The Panama Canal holds a very special place in Enrique Sanchez’s heart. It doesn’t take long to find out why.
Sanchez’s grandfathers worked on construction of the Panama Canal, his dad worked on the canal for 43 years, and he worked on the canal for 38 years himself.
A third-generation worker on the canal, Sanchez may be retired, but his work to support the canal isn’t done. On October 11, Sanchez was appointed to serve on the Panama Canal Board of Directors, one of the highest honors a Panamanian can receive.
Sanchez was appointed by the President of the Republic of Panama, Laurentino Cortizo. He was appointed to serve on the board with Nicolas Gonzalez Revilla Paredes and the two are appointed to serve until 2028.
Sanchez, a 1974 Doane graduate and current member of the Doane Board of Trustees, is now one of 11 individuals who serves on the board of the canal.
After the event in which Sanchez and Gonzalez were appointed to the board, Cortizo said he feels confident in Sanchez and Gonzalez serving on the Panama Canal Authority Board. “I have no doubt that we are in excellent hands,” he said.
Sanchez and Gonzalez replace Nicolas Corcione and Jose Sosa, whose nine-year term expired in March. The two were appointed in the ACP by then President Ricardo Martinelli.
The Panama Canal, an artificial waterway that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean, stretches about 50 miles long. Nearly 1 million vessels have traveled through the Panama Canal since it opened in 1914 (which takes roughly 12 hours to pass through). The Panama Canal is recognized as one of the most strategic artificial waterways in the world.
Just under 10,000 people work on the canal, which was solely owned by the United States until 1979, when control of the canal passed to the Panama Canal Commission, a joint agency of the United States and the Republic of Panama. Panama received complete control of the canal on December 31, 1999.
Sanchez worked a number of jobs on the canal and retired at the end of 2014 as the Executive Manager of Purchasing, Warehousing, and Inventory.
"It's a huge honor for me to serve the country from this position."
- Enrique Sanchez ’74
"Especially for an organization that provides a substantial income for the country. Being elected to the board is very special for me."
Sanchez and the ten other members of the Panama Canal Authority Board of Directors are responsible for budgeting, passing regulations related to the operation of the canal, and selection of the CEO, Deputy CEO, Inspector General, among other responsibilities. The annual gross income of the Panama Canal is roughly $3.4 billion.
“When I heard the news that Enrique was appointed to serve on the board of the Panama Canal I was thrilled for him and his family,” said Dr. Jacque Carter, Doane University President. “I can think of no one more deserving of this honor than Enrique.”
Born and raised in Panama, Sanchez enrolled at Doane College in 1970. His trip from Paraiso High School, Panama to Crete, Nebraska was the first time he had been on an airplane and the first time he had been in the United States.
Although he didn’t play football, it was Al Papik, Doane’s Head Football Coach at the time and Cecilio Willliams, Sanchez’s high school mathematics teacher, who got Sanchez to Doane.
In the late 60s, Papik had been connected with Clayton Clark, a teacher at a high school in Port Arthur, Texas. Papik had recruited football players to Doane from Port Arthur and Clark, who was originally from Panama, told Cecilio Willaims about Papik. Williams then contacted Papik and thus began a flow of Panamanian student-athletes to Doane.
In 1968, three Panamanians, two basketball players and one track athlete, enrolled at Doane. Two years later, three more students from Panama enrolled at Doane. Enrique was one of those three students.
“I wasn’t an athlete but I had good SAT scores and played the trumpet, so they let me come too,” Sanchez jokes. “When I first got to Nebraska, Al Papik picked up Harold Clarke (a sprinter from Panama) and I, told us more about Doane, and dropped us off at our dorms, making sure we got set up accordingly.
“I grew up in a small town and the people in Crete were friendly just like the town I came from. It was easy to adjust.”
Sanchez majored in math at Doane, earning his bachelor’s degree in 1974. He then went to Columbia University in New York, a school Doane has a dual-degree program in engineering with, and earned his master’s in civil engineering degree in 1976.
After graduating from Columbia, Sanchez returned to Panama, where he began working on the canal. “Going back to Panama was always my first choice,” he says.
Sanchez stays very connected to Doane as a member of the Board of Trustees. He says he is always excited to return to campus and hopes a pipeline from Panama to Doane can continue in the future. Currently, Doane has two Panamanian students, Jorge Chevez ’21 and Sean Murray ’22, who were guided to Doane by Sanchez. A third student, Alejandro Benitez ’19, graduated in May of this year.
Jill Smith ’74, the Chair of Doane’s Board of Trustees, has known Sanchez since they were classmates at Doane. “Enrique will be a great addition to the Panama Canal Board,” she said. “He has shown himself to be a thoughtful, dedicated leader on the Doane Board of Trustees and he will do the same on the Panama Canal Board. We are lucky to have him.