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Ruben Maldonado retires after twenty years in government
He sits on his favorite stool, as he does every night, with his radio on, tapping his foot to the beat of his favorite Tejano station, and smiles.
“You know, I started all this to make a difference,” he says.
Twenty years after taking office as Frio County commissioner in Precinct 3, Ruben Maldonado has decided to retire.
Ruben’s love for music has earned him the title of “the singing commissioner,” something he takes pride in. He is often heard serenading his constituents, or anyone for that matter, especially if it is their birthday.
“Singing has been my passion since I was a teenager,” the commissioner says. “I once was the lead singer for a band that some friends and I formed in the sixties called Teddy Flores and the Night Dreamers.”
The band would play at family gatherings, but as time went on and the men grew older they went their separate ways.
A few years after marrying his wife, Alma, Ruben decided to focus on his education and returned to Pearsall High School, where he earned his high school diploma. he had previously dropped out of school. Going back was vital to him.
“I have always believed that education is extremely important and it did not matter that I had quit once,” he says. “I chose to return and finish.”
After high school, he worked many jobs but says he felt that he really earned his name when he began to work at Foremost Milk.
“I started as a milkman and delivered to many areas, but mostly in Pearsall,” he says. “Sometimes families could not afford to pay, but they still got their milk. I knew that milk was for their children and it was not their fault that the parents had fallen on hard times.”
Ruben, who had a growing family of his own, would pay for the families’ milk. Giving to others is a trait for which he became known in town, and he has developed a renown for donating food to many organizations, bicycles to students at the elementary school for excelling at reading, or jackets and clothes to children whose parents cannot afford to buy new clothes.
Following his job with Foremost, Ruben continued his employment with jobs that required public interaction. It led him into politics. Ruben attributes his initial interest in county government to former Pct. 1 Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Salinas.
“I started working for Chuy, and he was a commissioner,” he says. “I guess you could say that is when I kind of got into Frio politics.”
Ruben took a leap of faith and decided to run for county commissioner in 2000, a race that opened his eyes to how malicious politics could be.
“I was fifty years old when I decided to run,” the commissioner says. “There were ugly things said and done to me by my opponent at the time, but I kept my cool and prayed about it. I let the voters do all the talking and I successfully beat him in a run-off.”
Shaking his head in dismay as he reminisces about that first election, Ruben looks up from the kitchen stool and says, “I can honestly say that I wanted to be a commissioner because I wanted to help the people of Frio County. It was of the utmost importance to me.”
During his 20-year stint in government, Ruben helped bring benevolent programs to the elderly and disabled. The disabled have always held a special place in his heart because of his son, who was born with cerebral palsy in 1971.
The commissioner says that at the time his son was in school there was not a bus in Pearsall for special-needs children. He recalls the day when he asked school administrators to explain the lack of support for the district’s handicapped children, and how his plea on behalf of all those in need was dismissed.
“So I hired an attorney out of Uvalde to help with the case and we did go to court,” he says, “and were able to bring a bus for handicapped students.”
Over the past 20 years, Ruben was at the bench during a time the county saw major changes, notably the oil boom of 2012. Along with making financial decisions with taxpayer funds during the boom, the commissioner takes credit for many improvements in his precinct, such as crossbucks at railroad intersections, speed bumps to reduce traffic hazards, and park upgrades.
Among his favorite activities, though, has been an annual event that holds a special place in his heart.
“I am most grateful that my wife and I were able to host very successful annual Easter Egg Hunts,” he says. “It was all for the children; their happiness and smiling faces is what I looked forward to every spring.”
Ruben served on several boards that included GEO, Camino Real and CASA.
“I know my family is proud of what I have accomplished during my term,” he says. “I think the constituents of Precinct Three are proud of me too. I had many people asking me not to retire, but I am seventy years old. I have grandchildren and great-grandchildren to spend time with and to spoil, because that is what life is all about – making the most of your time here on this Earth and having people remember you for the good that you have done.”
Choosing not to seek re-election this year, the commissioner leaves behind a legacy of compassion, service and loyalty, not only his precinct voters but also to all the people of Frio County.