The Webb County Heritage Foundation annual Founders’ Day luncheon on May 20 marks the 262nd anniversary of Laredo’s founding and honors the descendants of founder Don Tomás Sánchez and the founding families of Laredo.
The program for the noon event at the Laredo Center for the Arts includes the inauguration of this year’s honorary President of the Republic of the Rio Grande, Gary G. Jacobs. The Foundation will also pay tribute to the historic businesses of the region and present its Heritage Awards to individuals and organizations that have shown outstanding commitment to preserving Laredo’s history and heritage. The program includes the annual membership meeting of the WCHF.
Gary G. Jacobs, President of the Republic of the Rio Grande
Jacobs is recognized for his personal commitment to preserving and restoring downtown historic architecture.
The incoming President of the Republic has named a cabinet of individuals to represent the historical characters who participated in the original administration of the Republic. Jacob’s cabinet members are Manuel Gonzalez, representing Francisco Vidaurri y Villaseñor, Vice-President and delegate for Coahuila; Javier Treviño, representing Antonio Canales, Commander-in-Chief of the Army; Bill Luft, representing Col. Antonio Zapata, Commander of the Cavalry; George Altgelt, representing Manuel Nina, Quartermaster General; Guillermo Rodriguez, representing Juan Francisco Farias, Secretary; Leo Flores, representing Juan Nepomuceno Molano, delegate for Tamaulipas; Hank Sames, representing Manuel María de Llano, delegate for Nuevo Leon..
Jacobs, who served as President of the Laredo National Bank from 1975 until it was sold in 2005, has been a long-standing advocate for protecting historic structures in Laredo. His downtown office is housed in a building constructed in 1846.
While President of LNB, he led the bank to buy the old Plaza Hotel building, which was built in 1926, in order to save it. Then-Mayor, Aldo Tatangelo wanted to raze it to build a bus terminal. Jacobs engaged Laredo architect Willie Cavazos to plan and execute the renovation of the old hotel into what it is today. Jacobs also leased nearby and adjacent historic buildings from Alex Villarreal and restored them for use by the bank. The bank also made low interest rate loans to owners of nearby historic buildings for restoration.
In the mid 1980’s LNB helped the City obtain a Federal Urban Development Block Grant for street stonework and tree planting. Under Jacobs’ leadership, the bank asked the City to convert old City Hall into the Laredo Center for the Arts, also re-designed by Willie Cavazos. Jacobs and LNB were instrumental in the Laredo Independent School District’s purchase and restoration of historic homes in the St Peter’s Historic District for administrative offices and the magnet school campus.
With his partner Hank Sames, Jacobs undertook the purchase and restoration of the El Pasillo house on Grant St., which Sames owns and protects today. Together they purchased six historic downtown properties to restore. Sames individually owns and has restored the original old buildings known today as Siete Banderas, which serve as the anchor, inspiration, and catalyst for more restorations of buildings into shops and food and beverage establishments downtown.
Jacobs has opposed city, county, and state efforts to destroy any building in Laredo built before 1920 and has encouraged local authorities to stabilize, secure, and eventually sell such historic properties to people who will improve them and preserve the unique architectural heritage of Laredo.
Jacobs, his wife Jessie, and the family of his late father-in-law Max Mandel, have been active in the preservation of the natural beauty of the Rio Grande and in protecting both water quality and indigenous flora along the river, which does not include carrizo.
Jacobs’ response to the tragic events of 2001 in NYC, was to have LNB build the tallest single-standing American flagpole in the U.S. near the Rio Grande on IH-35. He also had the bank build the Monument to WW I Veterans at the corner of IH-35 and Matamoros St.
He was active in the drafting of NAFTA, working with the administration of President George Herbert Walker Bush and the government of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and long before NAFTA, he with Max Mandel and their friends Javier Garza and Wayo Leyendecker promoted industrial development and trade between Nuevo Laredo and Laredo as well as all of Mexico in an effort to grow Laredo’s strategic importance as the nation’s largest inland port.
He chaired committees organized by Governors Bill Clements and Ann Richards designed to promote better cultural, social, and economic relationships between Texas and Mexico.
Jacobs’ mother Ada and her family were from Laredo, however, he was born in San Antonio to Milford (Luling, Texas) and Ada Jacobs. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School and holds a B.A. degree in Political Science and Latin American Studies and an M.B. A. from The University of Texas at Austin. He and Jessie are the proud parents of Greg, Marc, and Lisa, and of their five grandchildren — Jack Jacobs, Elliott Jacobs, sons of Ana Lee and Marc; and Max Blau, Avery Blau and Kate Blau, children of Lisa and Jeff.
WCHF’s nod to historic businesses
CARMIN’S FLOWER & GIFT SHOP
In 1964 while still living in San Ygnacio, Bobbie and Minnie Ramirez embarked on their shared interest in floral design by first creating arrangements for funeral services. This work began as a hobby for Minnie whose day job was being a teacher. The couple moved to Laredo and after attending floral design school in California, they decided to formally establish their new business, Carmin’s Flower and Gift Shop.
Both maintained alternate careers – Bobbie worked nights at Laredo Air Force Base and Minnie continued her career as an educator. They alternated the work of tending to the flower business with Bobbie working days and Mine working after school hours and evenings.
The couple was blessed with three children — Carmen, Minita, and Robert. Clara Aguirre joined the family and was initially hired to care for the children, but the demands of the shop grew, and she quickly became a floral designer under the tutelage of Minnie.
The three children worked in the shop after school, but knew that school came first and that college was not an option but an expectation. All three are college graduates and part-time florists when needed.
One of Minnie’s most memorable honors was being asked to decorate for the Papal visit to San Antonio in 1987. Family members share rich memories of working together in a community of loyal friends and loving relatives.
For over 71 years, Holloway’s Bakery has had the pleasure of making fabulous wedding, quinceañera, and birthday cakes and sweet bread for five generations of Laredoans and South Texans, as well as customers from northern Mexico.
In February 1946, Guy and Cora Holloway, natives of Mississippi and Louisiana, purchased the Dandy Bakery downtown on Iturbide Street from Otto Kaiser, who had owned it since the 1930s. As a salesman with General Mills, Guy had been selling flour to Otto and was familiar with Laredo. At the end of World War II Guy and Otto began talking. Otto wanted out of the bakery business, and Guy wanted to own his own business. It worked out perfectly for both of them.
In 1963, Guy and Cora’s son, Bill, a graduate of Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota, opened a second location on Guadalupe Street. Elena joined the bakery when she married Bill in 1975, finding her life’s calling. With the most talented decorators and bakers, Holloway’s continues to create beautiful edible works of art.
Bill and Elena Holloway, and their son, Guy, are the second and third generation of the family to continue the tradition of high quality baked goods.
INTERNATIONAL BANK OF COMMERCE
IBC Bank was founded in 1966 to meet the needs of small businesses in Laredo. Originally called Bank of Commerce, it first opened for business in a small trailer at 1200 San Bernardo Avenue, eventually growing into the present building that houses the corporate offices.
Tony Sanchez Sr. was among a group of investors who remain or whose family members remain as shareholders today, including Judge Alberto Santos, Roy Jennings, Robert Muller, Abraham Mery, Lester Avigael and Leonardo Salinas, who served as assistant cashier of Bank of Commerce in 1966.
Salinas, who retired in 1996 as an Executive Vice President in the International Department and today continues to serve on the board of directors, received his 50-year IBC pin in a special ceremony last year at the annual bonus presentation.
The success of IBC and its record of 50 consecutive years of growth and profitability are attributable to Chairman of the Board and CEO Dennis E. Nixon and the leadership team surrounding him.
IBC employees are encouraged to actively participate in civic and charitable organizations that support the arts, education, neighborhood revitalization, economic development, medical research, and other philanthropic endeavors. In 2015, IBC bank contributed over $2,750,000 to worthwhile organizations throughout the communities it serves.
IBC was awarded the Cornerstone Award in 2012 by the Texas Bankers Foundation for its commitment to creating the Tejano Monument on the south lawn of the Texas capitol.
Today, IBC Bank serves as the flagship bank of International Bancshares Corporation. Since its opening, IBC has grown from less than $1 million in assets to more than $11.8 billion, making it one of Texas’ largest holding companies. IBC now serves 88 communities throughout Texas and Oklahoma with 192 branches and more than 297 ATMs providing full service banking seven days a week.
LA REYNERA BAKERY & RESTAURANT
La Reynera Bakery was founded by Juan Gonzalez Sr. on November 11, 1928. It is located at 1819 San Bernardo Ave. in the same building it has occupied since its establishment. The structure remains unchanged since that time except for some minor interior remodeling.
Gonzalez Sr. came to Laredo from Ramon Arizpe, Mexico in the early 1920s. It was there that he learned to be a baker. Prior to establishing his own business, Gonzalez was employed by Borchers Bakery downtown.
Gonzalez’s recipes for Mexican sweet bread were committed to memory and were recorded in writing many years later. La Reynera utilized those secret, memorized recipes for their bread which was baked in a fire brick oven. With the help of his two sons, Gonzalez Sr. became a master baker of “fresh bread.” He taught his trade to others who worked with him. His specialty Mexican sweet breads include biscuits, conchas, nidos, semitas, barritas, margaritas, coronas, cuernitos, campechanas, and more. At that time, the bakery sold only bread and coffee.
Gonzalez, Sr. retired at the age of 76, and Juan Gonzalez Jr. took over, becoming the second generation to guide the business. In 1974, he added breakfasts and traditional Mexican food to La Reynera’s menu. He. retired at 65, after having worked at the bakery since the age of 15.
Juan Gonzalez III is the third generation of Gonzalezes to continue the tradition of exemplary service to the community started by his grandfather and carried on by his father.
Today’s baker at La Reynera, Juan García, was taught the trade by his father, Uvaldo García. who worked at the bakery for 43 years. Juan has worked at La Reynera for 33 years. Another employee, Maria Luisa Vela, has worked at the bakery for over 40 years.
Customers continue to frequent La Reynera for its family atmosphere, its good food, and its delicious pastries. Many comment about their fond memories of coming to the bakery with their parents who brought them there to eat biscuits and Mexican sweet bread. Now, four or five generations later, La Reynera’s customers bring their children to continue the same tradition.
DR. IKE’S HOME CENTER
In 1924, an immigrant from Eastern Europe seeking to enter the United States was stopped before boarding ship because of a lack of enough documentation. This immigrant could not return to his home country to gather the required documents asked of him. He asked, “Where will these papers take me?”
The answer was Cuba — 90 miles from the U.S.A., or Mexico much farther. He went to Cuba in hopes of getting to the United States, but the person at Immigration forgot to tell him that there was a large body of water between Cuba and the United States. After working in Cuba as a peddler for four years, he decided it was time to get himself to the United States, but ended up in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.
It was here on the border of the Rio Grande that David Epstein started building homes, and in 1932, the adventure began in Laredo, Texas.
David opened a small lumber yard on San Bernardo Avenue in front of Martin High School. As Laredo expanded and the road from San Antonio entered via San Bernardo, David Lumber Company went north and opened a one-room office with a lumber shed at 2819 San Agustin Ave. and Frankfurt St.
From this small space, David Epstein was able to build more than 500 homes. Most of his clients were migrant workers that paid him once a year, but David never once foreclosed on any individual. Today, we would say this man was in real estate, but he had the lumber business in his blood.
David and his wife, Frieda raised three children here in Laredo — Ike, William, and Hilda.
After graduating from Martin High School in 1949, Ike Epstein ventured to Austin to attend the University of Texas. In 1953 he finished with a degree in business, a new wife, Doris — a native of Brookhaven, Mississippi — and a two-year commission in the U.S. Army.
After serving in the United States Army in Okinawa, Ike returned to Laredo to work in his father’s lumber yard. He had a dream of creating a one-stop shop for all home building supplies, and he opened his own business — Economy Lumber — with a modest inventory on San Agustin Ave. and Jackson Street in Laredo.
As a remodeler, Ike called himself “The House Doctor.” His tagline became “Let the doctor fix what ails your house.” As Ike built his remodeling business, he became known as “Dr. Ike.” In the 1960s, Ike Epstein began to sell his extra supplies to other remodelers and builders in the area, and soon the Economy Lumber logo was a generic figure wearing doctor scrubs with a stethoscope and a doctor’s bag that held tools.
In 1973, the name of the company was changed to Dr. Ike’s Economy Center, and later evolved into Dr. Ike’s Home Centers. The first location, which is still the main store today, is located at the corner of Chicago and San Dario Ave. In 1984, a second location was opened in Zapata and a third store in south Laredo in 1990.
Today, the third generation works in the family business. Clay Epstein and his wife Carolyn have been working for the past two decades helping Ike. Carolyn serves as company CFO and Clay as vice-president.
Dr. Ike’s employs over 145 employees with about 70% of them fulltime. From the beginning, the Epstein family has created a family-like atmosphere for both employees and customers. It is with this attitude that Dr. Ike’s continues to have many employees for over 30 years and many, many multi-generational customers.
Ike Epstein believes in the motto “Neighbors Helping Neighbors.” The family-owned business is a supporter of several organizations including Crime Stoppers’ Menudo Bowl, Salvation Army, LISD and UISD students with special needs, garden projects, LULAC, Boys and Girls Club, FAA of Zapata, Zapata Chamber of Commerce, Laredo Builders Association, Laredo Chamber of Commerce, veterans organizations, and the Women’s City Club Pennies for Tennies. On many days, you may see the company’s orange trailer helping in the neighborhoods at baseball fields or other community activities. Helping individuals help themselves is very important to Dr. Ike’s community involvement.
The Epstein Family believes in Laredo and attributes the 85 years in business to the community in which they work and live. They thank Laredoans and Nuevo Laredoans for their support and friendship.
LAREDO HARDWARE CO.
Founded in 1946 by Armengol Guerra Sr. and his sons Armengol Guerra Jr. and José María Guerra in 1946 as the Guerra Hardware Co., the original store was located in downtown Laredo at the southwest corner of Lincoln and Salinas.
Armengol Guerra Sr. worked as a travelling salesman for the Corpus Christi Hardware Co., and was a 50% shareholder of the Laredo Motor Mart, which he founded with his cousin, Alberto Guerra in 1933.
In 1960, Armengol Guerra Jr. opened the Laredo Hardware Co. at 401 Market St. where it stands today. It was opened as a “wholesale” hardware concern and an extension of the downtown business. 1964 saw the hiring of the first outside salesman to visit clientele in the northern border area of Mexico. The marketing area was established to include all of the border from Matamoros, Mexico to Ciudad Acuña. This is the same area that is served today.
1964 also saw the first import transaction made from the country of Portugal (Tome Feteira, S.A.). Imports today come into the warehouse from Brazil, China, France, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Mexico, and account for about 40% of sales. The other 60% comes from American companies.
Now, in its 71st year in operation, the Laredo Hardware Co. still functions as a family-owned, privately held corporation. Its customer base continues to be Northern Mexico, South Texas, and Laredo-based contractors. Deliveries are made in company-owned trucks.
Laredo Hardware’s officers and shareholders are President Armengol Guerra III; Vice-President Carlos M. Guerra; Secretary-Treasurer and Legal Counsel Ricardo X. Guerra; and shareholders Armengol Guerra IV and Bertha J.P. Guerra.
SULAK’S MENS STORE
Sulak’s Men’s Store was founded in 1913 by Paul C. Sulak at 508 Flores Avenue across from City Hall. At that time, the store’s specialty was made-to-measure men’s suits tailored from cloth manufactured by Scotch Woolen Mills and sold for $15.
By 1917, 13 tailors were employed in the business of making men’s suits. All clothing sold at Sulak’s at the time was tailor-made. Gradually, they started to include some of the best name brands available at the time, such as Society brand, Curlee, Van Heusen, Manhattan, Superba, Nunn Bush, and Stetson, to name a few.
Over the years, Sulak’s moved to several locations downtown before settling at its current site on Hidalgo St.
Paul Sulak’s motto was “Sulak’s Men’s Wear…Everything a man wears for the man who cares.”
After Sulak passed away in 1971, the store was sold to Ralph and Sam Norton in 1973. In 1989, Sulak’s became part of Ralph Norton & Sons, Inc. The store has remained in the Norton family since 1973 and continues to serve Laredo and its surrounding communities.
Stanley Jimenez, who is synonymous with Sulak’s Men’s Store, has worked at Sulak’s for 60 years, beginning in 1957 as a stock clerk and window cleaner. Within three years, he was promoted to salesman because Paul Sulak saw the potential in him. He was promoted to manager in 1989 by the Norton family. He has been instrumental in defining the history of Sulak’s Men’s Store by providing great customer service and quality men’s attire to generation after generation of Laredo men.
The Heritage Awards
The Jim Parish Award for Documentation and Publication of Local and Regional History will be conferred upon two recipients — Dr. Jerry Thompson for his new book, Tejano Tiger – José de los Santos Benavides and the Texas-Mexico Borderlands, 1823-1891; and Dr. Timothy Paul Bowman for his book, Blood Oranges – Colonialism and Agriculture in the South Texas Borderlands.
Judge George P. Kazen, for donation of a collection of newspaper clippings documenting his time on the bench; the Laredo Community College Board of Trustees and LCC President Dr. Ricardo Solis for the donation of three historic panoramic photographs of Ft. McIntosh and downtown Laredo; and Emilio Garza III for the donation of historic photos of downtown Laredo stores will be recognized with the Archival Donor Award.
Tony Ramirez will receive the Preservation of Folklore, Customs, and Traditions Award for his work in preserving folk herbalist traditions.
Biologists Dr. Tom and Mrs. Pam Vaughan, and Dr. Jim Earhart, founders of the Río Grande International Study Center (RGISC) in 1994 will receive the Special Lifetime Achievement Award for their lifetime work in preservation of the Rio Grande.
Frank Sisters Properties will receive the Historic Preservation Award-Commercial for the exemplary restoration of a commercial building at 1205-1207 Iturbide St.
The City of Laredo’s Community Development Department will receive the Contemporary Architectural Design Award for their project to construct new infill housing in a historic residential district.
Catherine Nicole Gonzalez, a John B. Alexander High School senior, will receive the President of the Republic of the Río Grande® Scholarship for her winning essay in the Foundation’s county-wide competition.
VALET PARKING & TICKETS
Complimentary valet parking will be available outside the Laredo Center for the Arts at 500 San Agustín Avenue.
Tickets for the luncheon can be obtained by calling the Foundation office at (956) 727-0977 or by email at email@example.com. To reserve tables of 10, please stop by the WCHF office Mondays – Fridays, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Corporate sponsorship opportunities are available.