Minerva “Minnie” Bennett grew up in a poor family of 12 that survived on hand-me-downs. Now, she dedicates her life to silently paying it forward.

“I’m not a person to advertise,” said Bennett, 73. “That’s between me and God.”

Bennett owns a local Mexican restaurant, VeraCruz, at 3110 N Navarro St. She is one of three people being recognized by the DeLeon Club of Victoria for the work they do in the community in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which concludes Oct. 15. The Hispanic Recognition Celebration is 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the University of Houston-Victoria North Multipurpose Room.

Benny Ruiz and Daniel Martinez are also being recognized.

The DeLeon Club of Victoria members wanted to recognize “silent heroes” in the community, club president Mike Rivera said.

“They don’t seek glory,” Rivera said.

He said it is important for Victoria to recognize strong Hispanic community leaders as they help day-to-day.

It’s important for the younger generation to see the work being done in Victoria so they feel inspired to continue it, Rivera said.

Customers went in and out of VeraCruz, which is nestled between a Papa John’s Pizza and a Sonic Drive-In, as Bennett sat at a table with six chairs and a plate of Mexican food in front of her. She relaxed to the sound of Latin music after a busy lunch rush Tuesday afternoon.

Bennett has owned the restaurant since 1988 and moved to its current Navarro location in 1993.

The Victoria resident has been in the restaurant business for most of her life. She started as a waitress 54 years ago at a cafe in Tivoli and moved to Victoria in 1972. She continued as a waitress until 1988, when her boss approached her and asked whether she wanted to buy the restaurant from him.

“I thought he was joking,” Bennett remembered.

After a week of thought, she decided to become an owner.

“Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad,” she said with a chuckle, her eyes gleaming behind her glasses.

Bennett said she wasn’t sure whether moving to Navarro Street would be a good idea. The property owner was asking for $200,000, which she didn’t have, but she knew the location would be good for business.

She spoke to her lawyer, who said she was crazy and advised her to stay at her Airline Road location, she said. Bennett couldn’t shake it, so she went to pray at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church.

“I sat there for an hour, praying,” she said.

Now, 26 years later, she’s grateful for the move.

Bennett’s daughter, Ida Caballero, works alongside her mother in the restaurant as the general manager.

“We’ve come a long way,” Caballero said.

She said it’s great seeing her mother living her dream as a restaurant owner and making an impact in the community. Caballero, 54, said her mother was the perfect person to recognize.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “She is truly deserving of the award.”

Bennett isn’t just a business owner. She volunteers at her church as a youth minister and makes silent donations to organizations throughout Victoria.

Area residents who are homeless know if they are hungry, they can go to VeraCruz, and Bennett will happily give them a hot plate of food. She said the homeless may be mean to some people, but they show nothing but respect to her.

The moments that set her apart from others happen in the restaurant. Most recently, she remembers some young men sitting in the restaurant who told her they were hungry. Without a second’s hesitation, she grabbed them a plate.

“I was surprised,” said Bennett about her recognition. “I didn’t know anyone was paying attention.”

Samantha Douty is the education reporter at the Victoria Advocate.  She grew up in Corpus Christi and graduated from UT-Arlington with a bachelor's in journalism.

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