An outstanding Quad Cities leader is among eight women honored today by Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs.

This year’s theme for Women’s History Month is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.” The event, which was held at the state government building in downtown Chicago, honored women for contributions to their communities: a health care leader, an education institute partner, a nonprofit president, an assistant school superintendent, a state representative, a labor field organizer, an Olympic hockey player and development coach, and a motivational speaker.

Maria Ontiveros of Rock Island, president of Mercado on Fifth, was recognized for “outstanding commitment in community service.”

Mercado on Fifth in Moline hosted a special community forum on March 10, 2023, coordinated by Quad City Arts, with representatives of the Illinois Arts Council Agency, and Illinois First Lady MK Pritzker (submitted photo).

“Today, we honor women who are educating our youth, creating jobs and inspiring others,” Frerichs said in a Wednesday release. “As treasurer, I have promoted national and regional efforts to promote corporate board diversity, including persuading companies to appoint more women to their boards.”

Among the many achievements of Ontiveros (granddaughter of the late Group O founder and community leader Bob Ontiveros) are her co-founding and leading Mercado on Fifth, a nonprofit organization that hosts a weekly outdoor night market and festival along a block on Moline’s Fifth Avenue.

Mercado (Spanish for “market”) has supported about 130 small businesses and nonprofits in the Quad Cities. Today, vendor spaces at the outdoor markets offer local Hispanic chefs, artists, and entrepreneurs a place to thrive with pride to inspire the next generation.

Ontiveros speaking at the community arts forum at Mercado on Fifth, March 10, 2023 (submitted photo).

Following the Ontiveros family legacy of working hard and providing an opportunity to others, Maria worked with local banks and community partners to offer programs in both Spanish and English. These included more than $78,000 in micro-grants for minority-owned businesses, a food-sanitation certification course, and no-cost business workshops, the state release said.

With the help of a Minority Business Incubator grant from the State of Illinois, Ontiveros has grown Mercado on Fifth’s team and led the way to last year’s grand opening of a new permanent facility.

Ontiveros, left, at the Illinois Arts Council forum last week (submitted photo).

With space indoors and out — including a patio, dedicated food-truck lane, walk-up window, and minority-business incubator space —Mercado now can welcome the community year-round.

Ontiveros also serves as a board member of the Rock Island County Metropolitan Mass Transit District (MetroLINK), Visit Quad Cities, United Way Quad Cities, Quad City Arts, and the Two Rivers YMCA.

Maria Ontiveros at Modern Woodmen Park, Davenport.

She is the Corporate Community Liaison for Group O, a $950-million diversified services firm, one of the largest Hispanic-owned U.S. companies. She also manages the company’s charitable arm, which has consistently funded scholarships at QC area schools, including Black Hawk College and Western Illinois University.

Univ. of Wisconsin honor

In 2021, the 2012 University of Wisconsin alum also earned the “Badger of the Year” award, which recognizes local alumni who have represented the university positively through success in their profession, community service initiatives, or volunteer activities.

Ontiveros is the youngest recipient that the Wisconsin Alumni Association: Heart of Illinois Chapter has ever had.

She graduated from UW-Madison in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Chinese and International Studies. When she wasn’t studying or exploring all that Madison has to offer, Maria relished her role with the university’s chapter of Slow Food, a global organization that promotes local food and traditional cooking.

Maria and her husband Jack Cullen, with daughter Anna Catherine, who’s now 18 months old.

After college, the QC native traveled the country and the world, holding a variety of jobs and volunteer gigs along the way, according to a UW bio. She served as a farmhand in New Hampshire, worked at a gourmet grocery store in Berkeley, California, biked across Cuba, Europe and Morocco and taught English in northern Thailand. Her last adventure before returning home in the spring of 2016 was assisting a medical mission in the Himalayas.

Ontiveros planned to stay with family just for the summer, but three days into her stay, she met her future husband and Madison native, Jack Cullen (who’s now downtown Rock Island director for the Quad Cities Chamber). This unexpected meeting, coupled with an opportunity to start a new nonprofit organization (Mercado) with her entrepreneurial family, sealed the deal.

For more information on Mercado on Fifth, visit its website HERE.