By The Telegram

The late Gilbert Cruz, a former Garden City nursing home director who also served as the state long-term care ombudsman for Kansas under former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, was honored posthumously in October with the Cernoria Johnson Memorial Advocacy Award.

The award was presented to Cruz's family on Oct. 25, 2013, in Washington, D.C. His wife, Sherrill, son, Porter, daughter, Piper, and his parents, Henry and Jenny Cruz, accepted the award.

Cruz died Aug. 29, 2012, at the age of 42.

Johnson, for whom the award was named, established the national program of Nursing Home Ombudsmen in 1974. The award is given to someone whose work has had national impact or is a model for national excellence and who exemplifies accomplishment in his or her chosen field.

Cruz, a native Garden Citian and 1988 graduate of Garden City High School, was a former executive director of Homestead Assisted Living and Terrace Garden Care Center, both in Garden City.

Because of his passion in serving the elderly, former Gov. Sebelius appointed him as state long-term care ombudsman on March 24, 2006. In that position, Cruz was in charge of legislative research and advocacy in regard to complaints about insurance or other financial issues, and then would investigate to determine if enforcement was needed.

In 2004, Sebelius also selected Cruz to take part in a business-education alliance with 12 other businessmen and businesswomen from the state to look at ways of updating a state educational system.

He was selected because of his role as president and chief executive officer of Cruz Enterprises, LLC, a health consulting and property management company, as well as his co-ownership with his brother, Jonas, of the Fiesta Courtyard, 1810 Buffalo Jones Ave. In addition, he was affiliated with Business Education Development, a group of business leaders who recognized and supported the connection between economic development and education.

In 1994, Cruz graduated with a bachelor's degree in respiratory care from the University of Kansas Medical Center, where he was awarded respiratory student therapist of the year in both 1993 and 1995. He later earned a master in public health administration from the University of Missouri, Kansas City.

Cruz also served in the U.S. Army and was deployed with the 467th Fire Fighting Engineer Platoon in 1990 for Desert Shield/Storm and was awarded the Kuwaiti Liberation Medal.

At the time of his death, Cruz was chief operations officer for Connections365, a tele-health monitoring company based in Carmel, Calif.