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Port Lavaca man honored for reviving downtown (video)

Sept. 15, 2012 at 4:15 a.m.

Ray Davila, 85, a celebrated community member of Port Lavaca, receives a round of applause after a dance with his daughter, Alicia Davila, 64, at Calhoun County Cultures and Cuisines' Celebracion de Deiz y Seis de Septiembre at Faye Sterling Park on Main Street in Port Lavaca Saturday. The community event was held in honor of the Sixteenth of September, celebrated as Mexican Independence Day. Ray Davila immigrated to Port Lavaca in 1954 from Mexico and has since gained prominence and respect for his leadership and citizenship to the Port Lavaca Community. He was honored by the Mayor of Port Lavaca with a key to the city at Saturday's celebration.

When Ray Davila emigrated with his family from Mexico in the 1954, he had about $40 in his pocket.

And he hadn't planned on making the pit stop to Port Lavaca permanent either.

"We had in mind to go to Rosenberg or Richmond, where I have family," the 85-year-old said, but his cousin convinced him otherwise.

Loaning him another $50, Davila's cousin encouraged Davila to go to Yoakum and buy some equipment to hone a trade he picked up from in his native country - shoe making.

"At the time, they didn't have any machines," he said of a shoe Golden Age, a day before shopping malls. "I stitched the soles, finished them with sandpaper and nailed it to a little, metal foot."

It eventually grew into the Davila Shoe Shop, an anchor in Port Lavaca's about 15-year-old Main Street Program.

Mayor Jack Whitlow handed him a key to the city Saturday.

He described Davila as a hero, someone who had saved the downtown when it was blighted and overrun by taverns in the 1980s and 1990s.

"First of all, I want to thank you for being one my first friends ever when I came to Port Lavaca," Whitlow said, as Davila marveled at the large, shiny, gold key. "The next question I always get is, 'Well, what does it open?' It's not to any of the city's faults. It's a key to the hearts of the citizens here."

Meanwhile, organizers, who hung a red, white and green pinata in Faye Sterling Park, sang Davila's praises.

Accordion player Alfredo Serna, of Port Lavaca, recalled how Davila sang a few chords at the group's last gathering.

"He's a very respectable person," he said.

Rose Pena, a founding member of the Main Street Program, still remembers the advice he bestowed upon her as a young bride nearly 44 years ago.

"He said it's all about communication," she said.

Humble, Davila said if he can live the American Dream, anyone with some laid out goals surely can, too.

"I don't like to brag about it ... I'm just Ray Davila the shoe repairman," he said before the event kicked off.

Davila now has several irons in the fire. After renovating the about 80-year-old Port Lavaca Theatre and handing the keys over to the city, he owns and leases seven properties in the downtown area.

He's especially proud of his Port Lavaca Hotel. Built in 1904 and once a place where the bankers and billionaires laid their heads, it boasts a historical marker and was re-purposed recently into town homes.

And he said his family's shoe business is thriving under his son, Alex Davila, despite the economic downturn.

"We still have a lot of customers come in from Bay City, Victoria, El Campo and Bloomington," Davila said.

He said he owes his successes to God and his late wife, Tina Davila.

"I'm happy and satisfied with what the heavenly Father has provided to me," Davila said.

Related stories:

UHV Professor shares Mexican heritage, click HERE

Port Lavacans celebrate Diez y Seis de Septiembre, click HERE



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