31st president - elected at the 1967 convention held in Phoenix, Arizona and at the 1968 convention held in Long Beach, California. Served two terms.
His first experience with LULAC was as a LULAC Youth member in Laredo in 1947 under Doctor George Garza's administration. Twenty years later, Ornelas became LULAC National President. In between, he was a LULAC member in McAllen and later in Houston.
He had a hand in many LULAC accomplishments. During his two-year term as national president, LULAC built approximately 2,000 units of low-income housing worth $4 million. Although these were not the first LULAC housing projects, it was the first time that the U.S. government accepted LULAC as initial sponsor. In the previous two projects, LULAC had taken over after the first sponsor had backed out.
Consequently a retired couple could get a two-bedroom unit with central heat and air conditioning, and all utilities paid for $50 a month. Thus, people who might otherwise have to settle for hovels now had an opportunity to live in dignity.
During Ornelas terms of office, the initial moves to establish the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) started. Today, MALDEF has provided over $750,000 in scholarships for deserving students and has continued the struggle for Hispanic civil rights.
During the administration of William D. Bonilla, Ornelas and George Roybal, both navy employees at the time, made significant moves in the area of employment for Mexican Americans. Because their people were the only minority without an agency to train and place workers, Ornelas and Roybal asked Bonilla to have LULAC sponsor a voluntary pilot project in Houston. This project would serve as a clearinghouse where industries looking for new employees could contact qualified prospects. From these beginnings came Project SER, started by President Johnson with an initial federal grant of $325,000 and now a program with a budget totaling more than $25 million and centers in many areas of the nation.
Unlike many other LULAC past National Presidents, Ornelas did not drop out of LULAC when his term ended. "I still continue to be very active," he said. An assistant regional administrator of the Office of Contract Compliance of the U.S. Department of Labor in Dallas, Ornelas received his law degree from St. Mary's University in 1952. He was chairman of the board of directors of the LULAC Foundation; was director of Mexican American programs for the Department of Defense, Office of Contract Compliance; and before that held a similar position with the Navy. He was a city attorney of Donna, Texas.
"LULAC is an organization of committed people that have a firm belief that this is the greatest nation in the world. They know there are problems in the country - the cancer of bigotry and prejudice - but say, "Let's not kill the patient; let's cure the disease. Let's use the American system as it was designed, but let's make sure that it applies to all of us," Ornelas said.