Dancing through Life

Dancing through Life

Times-News correspondent
WENDELL – David and Elizabeth Rodriguez danced with one another for the first time 66 years ago at their wedding on Nov. 30, 1940, in Texas.

They are dancing still, and have no plans to stop anytime soon.

“We met for the first time at ages 14 and 15 at the wedding of a relative. We knew right then that we were the ones for each other. … We lived about 60 miles apart, were not allowed to date and could only correspond from a distance before we married. … We were 19 and 20 years old when we married,” said Elizabeth, 85.

David and Elizabeth moved their family of six children from Texas to the Magic Valley in 1949. Two more children were born in Idaho.

David worked for the Amalgamated Sugar Company as the manager of its labor camp, which averaged between 20 and 100 people at any one time. His responsibilities included maintenance work, supplying farmers with laborers, tracking workers’ wages, billing farmers and passing along the pay to the workers. Elizabeth helped by doing the time-keeping, but, “with six small children to look after, the labor camp job was just too much,” she said.

So, David took a job in construction and Elizabeth went to work at care center in Wendell.

“I worked for 87 cents an hour scrubbing floors, cleaning walls and washing windows,” Elizabeth said. “I was soon transferred to work in the kitchen, then to work with the patients and trained to be a nurse’s aide.”

Years later, after David had started his own construction business and working in Logan, Utah, Elizabeth went to school and obtained her licensed practical nurse degree.

The Rodriguez family may be one of the first-culturally mixed families to settle in Magic Valley. Elizabeth’s father was of French and Yugoslavian origin, having moved from Eastern France to Montreal Quebec, Canada, then to Texas, where he worked as a telegrapher for the U.S. Army in the early 1900s. Her mother was born to Mexican parents and lived in Texas all her life.

David’s mother was born in Spain and migrated to Mexico where she met and married Daniel Rodriguez. After the marriage, David’s parents moved to Texas where they settled in Sanderson. David’s parents became affluent through hard work. While farming, his father did construction work for other farmers, hauled hay and built fences and roads. He eventually owned a 400-plus acre ranch.

“My parents started with one hen and one calf and eventually, moved the family and herd of 500 chickens, 150 head of cattle, 5,000 Angora goats and 450 head of sheep to a ranch near Bullis Gap, Texas,” David said.

In the early days when David and Elizabeth first settled in Magic Valley, life was not easy. There were cultural differences, prejudice against Hispanics and mistrust on the part of many locals, they said.

Whenever the children met with cultural resistance and prejudice Elizabeth told them, “Don’t let anyone tell you they are better than you are. You are no better than others and nobody else is any better than you. So, do not let them treat you as if they are.”

“My children always understood that,” Elizabeth said.

The family lived in a two-story tar-papered shack with no plumbing when they first moved to Wendell. David built the family home on the same lot and would rise early, wake the older boys and they would all work on the house for a couple hours. Then, David went to work at Rodriguez Ready Mix and the boys went to school. In the evenings, they would again work for another couple of hours every day.

Once the basement was dug and the cement poured, friends and neighbors decided the open air basement made a great dance hall, and David and Elizabeth spent one summer hosting dances there.

The couple refused to accept public assistance during the tough times, yet made sure the family never went without. They grew their own food by gardening and raising animals.

When they moved from Texas, the Rodriguez family did bring its most prized possession — the TV set. This gave the Rodriguez children a much needed boost, socially.

“In 1949, not many people in Idaho had televisions, and Wendell was no exception,” said their daughter, Pascualita Rodriguez, a registered nurse. “We had the only TV set in town. … Dad put up a very tall aerial to pick up whatever signals were available. … Our home became the favorite spot for neighborhood children after school. They’d make popcorn and watch the one and only channel available. It came from Boise and reception was fuzzy at best.”

With perseverance and outgoing personalities, the older children gained popularity and became cheerleaders and athletes in high school. That helped ease the way for the younger children.

David and Elizabeth are now retired. Elizabeth still gets up early to build a fire in their wood-burning stove and makes the morning coffee. David, 86, still chops their firewood.

And, the couple dances at every opportunity – wedding receptions, anniversary celebrations, family reunions, parties, or any other social event where dancing occurs.

Pascualita told about one example. She said she was feeling a bit blue because she had to work last Easter and was concerned that her parents “were stuck at home all alone.”

When she stopped by their house to check on them and cheer them up, “I found them in one another’s arms, drenched in sweat dancing around and around the living room as Mexican music, turned up to full volume, filled the air,” Pascualita said. “I had to laugh because they were having a blast and I’d been feeling sorry for them. … I joined them and danced.”

Church is important to the couple. David, a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, helped to establish new congregations in Hailey, Salt Lake City, Heyburn, Twin Falls and Wendell.

The couple is proud of their eight children, 23 grandchildren and 37 great-grandchildren who carry on the tradition of hard work, honesty and perseverance. Among their descendants are concrete workers, carpenters, contractors, home builders, a doctor in marine biology, a chef, six nurses, a doctorate student, school teacher, coach, a soldier in Iraq, an anthropologist, store manager, Pentagon worker, a fallen Vietnam war hero, cheerleaders and athletes, with more grandchildren on the way.

“A year ago while attending Pioneer School, a church-related resident preachers training, he (David) had a bad heart attack and the doctors sent home to die,” Pascualita said. “But, he fooled them, he lived and is still hanging in there.”+


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