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Ofelia Philo

Ofelia Philo (nee Trinidad), the executive director of Blanco, Comal, and Hays Counties' Community Action, Inc. for 27 years, grew up on the Freeman Ranch as the daughter of Fernando Trinidad, who was a foreman for the Freeman brothers. She lived in a house that has since been demolished, at the location of the new ranch office and visitor restrooms. She, along with Rufus Alexander, speaks to Elderhostel groups about her experiences growing up on the ranch and about local history. Her family has been linked with the Freeman family for several generations. She is a third generation Tejana: her ancestors lived in Guadalupe County when Texas belonged to Mexico. Her paternal grandfather came from Mexico; her maternal grandfather came from Spain.

The Trinidad family lived in Seguin, Texas; her father was born on one of the Freeman farms in Guadalupe County. Various members of the family worked for the Freeman family, mostly through a sharecropping system. Just after World War II started, Sam Freeman, a cousin of the Freeman brothers who operated a general store for the brothers, "called my father and asked him if he would like to move to a big ranch and look after it."

Philo says that her father agreed because times were tough: soil was tired, farms were going under, drought was rampant, along with the boll weevil infestation which ruined the cotton crop. "My father was working very hard for the WPA in Seguin," says Philo. "He was the type of man who would rather work hard digging ditches for a dollar a day than go on welfare relief." Opportunities were rare, and Mr. Trinidad, with a growing family to support, agreed to come to the ranch as foreman. He enjoyed the work because as Philo says, "He loved to work outside and be in nature, and he liked animals." His first day of work was May 1, 1941. Working with him were the ranch manager Frank Alexander and his son Rufus.

Mr. Trinidad did everything from feeding the cattle to taking care of show horses. When he worked at the ranch there were a lot of sheep and goats, besides Hereford cattle. He rounded up cattle and looked after them, with the help of his sons Simon and Jacinto (Jake). He oversaw workers and found shearers for the sheep's wool. According to Philo, he did a lot of different work, "anything from supervising people like what were then called 'Mexican Nationals'-green card carriers-to working on the fences and clearing brush." At any one time there would have been between eight to twelve men working on the ranch.

While her brothers were encouraged to work on the ranch, Philo, as a girl, either stayed at home to help her mother or went to school, receiving more education than her brothers. Her love of education led her to briefly attend SWT and finish her degree at a one-time branch of Antioch College in Austin. She did not get to go to school as often as she would have liked because of occasional bad weather, sometimes-impassable roads and a lack of school buses. Her duties around the ranch were cooking lunch (often steak) for the Freeman brothers when they visited, as well as watering the plants in the main ranch house.

She remembers seeing Lyndon Johnson, as well as Judge Ben H. Rice, who would come out to the ranch to play dominoes or cards or hunt. Philo does not think that LBJ ever really bagged any deer, but the cooled off with what LBJ called "a Bourbon and branch."

Often, Mr. Trinidad made the preparations for hunting, fixed the deer blinds and cut wood for the fireplace. When guests killed a deer, he would usually have to retrieve and clean it. There was a lot of venison around the Trinidad household.

One of the big differences she sees physically between the land from her childhood and today is that there used to be a lot of rattlesnakes. "We had to be careful where we walked," she said. There also used to be more raccoons, possums and armadillos.

While there may have been a general racism in the area, Philo never felt any discrimination from her father's employers, perhaps because as they were Jewish they were sensitive to such issues. "The Freemans were always kind people. They always gave us presents at Christmas." She like the Freeman family's emphasis on charitable giving, as evidenced in their many donations, such as their contributions to Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio.

Philo remembers having a happy childhood on the ranch, although her family did not make a lot of money. "Father didn't get paid all that much--$35 a month at the beginning," she said. However, there were many benefits to living on the ranch besides cash: "We had a nice house, good roof, good drinking water, all the vegetables we could raise, our own milk cow, chickens and eggs." Her happiest memory was being able to get up in the morning and "see all the greenery, all the birds, all the wildlife running around, and the freedom that I felt."

Philo's father officially retired in January of 1975, but, unofficially, he kept going out the ranch until the Friday before he died on Easter Monday, March 27, 1978.

--Taken from interviews on February 5, 1998 and June 22, 1998.