with an associate's degree in business management. Grade point average: 3.67.

Edward Estevez, his son, will graduate from Lawrence High School on May 31. Grade point average: 4.0.

Now, isn't Luis Estevez just a little bit jealous that son No. 3 achieved a slightly higher average than his father?

Not at all, says the elder Estevez.

"That's the way it should be," he said in a recent interview at Northern Essex's Haverhill campus. "We want our children to do better."

Estevez, 48, who received his diploma May 18, said he has always believed in striving to do the best that he can. His record shows it – and his wife and children appear to be following his example.

This outgoing man immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic with his parents when he was 16. After graduating from Lawrence High School in 1989, he went to work for Malden Mills.

He started as a machine operator and worked his way up to supervisor, with 25 to 30 workers reporting to him. During his climb up the ladder, he worked lots of overtime and strove to be the best worker he could be, he said.

At the end of 2016, however, things changed drastically for Estevez and the other employees of Polartec, the successor company to Malden Mills.

The company closed its Lawrence factory. Suddenly Estevez and hundreds of other workers were jobless.

The man who had owned Malden Mills for so many years, Aaron Feuerstein, kept the company going after the disastrous fire of Dec. 11, 1995. He continued to pay the workers and provide their benefits.

"I love Aaron Feuerstein," Estevez said.

Feuerstein rebuilt the plant, resumed the manufacturing of its trademark polarfleece – but the financial pressures were overwhelming. The company was eventually sold and renamed Polartec.

Estevez and the other workers hoped and prayed the factory would continue to operate under the new ownership. It was not to be, however.

With his place of employment gone, Estevez made a decision: He was going back to school. He was able to take advantage of a retraining act to accomplish that goal.

"You have to continue," he said.

It wasn't easy. It had been nearly 30 years since he had been a full-time student. He had to do some catching up in math and took courses in algebra and trigonometry.

He passed them all with flying colors, he said with a smile, snapping his fingers to drive home the point. Estevez is the son of two accountants.

"We are numbers people," he said.

For the last several months, Estevez has been working as an intern in the office of Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini. His fluency in both English and Spanish has enabled him to help residents who have not yet mastered the former.

He enjoys working at City Hall, he said, but he insisted he is "not interested in politics."

"I love teaching," he said. During his years at Malden Mills, as he advanced from machine operator to technician to technician 2 to supervisor, he had plenty of opportunities to help fellow workers learn their machines.

"I learned all the jobs," he said.

What's next for Estevez?

For the short term, he intends to earn a bachelor's degree in business management at UMass Lowell. His son Edward will also be enrolled there and will pursue a double major in mechanical engineering and computer engineering.

Thinking further ahead, Estevez said he hopes to put his experience and education to work in a management position.

"Without Northern Essex, I wouldn't have the knowledge I have," he said.

Estevez is not the first person in his immediate family to earn a college degree. His oldest son, Christopher Estevez, 30, earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from UMass Lowell.

Christopher was recently promoted to assistant manager of the meat department at a Market Basket supermarket. His next-oldest son, Michael, 25, works for a company that supplies grocery stores.

His daughter, Mary, 12, is a sixth-grader at Oliver School in Lawrence.

His wife, Lourie, "my high school sweetheart," he said, is contemplating a return to academic life.

To those who think they might be "too old" to return to the books, Estevez offers this advice:

"It's never too late to go back to school."