Hispanic residents share stories of Kerrville’s past

Fritz Morquecho, longtime Kerrville resident and local "music treasure," was one of eight local speakers at an Hispanic panel discussion at the Doyle Center and played one tune on his accordion for the gathering.

A panel of Hispanic residents with shared roots in the Doyle Center area in Kerrville told their stories of neighborhood connections and challenges from Kerrville’s past, in a July 24 presentation at the Doyle Center.

Clifton Fifer of Kerrville organized the presentation and introduced the eight participants in the event.

The speakers were Julia Bill Davis, Mary V. Rodriguez, Elia Castillo Torres, Felipe Bill Lozano Jr., Joe Castillo, Fritz Morquecho, Daniel Flores and Mando Gutierrez.

Castillo served as moderator of the program, giving some personal and background information on each speaker to introduce them.

Fifer called the topic of this program “long overdue” and said everyone needs relationships, that in the Doyle area they have “two cultures that cannot stand one without the other,” those with roots in the Hispanic community and those in the Black community.

Fifer introduced Castillo as growing up in Kerrville and leaving for DeVry University, to become a skilled executive in the new world of televisions and Xerox machines. He said Castillo became a vice president for Xerox, living in New York City.

Castillo said he learned as an adult about Doyle School becoming a State Historical Site, and that it is the location of many services to area residents.

“We’ve had two cultures here, the African-American and the Hispanic for many years working together,” Castillo said, and called them “ordinary people who did extraordinary things.” He shared personal remembrances and memories of special events.

Rodriguez said she’s 91 years old now, and was originally born and raised in Sonora, Texas.

“There was a lot of discrimination there, and we had to go to a one-room school on the other side of the tracks, not the school the white kids went to,” she said. “We weren’t allowed to sit inside the drugstore to enjoy drinks we bought there, or sit inside the restaurants to eat. But my father was always looking for better schools for us. My grandmother lived in Kerrville at Lemos and Water streets; and he moved us here to live.

“As children, our biggest event was walking to the old Sidney Baker bridge near Pampell’s, because it was lit up with lights that made our skin look yellow. We thought that was strange and exciting.”

Rodriguez said there was a family-owned grocery store near their home where they could pay 5 cents for a Red Dragon soda; and another local general and grocery store nearby.

She said her father bought 15 acres in later years, near the current site of the YO Hotel & Conference Center.

Rodriguez said she married Matias Rodriguez, the longtime local preacher, and remembers her mother-in-law taught classes for U.S. citizenship in her home for area residents.

Flores said he was born in and lived at 116 McFarland St, here; and when he was a teenager finishing school, he worked until he was 22 at Quinlan Store as a meat-cutter.

“The community was united in activities then,” he said, and gave the example of a bare field that used to be at the corner of Paschal and Rodriguez streets.

“All the boys would play football there, by the Wool Warehouse. You all remember Jesse Stokes who graduated from Doyle School? He was drafted to play football for Minnesota and Denver and the San Antonio Toros. He played there with us.”

Flores said he stayed connected to Doyle, calling it “a great pleasure for me.” He moved away and later retired to Pearl Street.

Torres, who worked for Starkey, Notre Dame and Daniels schools, was introduced as having a tree planted on the DES campus marked with a plaque with her name when she retired.

Torres said she was born on Schreiner Street, and attended Starkey Elementary where she said Hispanics were put in a separate classroom building with a teacher who cared so little for them that she doesn’t remember learning anything there. Her family moved her to the Notre Dame Catholic School where she found classes were a mixture of all ethnic backgrounds.

She said her parents had money to go to a nearby restaurant for lunch, but the Hispanic girls were seated in the kitchen to eat.

“We would go to movies at the Rialto Theater at midnight for 25 cents; and when I graduated from Tivy High School in 1965, we wanted to go to Crider’s to have a party, but they wouldn’t let us in.”

Davis said her sister remembered hearing the Doyle School Band playing in the Juneteenth celebrations here. Davis retired from a medical field career at Kerrville State Hospital and said she’s always been a caregiver, of relatives and others in the neighborhood.

She talked about attending Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, where there was such an emphasis on being baptized to avoid going to hell, that she and some friends convinced three Baptist girlfriends to be baptized with water from a garden hose one day, to save them, too.

She also remembers going to Pleasure Garden and other entertainment places in the Doyle neighborhood.

Gutierrez said he was born in Kerrville and graduated in 1961 from Tivy, He worked at Mooney Aircraft, where he experienced “difficult discrimination” about pay for Hispanics. He later was hired at the Veterans Administration Hospital here, starting in the kitchen and moving up to personnel jobs until retirement in 1997. His job took him to several other states and he told his parents he wouldn’t return to Kerrville. “I’m sorry I never saw the beauty here, before,” he said.

As a child, he remembers neighbors being caring, kind and loyal, when he lived on Lemos Street, then Schreiner Street. “We came to Doyle to play baseball with the other kids,” he said. “Joe and I played football at Notre Dame after Father Romero told us we were going to Notre Dame to school, when Father Kemper allowed Hispanics in.”

He attended Schreiner University, and then Southwest Texas State University.

Morquecho was introduced as being born in Gregory, Texas; and moving to Kerrville 73 years ago, where he’s been a blessing to the city for his music, “a living legend and a treasure.” He was inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2016.

Morquecho brought his accordion to the event and agreed to play one of the first songs he learned.

He said his father had a job with the railroad and moved the family to Kerrville. “My dad played the guitar and there’s a picture somewhere of him holding a child on his lap and playing the guitar. That was me,” he said. “I met Junior Pruneda here through my father’s little jam sessions on Everett Street. One time the neighbors complained and our bass player took his bass and left the place, I think, by a window, but I don’t know how he managed it.”

He said one time they were invited to entertain the workers at the Wool Warehouse.

About 1949, an uncle visited Kerrville to recruit migrant workers to pick cotton, and Fritz took the job offer.

His uncle introduced him to the accordion, he said. “I looked, listened and learned. The rest is history, with Tejano music.”

He started with country music, from Pinky Louis to the Hall of Fame, and learned conjunto along the way.

Lozano said he left Kerrville when he was 10, after being born on Lemos Street and living on Lawson Street. “There were lotta, lotta kids there. When you’d get mad at one, there was always one more.”

He said his grandmother gave them 25 cents each to go to the Rialto Theater, and an empty paper sack, because there was a big house on the route there with big pecan trees. The lady there said they could pick up all the pecans they wanted off the ground, but not to climb her trees.

They’d snack on the pecans, and with the remaining money, they’d walk further east to the Arcadia Theater, too.

Lozano said they experienced discrimination on the job in Monroe, Mich., and Fort Worth, some of it demands from unions, based on race. He said he returned to Michigan and later a job at Ford Motors where he was encouraged to get college training, especially in math.

“The company transferred me to Nuevo Laredo and I was excited to be closer to home. But I didn’t remember the heat and it hit me when I got off the plane. I lasted seven years there.”

He took his dad’s advice to invest in property, buying 10 acres near Center Point, and built a house. “I’ve enjoyed being with old friends here.”

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