La Joya High honors last living Class of 1940 alumnus

Angelica Garcia, 96, presided over the official coin toss Friday evening in La Joya. Garcia was made an honorary captain of the game as she celebrated her 80th class reunion. (Dina Arévalo | darevalo@mvtcnews.com)

LA JOYA — With chill winds blowing in and the La Joya High School Band readying to play, Angelica Garcia stepped onto the football field before the Coyotes’ game Friday night for the first time in nearly 80 years.

Garcia, 96, hadn’t been to a La Joya football game since she graduated from what was then Nellie Schunior Memorial High School in 1940.

Her graduating class totaled 18.

“It was one of the largest,” Garcia recalled. “When my sisters graduated, one of them had two and the other one had three.”

Garcia, now the only surviving member of the class of 1940, was made the honorary team captain Friday and performed the coin flip at the start of the game.

“I’m really excited about it, I didn’t expect it,” Garcia said about the title.

PSJA North won the toss, but, as the referee noticed, it was a good flip.

La Joya Athletic Director Victor Garza said the district invited Garcia to be honorary captain after a family member asked if she could park closer to the field for the game. Garza says the district felt compelled to do more.

Angelica Garcia, 96, poses for a photograph on the 50-yard-line at La Joya Friday evening. Celebrating her 80th class reunion, Garcia was named an honorary team captain and presided over the official coin toss. (Dina Arévalo | darevalo@mvtcnews.com)

“It’s just a small tribute we can do on behalf of the district to one of our own and her family, just a little gesture that we felt like we could do to honor her,” he said.

Garza isn’t sure that Garcia is the oldest living alumnus of La Joya ISD, but he says that the memories she’s made and experiences she’s had over the past decade are remarkable.

“Just the fact of having an 80-year class reunion, it’s an honor,” he said. “She looks incredible, and the memories she has are incredible.”

Although she’s almost a century old, Garcia hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down. She visits Las Vegas frequently, navigating the rows of slot machines in her scooter and wearing out the family members that accompany her.

“She can outdo us when we’re out there in Vegas,” Garcia’s daughter, Letty, said. “She’ll be like, ‘Leave me here, you go away. I’ll call you if I need you.’”

Garcia has always been a bit of a maverick. She remembers graduating from high school in La Joya at the beginning of World War II and joining the war effort at the age of 17.

“All the boys were being taken into the army. I had two of my brothers and two cousins and my son-in-law, some were already in Germany. The superintendent wanted me to teach and then go back to college, but I didn’t like teaching at all,” Garcia recalled. “So we came to apply at Moore Field, and there they told us, ‘Well, we’re hiring for a man’s job.”

Like the iconic woman in the Rosie the Riveter poster, Garcia began working on planes for the U.S. Airforce.

Angelica Garcia, 96, holds a photograph depicting her and several other female machinists who worked as Rosie the Riveters in Marfa during World War II. (Dina Arévalo | darevalo@mvtcnews.com)

“They sent us for training in San Antonio for two weeks and then we were sent to Marfa, from 1943 to 46, when I left,” she said. “We all did men’s jobs. I was a machinist, I would make the bolts and the screws and stuff like that.”

Occasionally, a pilot would take them up in one of the planes they were producing parts for, sometimes without a cockpit.

“They were open, and we’d sit in the back,” Garcia said.

Garcia remembers facing discrimination in Marfa. When she suggested going out for dinner to a friend, the friend told her they couldn’t go, because none of the restaurants in town would serve anyone Hispanic, and that if they went to the movies they’d have to sit in the balcony.

Garcia went anyway.

“I was brave enough to go and sit down,” she said. “They came and served us. It would be foolish, such a little town with all those soldiers. They had to serve us.”

After the war Garcia returned to the Valley, working at a furniture company and later at day care centers before finally retiring in 1980 to care for her husband.

She’s spent most of her spare time in the past 40 years reading, watching game shows and baking.

Garcia made a reputation for herself as a baker. Her son, former Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, would give pumpkin rolls made by his mother to friends and associates at Christmas.

“Every time I would bake about a hundred, starting out in October, and my son would give them away. Even to Joe Kennedy,” Garcia recalled, laughing. “I remember, there was this representative for Bobby Guerra, and every time he saw me he’d ask, ‘When am I getting my pumpkin roll?’”

Garcia finally passed the tradition on to her daughters last year.

mwilson@themonitor.com