THREE RIVERS – Aristeo Ponce was born in Mexico in 1896, as was Juanita Trinidad in 1900. They married in 1920 and moved to Odem, Texas. In 1924, Aristeo was out of work and they decided to move to Three Rivers. There, Aristeo found work as a carpenter. Many of the homes he built in Three Rivers still stand.
Several years later, they opened Ponce’s Grocery Store on the west side of Three Rivers; and, later Ponce dance hall. One unusual thing is that Aristeo never sold any alcoholic beverages in either establishment.
Aristeo was known as a kind person who thought more of his customers than about making a dollar. He was generous, extended credit and was very civic minded. He started several yearly festivals, including Cinco de Mayo, Diez y Seis and Santa’s yearly visit to Ponce Dance Hall, where he provided every child with a bag of goodies. He was also a very devout Catholic and was instrumental in building Sacred Heart Catholic Church in raising money for the church.
On Diez y Seis, the custom was for Texas citizens to visit their relatives in Mexico and vice versa. On one such occasion, Aristeo’s mother, Petra Pena Ponce, came up from Mexico to visit Aristeo and his family. She never returned to Mexico, but lived the rest of her life with Aristeo and family in their home.
Aristeo and Juanita had 11 children: Esteban (who died at nine months), Felix, Petra, Victor, Guadalupe, Manuel, Jesus, Ricardo, Mary, Luis and Aristeo Jr.
Petra and Ricardo (“Rico”) never married. They lived with Aristeo and Juanita and worked in the family businesses.
Felix married Hortencia Garcia of Three Rivers and lived in San Antonio. They had three children. Victor married Maria Gutierrez of Three Rivers and lived in San Antonio. They had two sons. Manuel had one son with his first wife. Aristeo and Juanita raised this son, Manuel, Jr. He still lives in Aristeo and Juanita’s home and works for the roadside park. Manuel then married Paula Barrientez of Laredo and had one daughter. They still live in Laredo. Guadalupe married Gloria Bustamante of Campbellton. They had three daughters; Gracie, Pedie and Ginnie. Gracie lives in George West. Pedie lives in Three Rivers. Ginnie married Robert Smith and they live with their sons in Ray Point. Ginnie has long worked for First State Bank. Jessie married Rachel Fuentes of George West. They live in San Antonio and have four children. Mary married Eloy Chapa of George West, where she still lives. She has two sons. Luis married Geneva Villanueva of Pawnee and they lived in George West where Luis was a barber. They have two sons, Luis of George West and Johnny of Orange Grove, and one daughter, Christina who lives in Three Rivers with her husband, Richard Rodriguez, and her daughter. Christina and Richard both work for Three Rivers Refinery. Aristeo, Jr. and his wife Isabel live in Phoenix.
Aristeo was very proud of his Mexican heritage, but he also loved the United States. He was very proud that seven of his sons served in the military; with four serving at the same time during the Koren Conflict.
Of the Ponce children, only Victor, Mary, Jessie and Aristeo Jr. are still living.
Aristeo and Juanita were business people in Three Rivers for 50 years. Aristeo died in 1973 and Juanita in 1998. In 2006, the Three Rivers City Council renamed Atascosa Park as Aristeo Ponce Park, to honor Aristeo and his family.
With this article, we salute a great family who have had roots in Three Rivers for almost 90 years and five generations.