Conjunto museum founder Avila dies at 77

Rey Avila

SAN BENITO — Family and friends yesterday remembered Rey Avila as a loving husband and father who made his dream come true when he brought the Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame and Museum to town.

Avila, 77, died at his home Sunday evening after an eight-month battle with cancer.

“He was there for the family. Through good times and bad times, he was always someone to lean on and depend on,” his daughter Patricia Avila said yesterday. “He was always thinking of others. He always had a helping hand. He taught us about honesty and trust and how to be a good friend to others and to give back to the community. He’s a really great example of giving back to the community.”

Since the mid 1990s, Avila dreamed of showcasing San Benito’s history, steeped in conjunto music.

“The music was special to my dad,” Patricia Avila said. “It’s blue collar music people can relate to. It touched my dad’s soul.”

At City Hall, officials described Avila as a visionary.

“Rey was truly dedicated to the establishment of the Texas conjunto — the Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame and Museum, growing it from its inception to a respected institution reaching from the Valley to throughout the state, country and beyond,” city spokeswoman Martha McClain stated. “His spirit, enthusiasm and hard work will be greatly missed.”

Avila, who once ran a business moving houses, retired from the Texas Department of Transportation before he began planning to develop a conjunto music hall of fame to induct the genre’s legendary pioneers.

By 2000, Avila unveiled artifacts he displayed in a bedroom of his home, calling it the “Wall of Fame.”

“What a loss for San Benito and for the conjunto museum,” former Mayor Celeste Sanchez said. “Ray knew no obstacles. If you said no to him, he found a way. He persevered. One door would close and he opened another.”

After the legendary Ideal Recording Studio closed, businessman Lionel Betancourt donated his father Paco Betancourt’s artifacts to Avila.

Dream come true

In 2008, Avila opened the Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame at the city’s Community Center, helping to put San Benito on the map as the home of conjunto music.

Avila billed it as the only museum of its kind in the world.

“The Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame was a dream of my dad,” Patricia Avila said. “His dream of the museum will continue. He left a legacy.”

For about 20 years, Sandra Tumberlinson worked with Avila to develop a museum showcasing her San Benito History Museum along with his Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

“Rey was the heart and soul of San Benito,” Tumberlinson said. “I worked with him for 20 years and his dream of establishing the Conjunto Hall of Fame in San Benito will not die with him.”

Legacy

About two years ago, the city used a grant to build the San Benito Cultural and Heritage Museum, which Avila dreamed would house the Conjunto Hall of Fame and Museum.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t see the Hall of Fame move into the new facility — but he will someday,” Tumberlinson said. “All of us understand his mission and we will continue to work toward it.”

Sanchez, who also worked with Avila to develop the city’s museums, said he helped put San Benito on the map as the home of conjunto music.

“It was his dream to have a conjunto museum to preserve the music. He lived it,” Sanchez said. “He had the passion for archiving and preserving the conjunto culture for further generations.”

Sanchez, a member of the Conjunto Hall of Fame and Museum board, said board members plan to keep developing the museum.

“The membership has to continue the legacy that he started,” she said. “Before he passed, we told him we would continue — the conjunto museum would not die with him.”