Rudy Davila Jr.

This interview was conducted by Jennifer Josie Aparicio in April 2014 in San Antonio, TX. as part of Palo Alto College’s History 1302 – Spring 2014 class.

Introduction

Rodolfo Davila Jr was born March 27, 1934 in San Antonio, Texas to Rodolfo Davila Sr. and his wife Delia. He earned his B.S. in pharmacy from UT in 1955. After Graduating Mr. Davila took his state board test in June of 1955 only three months after turning 21 and passed. State Board requirements are to be 21 or older to take the State Board Test. Mr. Davila then gained his first job as an assistant manager (pharmacists) at Summers Pharmacy while waiting for his first grocery/pharmacy store to open. After working for six months at Summers Pharmacy his pharmacy opened in 1955 next to the Davila food store which was established by his family in 1904. This was the first Davila Pharmacy that was established in 1955. Before HEB or Walmart had ever opened a grocery/pharmacy store, Mr. Davila and his father were the first to offer this type of establishment to the public. Rodolfo Davila married his wife Dorothy in 1955 and had two children Rosette, born July 17, 1963 and Rodolfo Davila II, born May 21, 1969. Both Children also graduated from the University of Texas college of Pharmacy. Mr. Davila established a family scholarship in 1999 at UT and has been a member of the UT college of Pharmacy Advisory Council for many years. Mr. Davila has overseen Davila Pharmacy for 58 years and has received two awards from the UT Alumni. He was awarded the Sheffield in 2004 and was nominated for the Legend award by state senator Leticia Van De Putte, which he received in 2013. Rodolfo Davila Jr. is not only the owner of the pharmacy that I am employed at, he also a great member of the west side community. He has brought better health care resources and job opportunities to the Mexican American community with the encouragement of education.

Transcription

How Many brothers and sister do you have?
I had two brothers and one sister there was four of us in the family.

What are your brothers’ and sister’s names?
The oldest is Frank Davila which was my grandfather’s name also Frank Davila. I was the second born Rudolph Davila Jr, my father was Rudolph Davila, the third born was Alfonso Davila my sister Maria Louisa Davila-Martinez was the last of the siblings.

Did you ever experience racism first hand?
No I never did. I can’t ever remember even at the University of Texas back in the early 50’s ever experiencing racism.

How Many brothers and sister do you have?
I had two brothers and one sister there was four of us in the family.

What are your brothers’ and sister’s names?
The oldest is Frank Davila which was my grandfather’s name also Frank Davila. I was the second born Rudolph Davila Jr, my father was Rudolph Davila, the third born was Alfonso Davila my sister Maria Louisa Davila-Martinez was the last of the siblings.

Did you ever experience racism first hand?
No I never did. I can’t ever remember even at the University of Texas back in the early 50’s ever experiencing racism.

Was it hard to get an education as a Mexican American?
It was hard because when I went to school there was no loans or grants or anything like that. You had to pay to go. This is a very poor neighborhood and most people didn’t have the money. But dad was a hard worker and he had us four at the University of Texas and it was expensive because living away from home you had to rent a house or an apartment or whatever.

How have pharmaceutical methods changed throughout the years?
A lot -very much so during my life time. Penicillin was discovered in 1928 I believe and that was the beginning of the antibiotics. But it was during the war (WWII) that they did not know how to produce it in big enough quantities so that they could say a lot of lives. So when I came out of pharmacy school in 1955 a few of the antibiotics started to be developed. Then the Sulpha drugs started being developed -they were chemically made in the labs and this was the advent of the Sulpha drugs. Which were also for anti-infections and being from a very poor neighborhood would be dependent on the pharmacist. They would come and say Rudy fix me a cough medicine because I don’t have enough money to go to the doctor. So we were the first line of defense, so to speak, to help people get well. And we had the good sense to tell if it was something we could take care of without violating the law and if they needed antibiotics because if we saw something more we could not dispense it without a prescription because we would tell you have to go see the doctor. But a lot of time it was just fever cough and cold so we would just fix something in the back. They wanted you to fix something they didn’t want to buy something off the shelf. So yeah we were the first line of defense.

What drug laws were enacted when you first opened up your pharmacy?
Yes a lot, right before I graduated they would sell still cocaine over the counter they used it as nose drops and stuff like that. But then the laws became very strict, and also the people used to use paregoric which is a derivative of opium and the mothers would buy it and use it as a teething lotion for the little babies because it anaesthetized the gums when the kids were growing teeth and also if they were fussing they would give them a few drops and it would knock them out -and that was over the counter! We could sell them one ounce without a prescription. And then later on of course it became illegal to do that. So yes there has been a lot of changes in the laws. And then of course came the social programs, The Medicare and the Medicaid, the patient could bring prescriptions in and the government would pay for it.

What year did that happen?
I don’t really remember, maybe in the 60s or 70s. So everybody that had a problem because they didn’t have any money, well they now had access to buy prescriptions with the Medicaid card.

What impact did Davila Pharmacy bring to the area?
Well prior to Davila Pharmacy being here there was just a few little drug stores and when I graduated my mission in life was to come back to the neighborhood and establish a good pharmacy that the people could be proud of and where they could get as good of service as any Northside store. So that was my goal and at first it was difficult for the physician to trust any Westside store because the Westside was considered junky and trashy. So they would always say “You go down to Medical Arts or you go down to Northwest to buy your prescriptions but as they came to know us and as we did good work they started referring business to us but it was not easy. We had to really prove ourselves. I think the Pharmacy has been good for your family as well as for the neighborhood. We brought modern -I was fresh out of school and I had all this knowledge and as a matter of fact there used to be this physician who used to work at night and we made some offices upstairs and he told us something that I’ve really never forgotten. He said “Rudy, you ought to move to the Northside. You’re like a flower in the desert, nobody sees it. You really need to move somewhere where you can be showcased. And I said “Dr. O’Hagans, my mission in life is to bring good healthcare to this part of town -to the Westside. So that’s why we’ve been here forever.

What were your obstacles when opening up your pharmacy?
It was really a hard start in pharmacy here -and I’ll tell you why. We lived upstairs in the grocery store so consequently Papa used to tell us “You go to school and you do your studying and when you’re done you go downstairs and work in the grocery store” so the people in the neighborhood knew me very well. I was Rudy -the fat kid that was running around here -that was stocking the produce, that was working the register, and that was delivering at night at 1, 2 O’clock in the morning. Most people didn’t have cars and they would buy the orders and we would stack them and write the addresses on them and we would deliver the orders. So the people knew me as this kid. So here I am working in this grocery store in the summer. And then the next year I am in a white smock and the people said “Well that’s the kid who used to work here! How could he know so much? I can’t tell him my problems, what does he know!?” So it took a long time for them to gain confidence in me. I was probably the best prepared pharmacist in town though, I was just graduated and knew all the latest techniques but the people did not quite see you as a professional because they had knew you all your life as the Davila Kid. So that was a hard start.

Did any major events happen or occur that you may have been involved with in the 1960s?
I don’t remember – I think it was in the 60s when we had the Polio epidemic and I was asked to -they had just brought out the antidote for the polio vaccine -up until then it had been a few drops on a sugar cube and that was how they administered it. So I had myself, a physician and a nurse also and people would come to Lanier and we would line them up and give them a sugar cube with the vaccine and that was quite a deal because when Polio first came out everyone was just terrified and they knew it was mosquito born but the government did something very bad -they sprayed. You would see these trucks down the middle of the road spraying and what they were spraying was DDT. DDT is a toxin and it caused malformations of the fetus and they removed it from the market. It used to be used as an insecticide and the trucks had this pipe in the back and the fog of the DDT would come out. They would just go down the street spraying the DDT.

Why did they do that?
The mosquitos. But they were poisoning the environment. That all happened in the 60s I think.

Were there very few pharmacists that were willing to administer this vaccination because of the dangers of the Polio virus?
No not really. What they did was because this was a poor neighborhood they picked this one because people that were more affluent could go to the doctor’s office. It was a safe vaccine, it had already been tested. At first I think they use the live virus and then they found out that they had a few cases that came down with Polio so then they started using what they call attenuated vaccine which is the virus is already dead or practically dead but you still get the immunity from it.

What were some of the traditions that your parents had?
We had a tradition of always celebrating Thanksgiving together and there was turkey and stuff. We always celebrated Christmas. Papa loved tamales and mama would have like two or three ladies working for her putting the masa on the chock and then get those big cans and cook them in the cans and papa was a lover of tamales. He would tell my mother “As soon as the tamales are ready you come and tell me” and he would leave the register in the store as soon as they were ready two or three or times a day for two or three days straight. So that was a tradition that he had.

As a teenager how did your family get the news?
Mainly radio, newspaper. I remember during World War II it was not uncommon for kids to go down the middle of the streets selling newspapers. You know “EXTRA! EXTRA! Read all about it!” you know that sort of thing. But it was mainly the radio.

Who was your role model growing up?
My father, he was a giant of a man as far and his sacrifices and this is the differences between the generations. Have you ever heard of the Greatest Generation the book by Tom Brokaw? The greatest generation is the generation that fought in WWII. WWII, these kids were from farms and cities and went to fight because Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. And I notice when I was growing up that Papa was not the hugging type. And I felt kind of funny about that. And I didn’t resent father because there was no way I would resent father but I wondered because my wife’s family were huggers and all that kind of stuff. Until I read Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation and he says on there the greatest generation which was the ones that were our fathers that fought WWII from 41, 42 through 45. That generation didn’t show their love not by hugging you or kissing you but by what they did for you. In other words he sacrificed a lot to send us to college so we would we have an easier life. And when we were in the grocery business he saw the end of the small independent grocery stores and when the bigger stores started coming in. He said you boys need to go to college and pick a profession you like and I always knew I wanted to be a pharmacists. Mother told me when I was a little boy I use to take merthiolate and mix it up with gentian violet and mix all kinds of little thing into bottles. So I always knew I was going to be a pharmacists.

What was your earliest childhood memory?
I was very impressed because there was a little pharmacy two blocks down and at night. Dr. Allen Rich was there so we went to see him when we had a problem and I always remember that old man -the pharmacists was always very nicely dressed and at that time the pharmacy was a regular store and there was just a little dispensing window like you would see a teller in a bank and I saw the old man back there mixing stuff and doing stuff and that intrigued me and I thought to myself “that is neat”. And the people would come and ask him for advice they looked up to him and that solidified my thinking that I wanted to be a pharmacists.

What challenges did you see your parent face as business owner when you were a teenager?
Well -being Mexican and especially in the Westside the banks would pretty much redline these areas. If you wanted to expanded and needed to borrow money they were not easy to lend you money, you had a hard time to get the banks to support you and you didn’t have choices because there was only five or six banks in san Antonio and they were not Hispanic owned. So they had you, and that was probably the biggest challenge. Beside that we would hold our own against all other stores our size. Of course when the other stores got bigger like HEB that was a different situation. But we were born and raised here -we went to Brackenridge Elementary, we went to Lanier Jr High which is now Tafolla middle school and then dad said “that’s a vocational school. You boys need to go to a school that teaches up to English eight Algebra four you know that hard courses.” So we went to Jefferson. We used to take the bus from here to downtown, transfer to Woodlawn line and go all the way down to Jefferson and we all graduated from there which was an excellent school at that time. I was on the national honors society at Lanier Jr high. I was the top kid in my class and I went over to Jefferson and those kids were so far ahead of us, I could not believe it. The difference between Lanier and Jefferson the kids at Lanier could not wait to get out of high school to go work at Kelly Field. Because Kelly Field was a government job at Jefferson the kids would not say are you going to college they would say what university are you going too? It was assume that they would be going on to college. I had planned my life -this particular teacher had challenged us one time. You never know who is going to touch you. She came in to class and said she didn’t feel like lecturing. She said I want you all to sit down and predict your future from this day on. Right now lay out your life so I said oh brother but then I said you know that’s a good idea and I said I’m going to go to Jefferson next semester in this was like in 9th grade I’m going to accelerate I’m going to get out of high school at 17 and I’m going to go to the University of Texas College of Pharmacy and I’ll graduate at age 21 and several times at the University you had to take 17 ,18 or 19 hours to be able to make it in the four years and we had labs every day practically impossible so what I did I would take maybe 16 hours and every summer I pick up what I had left behind and I so I did get out in four years. Every time would start to fall back I would think back to my commitment to myself that I was going to be a Pharmacist at age 21 and it came true for me and the other thing I would always want to come back to my neighborhood and help the people I had grown up with and I always prayed that I would finish my profession without causing any harm to anybody another words making a mistake and thank god I didn’t. I feel very good that I planned my life and strictly by my plan I graduated and I helped my neighborhood and I was involved in the revitalization of the area I was one of the first member of the Avenida Guadalupe Association that did the plaza and this wasn’t the master plan this medical building because we had the pharmacy on the street El Paso and I saw that the neighborhood wanted a first class medical building I thought to myself I better jump in there and get ahead of the crowd and tell them I’ll make the medical building before some other guy did because El Paso street is dead and Guadalupe street is a good street. So I came in and took control and signed a letter of commitment.

Analysis

Mr. Davila’s interview is a journey of inspiration. He has contributed a lot to his community (the Westside) and has never forgotten where his roots came from. The main point in Mr. Davila’s interview was that no matter where you come from you can achieve your goals in life. His goals were to provide good healthcare to a part of San Antonio that was considered a low income community. During the interview process I got to learn a lot about Mr. Davila and his experiences in life. For instance I never knew about advancements in vaccinations or about the Polio outbreak in the 1960s and how the government responded to the outbreak. Today when you receive a vaccination you expect to get a shot but as Mr. Davila explained Polio vaccinations were administered in a sugar cube. So in this case a spoon full of sugar helped the medicine go down. But perhaps the most interesting information was about the government’s response plan to the outbreak by spraying the toxin DDT in the Westside neighborhoods. During the interview I found out about the start of the pharmacy and with that I was taken away from the topic of growing up in the Westside. Mr. Davila expanded on his answers which was amazing and very interesting. While I sat on the edge of my seat wanting to know more about different changes in medication and advancements in pharmaceutical methods. I could not stop myself from asking more questions on the answers he gave me about the Pharmacy or how he received his education. As a college student his story played to the strings of my heart. It gave me inspiration and like a solider marching into battle his words gave me strength through his story to not only want to achieve my goals but reach even higher for greatness. As Mr. Davila told his story his facial express would change dramatically when he spoke about achieving his education. His voice would change and the room would fill with his inspiration of achieving ones dreams. When he spoke about his father he used an expression I will never forget “A giant of a man”. I felt taken away with this one saying and in that moment understood why he worked so hard to achieve his goals. I understood the amount of respect that not only he deserved, but his father as well. The one thing American promises is to be the land of opportunity and Mr. Davila took advantage of this despite the challenges he faced. The lesson I took away from this project is: no matter where you come from or the time period you can achieve your goals in life if you can follow the formula that many great stories of our history has given to us. In researching about Mr. Davila’s interview the pharmacy was my biggest source of information. Through this interview I gained a lot information about the achievements of a small chain of grocery stores that turned into a very large pharmacy and how it became the main medical resource for the Westside community. In my overall experience I would not change a thing about this project for it is one thing to read about history in a text book but it is enlightening to hear about it firsthand, and not only in hearing about an individual’s experiences but becoming inspired to do more.

Timeline

  • Rodolfo Davila Jr. Timeline
  • Born on March 27, 1934 in San Antonio, Texas
  • Graduated from UT School of Pharmacy in Austin in 1955
  • Takes State Board Test in June of 1955
  • Married his wife Dorothy in 1955
  • Open the first Davila Pharmacy /grocery in 1955
  • Daughter Rosette born July 7,1963
  • Son Rodolfo Davila III born May 21,1969
  • Established Scholarship program for the UT School of Pharmacy students in 1999
  • Received the Sheffield award in 2004
  • Received the Legend award in 2013

 

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