Del Rioans who’d like to find out where family members are buried in the San Felipe Cemetery will get a chance Saturday to visit with the man who has recorded the locations of more than 3,330 graves there.
Mario R. Vazquez, who is more popularly known as “Mario From the Barrio” in the south Del Rio neighborhood of San Felipe, after his autobiography of the same name, has spent the last two-and-a-half years working to create a comprehensive record of the graves in the San Felipe Cemetery.
On Saturday, from 9:30 a.m. to about 1 p.m., Vazquez and a compatriot, former Val Verde County Commissioner Roy Musquiz, will be at the San Felipe Cemetery off Brodbent Avenue to assist visitors in locating the graves of family members.
“For a while, nobody was interested in helping me. I was going grave by grave, row by row, and I’ve ended up now with 3,336 graves located. We’ve got it all in coordinates and sections, and the sections are gridded, so if somebody asks me where somebody is buried, I will look at the name, and then I can tell the people exactly where it is,” Vazquez said.
Several Del Rio individuals, including a number of veterans, as well as organizations like the Del Rio Rotary Club, the Del Rio Host Lions Club and Boy Scout Troop #255, have assisted Vazquez in his efforts.
The San Felipe Cemetery was used, mostly by the people of the Barrio San Felipe in south Del Rio, after the closure of an even older burial ground, El Cementerio De La Loma De La Cruz, located to the southeast.
For many years, the San Felipe Cemetery had a dedicated caretaker, Jesus “Jesse” Cardenas, who looked after the grounds and whose knowledge about who was buried where was nearly encyclopedic. But much of that knowledge died with Cardenas, and Vazquez said there was no permanent record of burials and their locations when he arrived.
Vazquez lived and worked in California for 71 years, and his adventures, including a meeting with the President of the United States in the Oval Office of the White House, are recounted in his book.
Vazquez said he began working on the graves registration project shortly after he returned to Del Rio about three years ago. He said the graves registration project is important to him for a number of reasons.
“People come in from out of town. They may have moved from here long ago. Their parents or their grandparents lived here, died here and were buried here. Now they come back from California or Illinois or wherever to see the graves, and there’s no record,” Vazquez said.
Vazquez has also researched and written a short history of the San Felipe Cemetery.
“The cemetery opened in 1933 after the Cementerio Loma De La Cruz stopped accepting new graves. The cementerio was on four acres of land donated (to the San Felipe community) by the Losoya sisters around 1882,” Vazquez wrote.
The San Felipe Cemetery contains a number of notable historical personages, Vazquez wrote.
“Among the burials is one veteran from the Indian Scouts, four veterans of World War I, many from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. There are also two burials (of veterans) of the Mexican Revolution.
“One of the burials is Gregorio Frausto, who was born in 1846 and died at 101 years of age in 1947. He served with the Indian Scouts in 1882-1884. Other historical people include Alfredo Villegas, who was a colonel in Pancho Villa’s army in the Mexican Revolution. The other was his wife whom he married late in life, Adelita Velarde Perez, who joined Villa’s army at the age of 13, against her parents’ wishes. A bronze sculpture has been placed over her grave in her Army dress uniform plus a guitar,” Vazquez wrote.