David Esparza, 76, counseled inmates on substance abuse
A descendant of one of the long unsung heroes of the Alamo, David Esparza made certain the story of Gregorio Esparza was told and retold.
“Gregorio was a scout for Juan Seguín and then a cannoneer at the Alamo. His wife and four children went through the battle with him, and survived. And this was the story my uncle told every year at local schools and at companies,” his niece, Laura Esparza, said.
“He was very proud of his ancestry. I think he took inspiration from Gregorio’s life and deeds in his own commitment to public service,” she added.
Esparza, 76, a resident of Schertz, died April 4 from complications from a broken hip.
Late last year, his medical problems finally forced him to stop his volunteer work for Alcoholics Anonymous with inmates at the Guadalupe County Jail and also at the state prison system’s San Antonio parole office.
“He led a group especially for Mexican-American men because he didn’t feel they were getting culturally sensitive services,” Laura Esparza said. “He’d go weekly to Seguin, but that ended in November when he could no longer drive. It broke his heart that he could no longer continue his ministry.”
Esparza was also active at Good Shepherd Catholic Church and with the Knights of Columbus.
Born in San Antonio on the West Side, he graduated from Central Catholic High School in 1961, and later attended San Antonio College. After working several years at Santa Rosa Hospital as a phlebotomist, he served in the Air Force, retiring as a master sergeant after a 20-year career. Esparza then worked another two decades as a civilian employee at Lackland Air Force Base.
He began his AA ministries in 2012. Deacon Bob Leibrecht, the director of criminal justice ministry for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, recalled Esparza as “a very humble man.”
“He’d always say, ‘Bob, I don’t think I’m set up for this. I’m not a scripture scholar,’” Leibrecht said. “But he’d had a previous alcohol problem, so he had a heart for these men who were dealing with substance abuse.”
Esparza’s innate ability to inspire and motivate more than made up for a lack of formal training.
“My uncle made everyone he met feel special, that he believed in you and in your potential,” said his niece. “For us, it meant that my brothers became doctors and lawyers, and I became a manager with the City of Austin. We all manifested his belief in us.”
Her cousin, Robert Treviño, 70, who grew up in the same household as Esparza, recalls him as “the guy who would do anything for anybody … the one who kept everyone together.”
While the Esparza family had always known, through its oral histories, of Gregorio’s role at the Alamo, until recent decades, the history books gave short shrift to the Tejanos killed by Santa Anna’s troops.
“My father Reynaldo did much of the primary research on Gregorio, establishing through documentation that he fought in the battle and died there,” said Laura Esparza.
“And for David, growing up on the West Side in San Antonio, there were not a lot of things to take pride in. So when he learned from a school teacher that he was a descendant of Gregorio, he took pride in it,” she added.
Every anniversary of the battle, the members of the Alamo Descendents Foundation, co-founded by Laura Esparza’s father, meet for a prayer service at the old mission.
“Only Alamo descendents are allowed to attend. It’s a weird and cool and eerie experience to be there together. You know you all have ancestors who died there,” Laura Esparza said.
After the battle, on March 6, 1836, Francisco Esparza, one of Gregorio’s brothers, got permission to search for his remains. The bodies of the other defenders were burned.
“He took the body and interred it in the Campo Santo on the west side of San Pedro Creek. Thus, Gregorio Esparza received a Christian burial, unlike the others slain in the battle,” notes the Handbook of Texas.
John MacCormack is a staff writer in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | JMacCormack@express-news.net | Twitter: @JohnMacCormack