Socorro Mayor Willie Gandara: A Self-Made Man
By Joe Olvera (c), 2010
From being a great football player his senior year at Jefferson High School, to being recently elected the Mayor of Socorro, Texas, Willie Gandara Sr., said the secret of his success is that he never gave up. He thanks his mother, who was a very strong woman. She instilled in him the reality that he had to fight to get where he wanted to go.
“I wish every youngster could go to college or university,” said Gandara. “But, for those who can’t, or who prefer not to, there is always trade school. One trade that is dying off, but shouldn’t, is being a barber. It’s an honorable profession that is dying off. But, whatever your goal is in life, it takes strength of mind, strength of character, and a never-say-die attitude to succeed.”
Gandara, the head of a family in Socorro that is making great strides not only in business, but, in politics as well, served two years in the U.S. Army. He was drafted, but, didn’t go to Vietnam. Instead, he spent his last few months at Fort Bliss in his beloved home town of El Paso.
“I came from the barrio, I’m a barrio boy from Los Tanques in San Juan. My mom raised us because she had divorced my father. She was a single mom who raised six boys and one girl. It was her strength that allowed us to stay away from gangs, drugs, and other nefarious activities,” Gandara said. “Also, I never had problems with gangs because, as a football player, I was the pride of the barrio. The young gangsters protected me because they knew that I had a Friday night football game, and, for them, that was a big deal. They would warn everyone to leave me alone, to stay away from me so that I could be the best player around.”
Roberto Lerma, the former president of the Ysleta ISD and a Jefferson grad, said that he remembers Gandara as always being very active, as being very athletic. “He was tough, but, in a different way. He was never a bully or anything like that. But, he was big, and nobody messed with Willie. But, I never saw him get into any trouble. I even met his mom, who, poor lady, died of diabetes complications. But, she never let on to her kids that she was suffering from the dread disease.”
As Socorro Mayor, Gandara, who has lived in that fabled, rural community since 1974, plans to unite his city, to stop the bickering at city hall. He said he believes he is the man to do it, because of the respect people have for him. “I used to work for $1.75 per hour, earning about $52 per week back in the 1970s. But, on weekends, I started collecting and selling scrap metal. I would go to the swap meets and sell uniforms, I would sell whatever I could get my hands on. But, I decided around 1980 that selling scrap metal was going to be my main business.” Today, Gandara and his family own Gandara Recycling, and Socorro Iron and Metals.
“I know that he’s going to be a great Mayor,” Lerma said. “He’s a self-made guy, and the people love him and respect him. He always wanted to be Mayor, and ran for the first time in 1998, but, he didn’t win. Yet, he never gave up. My hats off to him, because, out of poverty, her realized all his dreams.”
Gandara believes strongly in the young people of Socorro, a city of more than 32,000 people. “Anyone can succeed, but, they must never lose sight of their dreams. After my football years, I was offered several scholarships to good colleges. But, I just didn’t have the grades. Still, I never gave up. That’s my message to the youngsters of today. Never give up, because, if you work hard enough, and if you don’t lose sight of your goals, you’ll make it. It takes hard work and dedication, but you can be whatever you want.”