Yolanda Kizer’s success as a small business owner and community leader is legendary. Yolanda met her future husband, Aaron Kizer, when they were in the VISTA program (Volunteers in Service to America) in 1969, teaching English to farmworkers’ children in Delano, California. Yolanda and Aaron’s activities with the Farmworkers Union, when Cesar Chavez won his first contracts with the growers, resulted in them losing their scholarships at USC even though they were honor students. They moved to Aaron’s home state of Arizona, married, had two children and started two successful businesses. After receiving her MBA, Yolanda started Builders’ Book Depot in 1986, as a retail, mail order and now e-commerce bookstore.
In 1989, Yolanda Kizer entered the airport retail business with her company CASA Unlimited Enterprises, Inc. in Phoenix, AZ. The company owns and operates five stores independently, and several others with joint venture partners with HMSHost, in Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, and XpresSpa, in Miami International Airport and at LAX. Yolanda has mentored and partnered with many local minority businesses firms to get them into airport retail. She and Aaron have prepared their children, Joya Kizer Clarke, President/Chief Executive Officer, and Nicolas Kizer, Vice-President/Operations Manager, who both now run the operation of the company.
Unfortunately, this transition happened sooner than expected because in January 2012, Yolanda was diagnosed with a rare but deadly neurological disease called Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD), which typically strikes younger adults than does Alzheimer’s and has a shorter life expectancy – 5 to 7 years after diagnosis. Yolanda is doing remarkably well under the circumstances. She attends Zumba® exercise classes almost daily; now that Aaron has to drive her to classes, he does it too and has lost weight. She still loves talking to people about business and traveling. She continues to travel with Aaron for business and pleasure.
This girl was on fire! Although the light is dimming, it does not diminish a life fully lived and fully loved. Now the family’s goal is to help educate the community about FTD. It is so rare compared to Alzheimers that many doctors don’t even know about it. Awareness of the dreaded disease in the Latino community is minimal. The Kizer FTD Awareness Foundation is dedicated to spreading the word about this untreatable illness, which our aging population will contract much more in the future.