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UT Roots run deep for Davila family

Roots run deep for the Davila family – deep for family, for business, for their west San Antonio community and, for the University of Texas College of Pharmacy.

San Antonio BuildingIn 1904, Frank and Marie Louise Ligarde Davila, immigrants from two cultures, established Frank Davila Staple & Fancy Groceries at the corner of El Paso and Colorado in the western shadows of downtown San Antonio.  The couple lived on the second floor of the frame structure.  Streets were unpaved in the neighborhood that today remains as one of the poorest in San Antonio.  Frank was confident, however, that this was the place to set down roots for his family and his new business.

He was right.  The business prospered, and the Davila family multiplied as babies were born, grew up in the neighborhood, and welcomed families of their own.  Under the guidance of their son, Rodolfo and his wife, Delia, the family business thrived as three additional stores were established.  Within a few decades, two drive--in diners, Davila's and The Derby, were added while the grocery business expanded into a wholesale operation distributing products to other small stores throughout the city.   The roots grew deeper.

Their son, Rodolfo Jr., was a bright, ambitious young man who, upon completing high school in the neighborhood, turned his sights north to study pharmacy at The University of Texas at Austin.  In 1955, he earned a B.S. in pharmacy, and returned to his beloved west San Antonio where a pharmacy was added to the original grocery store. 

"It was a challenge to return to the area where I grew up," Rudy Jr. recalled recently.  "People looked at me and saw the child that I had been not as a health care provider."

 It wasn't long before people begin to rely on the neighborhood kid turned pharmacist as their first line in health care.  Most had no health insurance and little money.  Rudy Jr. was one of them, and they came to trust the area's newest pharmacist to guide them in determining whether ailments were serious enough to merit a doctor's visit.

"All the doctors were downtown or in the suburbs," Rudy Jr. said.  "It was hard for people to get to these doctors, and it was hard to get doctors to come here."

He expanded the pharmacy and turned the building that once housed the grocery store into a space suitable for a doctor's office.  He offered the space free of rent to any physician who would establish his practice there. 

He worked hard, building up his pharmacy practice and advocating for his beloved neighborhood.  In the early 1960s, he was able to persuade a physician to take up his offer.  At a recent family gathering, Rudy pauses in telling the story.  He turns to his wife, Dorothy, and smiles.

"Actually, it was Dorothy that got our first doctor.  She knew the doctor's wife," he explained.

Davila Pharmacy, like Davila Grocery before it, assumed a leading role in the community.   In addition to a full pharmacy, the business stocked a supply of sundries, toiletries and inexpensive gift items.  Dorothy found her role in the business by managing the sundries portion and endeared herself within the community by offering free gift--wrapping for all purchases.  The roots deepened.

Dorothy smiles recalling the neighborhood children making their way to Davila Pharmacy, their pockets filled with coins to purchase gifts for family members.  "I'd wrap even the smallest item," she said.  "The children were precious, and they always left very proud of their purchases."

In addition to her work at the pharmacy, Dorothy was busy rearing their two children, Rosette and Rudy III.  As the children grew, both spent hours in the pharmacy stocking shelves, cleaning the store, and running errands.  When they were old enough, Rudy Jr. trained them to work behind the pharmacy counter.

About that time, Rudy Jr. decided change was again in order for the family business.  He quit stocking sundries and, instead, filled the store with medical equipment – hospital beds and wheel chairs, diabetic supplies and prosthesis.

"Some times you get lucky," Rudy Jr. said in reflecting upon the decision.

"Dad makes good business decisions," interjected Rudy III.  "He knows instinctively what is best for business and for the community."

In the beginning, the shipping costs were covered by Medicaid and other insurance companies resulting in no charge for shipping to the patients.  Over time, the shipping charge coverage was rescinded by the third party payers.  The Davila family looked out for the welfare of their patients and began covering the shipping costs.

With the new emphasis, the pharmacy also found a new location, just four blocks away from the original grocery store.  The new address on Guadalupe Street has been home to the family business ever since.  The roots were firmly planted.

At first Rudy Jr. was the only pharmacist in the store, but as business increased, so did the size of the staff.   He credits his wife to maintaining a significant role in caring for their young family during those early years.  With increased number of pharmacists in the store, however, he was able to join Dorothy in attending school and extracurricular events. He embraced the values set by his ancestors.  Family roots also ran deep.

Rosette and Rudy III are beneficiaries of these deep family roots, and, even as children, found that they worked well together.

Rosette tells of a childhood incident that occurred as the family attended a professional pharmacy meeting.

"Rudy and I were in the elevator at a hotel, trying to get to the lobby," she said.  "Another kid was standing in the hallway outside the elevator.  Every time the doors started to close, the kid would push the button, and the doors would open." 

The exchange happened several more times before Rosette had an idea.  She conferred briefly with Rudy, then they executed their plan.

As the elevator door began to close, the kid in the hallway again pushed the button to open the doors.  Rosette shouted, "Now!"  Rudy hit the door open button as she dashed from the elevator and punched the kid.  She scampered back into the elevator as Rudy pushed the button to close the doors.  The elevator made its way to the lobby. Working as a team, they accomplished their goal – a foreshadowing of sorts.

DavilasRosette, the eldest child, was first to leave the nest.  She headed to Austin College in Sherman with plan to study medicine, but it wasn't long before she realized the time demands on a medical student and practitioners.

"I began to think about all the activities I participated in as a kid," she said.  "My parents, both my mom and my dad, were always there for me.  I wanted to choose a profession that also allowed me time for family." Family roots run deep.

She turned toward Austin, as her father had, and enrolled as a pharmacy student at UT.  She graduated in 1988 with a B.S. in pharmacy.

Rosette was excited to join the family business, but she, too, was met with some hesitation from patients.

"I remember going to counsel one of my first patients, only to have the patient insist that he wanted to talk to 'a real pharmacist,' meaning a male pharmacist," she said.  She was patient, yet persistent, and in a short time, she, too established herself in the family business.  () She  enrolled in the non--traditional Option II M.S. program and commuted from San Antonio to Austin one weekend a month for two years to complete the program  in 1992.  ()

Six years her junior, Rudy III said he never considered becoming anything other than a pharmacist.

"I worked side by side with my dad since I was old enough to come to the pharmacy," he said. 

When it was his turn, he followed the path forged by his father and sister, and enrolled as a UT pharmacy student.  There, he found, not only his career path, but his wife, Jackie.

Not having the benefit of a family legacy in pharmacy, Jackie said her inspiration came from a television program her mom watched.  Her first reaction to her mother's suggestion that she consider a career in pharmacy was not positive, but once she investigated, she was sold.  She, too, set her sights on UT.  There, she and Rudy III met through classes and participation in the Longhorn Pre--Pharmacy Association.

Rudy III admits observing the future Mrs. Davila for some time.

"I would get to class early and put my backpack in the seat on the aisle next to me," he said.  "Jackie had a class across campus and would often arrive just before we got started.  I would watch and offer her the available seat next to me." 

"Rudy and Jackie"Rudy III graduated in '96 and Jackie followed in '02.  The rest is history.  Rudy III and Jackie recently celebrated their 14th wedding anniversary, and have two children of their own, Frances and Rudy IV.  Today, Rudy III and Rosette jointly manage the family business that includes 85 employees.  Approximately one--half of their business derives from the family pharmacy with the remaining coming from medical supplies.  Jackie works at a nearby Target.  Rosette's husband, Charles Sargent,M.D. is a prominent child psychiatrist in the city.

Davila Pharmacy is consistently ranked among the top 500 Hispanic--owned businesses in the country.  In many ways, however, the business reflects many of the characteristics it has always held dear.  Rosette and Rudy III share management duties, keeping the Davila influence front and center.  Both turn often to father Rudy Jr. to discuss a new idea or to share business updates. 

Time for family remains paramount. 

"Anyone who knows us well, knows that we have lunch together almost every Thursday at the same restaurant," Rudy III laughs, remembering a long--time friend who was visiting the city one Thursday and knew he could find the family at the restaurant.

A few years ago, Rudy III and Jackie purchased several acres of land near the medical center in San Antonio.  They built their family home on one portion of the land and invited Rudy Jr. and Dorothy to build their own home on the property as well.  They gather most Sunday mornings for a shared breakfast.   Rosette and Charles are now looking into building a home on the property next door .

"Sometimes before we've even finished breakfast, Rudy and Jackie will invite us to return for Sunday night dinner," Rudy Jr. laughs.  He is quick to point out how much he and Dorothy love living close enough to share in the lives of their two grandchildren.

Throughout the Davila business complex, walls are adorned with representations of what the family holds dear – family pictures of generations past and present; mementoes of the grocery stores, drive ins, and pharmacy; large Longhorn artwork in the offices of both Rudy III and Rosette; and diplomas from The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy. 

At the College of Pharmacy, the family has funded the Davila Family Endowed Scholarship.  Currently, their generosity provides financial assistance to four San Antonio area students each year.

"UT Pharmacy has been good to us," Rudy III explains.

"That's one reason we feel so strongly about giving back," his father adds.  "Our family considers (former) Dean James Doluisio to be a good friend and we are thankful and appreciative of his efforts in building up the college.  Our friendship with the college has continued under the leadership of former Dean Steve Leslie and now with Dean Lynn Crismon."

The family began making payments toward the endowment several years ago.  Rudy Jr. said he was notified some time back that their commitment had been fulfilled.

"I told them that it was already set up and we'd like to continue giving," he said.  "It just seems right." 

The family recently celebrated their first Thanksgiving in Rudy and Dorothy's new home. Everyone had a specialty to contribute.  Jackie worked with Frances to bake the pies: Rudy III and IV were in charge of the turkey. There was plenty of food, family abounding, and, most likely, a conversation or two about pharmacy before the family settled in to watch their beloved Longhorns take on Texas A&M in football.

Roots run deep.

Last Reviewed: January 3, 2011

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