When Knippa resident Juan Esquivel Sr. died in 1992, he went to his grave knowing that he had done all he could to ensure that his 11 children had the tools to succeed in life. They all graduated from Knippa High School, and succeed they did.
From humble beginnings in a two-room house, the 11 Esquivel children found success in various fields: Juan Jr. “Johnny,” a health care engineer for over 40 years, now living in South Carolina; Mona, a licensed peace officer, former Uvalde County Clerk, and currently family engagement specialist for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District; Marie Edith, a business staff member in the Kerrville ISD and Uvalde CISD; Lynda Lee, officer manager in the medical field; Josefina “Jo,” an assisted living facility staff member; Norma, a customer service employee; Samuel, a former veteran experienced in security and alarm systems; Janie and Eva, beauty salon professionals; Jose, a Knippa ISD college math teacher; and Jesus, a Ph.D. research scientist for the United States Department of Agriculture in entomology for Texas A&M University.
“Education was a priority of my dad’s as he only went through sixth grade.” Juan Esquivel Jr. recalls the values instilled in them by their father. “We picked crops, mainly carrots, onions, and cucumbers, only in the summer, mainly south of Uvalde, as my dad didn’t want us to miss any school like many of the migrant workers. He also insisted that we all eat our evening meal together, and, before he died, his wish was that we all keep in contact with one another.”
Juan Sr. and his three brothers, sons of U.S. citizen Francisco Esquivel, were all born in Guadalupe County, Texas. After spending some time in Mexico during the 1940s, they arrived in Knippa in the early 1950s where Juan Sr. and his brother Melquiadez found work with H.O. Niemeyer, owner of the Knippa Trading Company in town and also a farm located north of Highway 90, east of the westernmost of the two bridges over the Frio River.
There, in an area referred to as Cocklebur Flats, Juan and Melquiadez and their growing families, divided a house into two homes. Maurine Niemeyer Joens, daughter of H.O. Niemeyer, describes Juan as a “good man, honest, a hard worker, and a good worker.” Juan worked for Mr. Niemeyer for 34 years, while his daughters worked for Mrs. Paula Niemeyer in town. Joens fondly recalls eating with the family. “Mrs. Esquivel made the best tamales. She was referred to by her grandchildren as ‘Chapulina,’ Spanish for grasshopper as she moved about so quickly.”
Juan Jr. says that his mother, María, was the disciplinarian of the family. Born in Ejido los Charcos in the state of Coahuila, Mexico, she spoke little English but she could understand it, and she became a naturalized citizen in November of 1984. María Corpus Esquivel died of ovarian cancer on Sept. 1, 1999, with all her children present. She is buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Knippa, along with her husband.
In the late 1960s Juan Sr. began building a two-room house in town, a house which was slowly added to over the years to accommodate the growing family. Juan Jr. recalls, “I helped my dad with the foundations of the house in Knippa. He built it from scratch, using only a hammer, square, level, and a hand saw. The last thing added was a real bathroom.”
Juan Jr. also credits the teachers at the Knippa school for mentoring him and his siblings. Juan remembers that he was approached by Principal Dan Bielfeldt regarding Jesus’ future when Jesus graduated in 1986. Bielfeldt said that Jesus had a “gift” and should further his education, so Juan Jr. talked to his father. “My dad’s eyes widened when I told him what Mr. Bielfeldt said.” With Mr. Bielfeldt’s help in finding grants and scholarships, Jesus eventually earned a Ph.D.
In the words of Juan Jr., “The community of Knippa was an important part of our lives. I viewed the teachers as my parents.” In addition to Mr. Bielfeldt, he credits the following teachers and staff for impacting the lives of the Esquivel children: Mrs. Joyce Harkey Winn; James and Alice Santleben; Mrs. Carolyn Niemeyer Reagan; Coach Travis Stewart; Superintendent Robert E. Schlortt; Mrs. Luisa Varela Alvarado; and Ms. Jerry Radicke. Sister Mona, valedictorian of her class, added Barry Balzen and Mrs. Eva Sanderlin as mentors.
Uvalde County and Knippa, especially, can be proud of Juan Esquivel Sr. for the 11 gifts he left behind. He, like most parents, had the desire that his children experience a much better life than he had ever known. We salute you, Juan. ¡Feliz Día del Padre!