It’s All in the Family
When listening to the Rodriguez family talk about their time at UTSA, one can’t help but feel as if they’re narrating the university’s story as much as their own. Their four generations have intimately experienced the school’s transformation from a small higher-ed newcomer to a multicampus institution grooming professionals and serving San Antonio in myriad ways.
Arthur Rodriguez admits that his college memories are a little hazy, now that nearly four decades have passed since he got his degree, but he’ll never forget making the drive from Kelly Air Force Base, where he worked full-time, to attend night school on Main Campus. The commute he made on so many of those evenings in the late 1970s is nothing like the trek he makes to visit his granddaughter, Alexandra, at UTSA today. “It was like taking a ride through the country [back then],” he says with a chuckle.
For Arthur, his time at UTSA was all about “going to class and going home.” He was already married to his beloved Norma and was also the father to a young son named A.J. After serving in the military Arthur used his GI Bill benefits to attend San Antonio College before going to Our Lady of the Lake University for a semester. He recalls feeling incredibly grateful when construction of the Main Campus was completed in 1975 and opened its doors to undergraduate students. “It was essentially the only four-year public university in the area,” Arthur says. “It was only four buildings, but we were so happy to have it.”
All of those scenic drives, all of those nights away from home, and all of Arthur’s hard work paid off when he earned his B.B.A. in management in 1979. But he wasn’t the only nontraditional student in his family to earn a degree from UTSA that year; his father-in-law, Caesar B. Garcia, achieved his lifelong dream of becoming a college graduate when he obtained a B.A. in Spanish at 59.
Caesar (better known as C.B.) was also a veteran who put military service before his own formal education. He enlisted in the Navy as the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, just two years after he graduated from San Antonio Tech High School (now known as Fox Tech). While on active duty he served on the U.S.S. Wisconsin in the Pacific and also became an accomplished middleweight boxer, notching a 52–2 record in the Navy and sparring with eventual Boxing Hall of Famer Archie Moore. C.B. returned to San Antonio in the postwar years, working in radio electronics at Kelly AFB and staying active with the U.S. Naval Reserve until he retired in 1975.
Norma says that education was always very important to C.B., which is why her father served on the Edgewood School District board and took on additional jobs to put her and her two brothers through college. His family called him “the walking encyclopedia.” C.B. fluently spoke English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, and Italian, and he had such a vast knowledge of history, Norma recalls, that people he knew would often call the Garcia house for help on their school assignments. “My daddy was always their go-to guy,” she says.
That’s why, despite his many accomplishments, acquiring a college degree remained on C.B.’s bucket list. “He didn’t care how old he was,” Norma says. “He was going to get it.”
C.B. would go on to serve as an interpreter for local district courts during the 1980s before dying in 1994. His passion for public service rubbed off on Norma, who was the longest-tenured city clerk in San Antonio history, and his son, Caesar Garcia, who served as Bexar County’s chief probation officer for more than 20 years. That passion for civic duty also had a significant impact on grandson A.J.
A.J. grew up running around the city council offices, overhearing discussions of the city’s social and political issues at the dinner table, and admiring his father’s diploma from UTSA. He proudly recounts that all of those experiences shaped his future, but so did a good talk with his dad, who encouraged him to seek a degree in business at UTSA because of the career flexibility and increased number of opportunities it would provide. “He gave me an analogy at the time that ‘you can go and get your PhD in zoology, but there’s only one zoologist in each zoo,’” A.J. recalls as a big grin comes over Arthur’s face.
Looking back, they’re both happy that A.J. chose to pursue his bachelor of business administration. When A.J. enrolled in the mid-1990s, the campus was abuzz about the brand-new Business Building. He remembers hanging out in the common area and rekindling friendships with grade school classmates who went to different San Antonio high schools, but his proudest memories came after he acquired his B.B.A. in 1998 and went for his M.B.A. at the newly constructed Downtown Campus. He took all-day courses on Saturdays, and because he and his wife, Estelle, lived nearby, A.J. and his buddies would often pack the Rodriguez living room during those hour-long Saturday lunch breaks.
One of those classes stands out above the rest: Dr. John Merrifield’s international economics course. It was widely known to be a difficult course, A.J. says, and Dr. Merrifield told the students that very few earn an A grade. A.J. and his study partner, Nim Meishar, made it a personal challenge to get the highest grades in the class. As a handful of students dropped the course, they studied tirelessly. He still recalls eagerly going to the instructor’s office with Nim to find out what grade they’d been given.
“We were the only two that got A’s,” A.J. recalls. “[Dr. Merrifield] told us: ‘There are high notes and there are low notes—remember that for the rest of your life. But today, you get the two high notes.’ We worked really hard, and that made it all worthwhile.”
Since acquiring his M.B.A. in 2000, A.J. has become one of San Antonio’s most notable civic leaders. He served as president and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce from 2004 to 2008, which more than doubled its membership base during his tenure. He then took on the role of deputy city manager for the City of San Antonio from 2008 to 2011, directly supervising the areas of international relations and economic development, among other departments. He took a position at the Zachry Group in December of 2011—where he’s now the vice president for external affairs—but he’s also serving on the SA2020 Talent Pipeline Task Force and is the chairman of the board of directors of the Texas Association of Business.
Through it all, A.J. has maintained close ties to UTSA. He’s a member of the Development Board and chair of the advisory council for the College of Public Policy. He says he enjoys giving back to the university, not only because he’s thankful for his education and the opportunities that came with it but because he’s genuinely excited about the “incredible growth” of UTSA and its continued evolution. “To see that as an alum makes you so proud,” A.J. says. “What’s happening with the athletic program and football, with all the new research, with the new baccalaureate and doctorate programs being created—it’s just extraordinary.”
He’s now the proud father of a Roadrunner as well. His oldest, Alexandra (everyone calls her Alex), is a communication major on track to graduate in 2019. Although she toured several Texas colleges, Alex says she always leaned toward UTSA because her family spoke about the university with such adoration. She says she’ll never forget the overwhelming sense of honor she felt when she received a class of 2019 T-shirt at her freshman orientation. “UTSA was so welcoming,” Alex says, “and that’s what San Antonio as a whole is all about.”
Alex is following in the family footsteps in more ways than one. While digital communication has been the emphasis of her coursework, she’s also pursuing a business minor. She hopes to eventually earn a master’s degree at UTSA just like her dad. Alex is even doing her part to help the city. In 2016 she researched economic impact data and worked on social media engagement for the San Antonio Tricentennial team. She also organized surveys and wrote scripts as an intern for the City of San Antonio’s government and public affairs department last summer.
Studying at UTSA and empowering San Antonio: It’s a Rodriguez family tradition. And if Norma has her way, it’s a tradition that will keep going for years to come. “I was really proud that my father attended UTSA,” she says, “and even more proud that it became the school where my husband, my son, and my granddaughter all attended.” She pauses momentarily before nodding at Alex’s younger brother, Arthur John. “We’re hoping to get another young man to go there.”