Ramon and Bersabe Lopez Rodriguez named the 2018 Swamp Cabbage Festival Pioneer Family

Circa 1960 Back [l-r] Aurora, Flora, Alicia, Ramon Sanalfonso, Raul and Adelina (Nina). Front [l-r] Ruben, Ramon with Ramiro in his lap, Bersabe and Anita. (Submitted photo)

Ramon and Bersabe Lopez Rodriguez, descendants of pioneer Spanish stock going back to the days when the Atlantic Coast of North America belonged to Great Britain and much of the Gulf Coast of North America including much of the present State of Texas was included in the Viceroyalty of New Spain, became pioneers themselves when economic adversity forced them to leave the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas where their families had lived for almost 200 hundred years and eventually settle in LaBelle where they have been chosen as the 2018 Pioneer Family for the 52nd Swamp Cabbage Festival celebrated on the last full weekend in February.

Many of the Spanish families lured into the Rio Grande Valley by the promise of land grants from the King of Spain were well aware they were serving as a buffer between the marauding Tonkawa, Apache, and Comanche tribes to the north and the more established and wealthier regions to the south in Old Mexico. Lopez family tradition tells the story of young Hipolita Falcon, whose family were pioneers near present day Laredo, abducted at the tender age of 16 by a band of Tonkawa in 1768 as she went down to the river to bring back water. Hipolita was held captive for some six years before she was able to escape and return to her family; Hipolita shared little of her life with the Tonkawas other than saying she had not been mistreated. Several years after her return she married Casimiro Benavidez and became a direct ancestor of Bersabe Lopez, who married 21 year-old Ramon Rodriguez in 1935 when she was not quite 18 years old.

The newly married couple began to raise a family, but life in Texas during the l930s and 1940s was as difficult for them as it had been for their ancestors some 150 years earlier. However Ramon had knowledge of agriculture and citrus and soon became manager of a large grove in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Three girls – Aurora, Flora, and Alicia – were eventually joined by two sons – Ramon and Raul – and soon by Adelina, the fourth daughter. Whether by plan or subconsciously, Ramon and Bersabe realized that three of the four girls had names beginning with the letter A and the two sons both had first names beginning with the letter R and decided they would continue with this family tradition in naming any subsequent children.

A devastating freeze wiped out the citrus industry in South Texas, and the Rodriguez family became migrant farm laborers after almost 200 years of settled farming in the Rio Grande Valley. They ended up in LaBelle in the early 1960s, and Ramon’s background in citrus made it easy for him to fit into Bob Paul, Inc’s new grove operation on the old Circle Bar Cattle Ranch. By this time the family had grown to its full complement of nine children with the addition of Ruben, Anita, and Ramiro. Ramon and Bersabe Rodriguez bought a house on Broward Avenue in LaBelle around 1970 and moved into town from Bob Paul, Inc’s labor camp south of LaBelle on the Immokalee Highway.

Ramon Rodriguez passed away in 1995 after some 60 years of marriage but not before he could see that his children were not only a credit to him and their mother but also to their community. Bersabe Rodriguez turns 100 years old on December 11 but still finds time daily to tend to her roses, the envy of many a gardener. Her children, five daughters and four sons, thirty-three grandchildren, sixty great grandchildren, and twenty-one great great grandchildren are the stars in her crown.

Oldest daughter Aurora married Enrique Zepeda, an Army veteran and now retired from the U S Postal Service, and lives in McAllen, Texas; her sister Flora married Armando Ambriz, now retired from Palmer Steel Supply, and also lives in McAllen, Texas. Both older daughters are frequent visitors to LaBelle. The next daughter Alicia, widow of Juan Sauceda, lives in LaBelle, worked with her sister and brother-in-law at Contreras Restaurant and Berry Groves and Bob Paul, Inc., prior to retiring; Ramon Sanalfonso, the oldest son, married Sofia Gonzalez and lives in LaBelle, enjoying his retirement from CenturyLink following his experience as a farm labor organizer with O.M.I.C.A. during and after his student days at the University of South Florida; Raul, the next son, who not only followed in his father’s footsteps but has also been with USPS , is married to the former Elena Rodriguez; Adelina, known to all and sundry as Nina, is the wife of Arnold Contreras and is responsible for everything that comes out of the kitchen of their Contreras Restaurant on Highway 80 in LaBelle. Ruben, a football star at LaBelle High School in the 1970s, attended Minot State University in North Dakota, is married to the former Shana Pickett, and works for Plantation Botanicals in Felda. Anita (“Anna”), the youngest daughter, married A. J. Lozano and is retired from LaBelle Elementary School where she was the ELL Paraprofessional for 39 years. Ramiro, the ninth of the Rodriguez siblings married the former Soila Gonzalez, a younger sister of his brother Ramon’s wife Sofia, and is the Recreation Director for Hendry County and Secretary to the Hendry County Recreation Board.

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