By Luciana Chavez, Special to the Office of External Relations

Merced College is again basking in the shine of another accolade this month as College Board of Trustees president Ernie Ochoa has been named the 2020 Merced County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year.

“I am proud of the opportunities life has given me, and the example I have set for my kids and family,” Ochoa said. “It's truly an honor to be selected [for this award].”

Normally, Ochoa, a longtime realtor, would be feted at a fall banquet given by the chamber of commerce. The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event is indefinitely postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ochoa, who works with Gonella Realty, was chosen in part due to a successful 22-year career as a realtor in nearly every sector of the profession—residential, multi-residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural.

Yet his work, dating back to 1998, helping people find homes, land to farm and business locations also gave him a foundation to work as a community leader.

First, Ochoa has remained committed to the work of professional organizations like the Merced County Association of Realtors, the California Association of Realtors, and the National Association of Realtors.

He was named the county’s Rookie Realtor of the Year in 1999 and Realtor of the Year in 2010. He completed the trifecta when the statewide association’s Housing Affordability Fund honored him as the Bette Dobkin Award recipient, which honors realtors for their exemplary community service.

Ochoa points to joining the Atwater Chamber of Commerce as the key to both excelling in realty and showing him ways to serve the community at large.

“[Joining] helped me realize how [important the chamber of commerce] was to our local businesses and to the people of Atwater,” he said.

Ochoa—husband to Noelia and father to Emanuelle, Ycela and Alexi—has put in a considerable amount of time developing ways to serve our area starting with his tenure as the first Mexican-American president of the Merced County Association of Realtors.

Ernie has also sat on the board of, contributed to and raised funds for the Charitable Foundation of the county-wide realtor association, which donates to local agencies like the Merced County food bank, Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, and the Boys and Girls Club.

Ochoa was the founding chairman for the Young Professional Network in Merced, spearheading the annual Rib Cookoff Fundraiser that funds local scholarships. He also started the annual Housing Affordability Fund Golf Tournament that uses monies to help first-time home buyers.

Still looking to challenge himself, Ochoa took public office in 2016 when he won a seat on the Merced College Board of Trustees. During his tenure, including his stint as board president in 2020, enrollment numbers have reached record highs, and the College has been able to fund the new Agriculture and IT Complex, whose construction begins in 2021.

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce honors Latinos like Ochoa, an immigrant from Mexico, who have found ways to champion the Hispanic community. For example, on the College board, he has been a driving force for building the soccer program.

Ochoa’s colleagues also praise him for his unrelenting advocacy for education, and specific desire to encourage first generation, Hispanic students to chase an education beyond high school.

The longtime Merced County resident has built a meaningful professional, personal and community-based life here. The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has chosen well in selecting Ernie Ochoa as its 2020 Man of The Year.