For The Madera Tribune
I read with regrets of the passing of Alfonso Gonzalez last month. He was the father of Ed Gonzalez, former MUSD superintendent and one of the finest gentlemen I have ever met. If ever anyone lived to make his life count, Mr. Gonzalez did.
It was in June 1947, that Alfonso graduated from the largest class that had ever graduated from Madera High School, and in the graduation audience were his proud parents who had left their Del Rio, Texas, home to bring him and his siblings to Madera.
No one could have imagined just how propitious that move to California would be. It meant new opportunities for the entire family, and for Alfonso it meant that 67 years later he would be part of another audience — one in which his son, Ed, would be introduced as Madera Unified School District’s new school superintendent. This probably came as no surprise to Alphonso.
His parents, who earned their living in the fields, had instilled in him a voracious appetite for learning, although their own years of formal education were few. They enrolled him in Pershing Elementary where Ruby Jones and Merle Jones saw to it that he got a good start in his new school.
Alfonso finished the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades at Pershing and then transferred up the street to Lincoln School for the 7th and 8th grades. While there, the young teenager received a special hand from two teachers, Mrs. Rey and Mrs. Thompson.
In 1943, Alfonso entered Madera High School where the admonitions of his parents and his natural affinity for learning produced a scholar of the first rank.
Size kept him off of the basketball and football teams, so with the exception of the handball court, Alfonso focused on academics. With the urging of his father echoing in his ears, he plunged with vigor into his course work and became an honor student. Before he left Madera High he was a lifetime CSF member. In his spare time, he worked in the fields with the rest of his family.
Among all of the curricular offerings, English and math held the most appeal for Alfonso. He also embraced music and played trumpet in the marching band.
Although his interest in academics was high, this is not to say Alfonso did not have a social life. Most assuredly he did. Not long after high school he had his eye on Mercedes Baeza, who was a native of Decoto, CA and had gone to school in Cantua Creek.
By 1949, Mercedes had moved to Fresno, and that is when she and Alfonso began to date. Cupid’s arrow found its mark with Alfonso right away. He told a friend after his first date with Mercedes that he was going to marry her.
For Mercedes, however, things didn’t move that quickly. She wasn’t certain that Alfonso was the one for her. Nevertheless, they continued to see each other, and when Alfonso joined the army in 1951, he wrote frequently to his intended.
Before his military service, Alfonso had attended 4-Cs Business College and then worked as a bookkeeper for the Bonita Gin from 1949-1950, after which he worked for a short time for the U.S. Census Bureau.
Before Alfonso’s discharge from the Army in 1953, he wrote Mercedes a letter of proposal and she accepted. When he came home, he prepared to enroll in Fresno State. Now things began to move more quickly. He took the entrance exam on Wednesday and began classes on Friday.
He majored in accounting and earned his BS degree in 1957, but on April 18, before he graduated, he and Mercedes were joined in marriage in St. Alfonsus Catholic Church in Fresno.
Alfonso became a CPA and went to work for the government, auditing various agencies, one of which was the General Accounting Office in San Francisco.
Mercedes, who had also graduated from 4-Cs, landed a job with Fresno Unified School District as a head secretary.
Alfonso and Mercedes had five children, two sons and three daughters, and in the beginning, Alfonso tried to influence the direction they would take in their professional lives.
Their first born, Steven, he urged to become an attorney. To their second son, Ed, he suggested a career as an accountant. Neither of those efforts bore fruit. Steven became a school principal, and Ed, as every Maderan knows, went into education.
At that point, Alfonso and Mercedes prompted their children to “be what you want to be.” Anne Marie, became a physician (as did her husband), and daughters Mercedes and Barbara became teachers.
As he looked back over his life, Alfonso didn’t dwell on the discrimination that raised its ugly head in those earlier days. He rose above the discouraging predictions that no one would hire him as a CPA because he was a Mexican/American. He rarely thought about being tied to the chair at school so that he wouldn’t run off (He couldn’t understand the teacher’s instructions, so he wanted to go home). He almost forgot that some minorities were denied access to the city’s swimming pool in the 1940s.
Instead, he remembered how his father escaped the plight of the poor by building on the family’s past to determine its future, and that is the legacy of Alfonso Gonzalez.
Every student whose life has been influenced by one of his children — every person whose body has been made well by his daughter — is a testament to the strength of character that goes back a long way in the Gonzalez family history.
In truth, Alfonso Gonzalez made his life count.