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January 2, 2013

Yolanda Z. Gonzalez † Yolanda Z. Gonzalez †

Remembering Yolanda Z. Gonzalez

The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College have lost a friend and former colleague.

Yolanda Z. Gonzalez, a beloved staff member of 47 years, died Saturday, Dec. 29.

Retiring from UTB and TSC in 2001, Yolanda worked nearly a half-century in the university’s library, inspiring and educating the public to know who they are, how they came here and to learn about the city’s history. 

“Yolanda was a true daughter of the border country,” said Dr. Tony Knopp, Professor Emeritus in the Department of History. “She immersed herself in the history of the communities on both sides of the border and was dedicated to preserving the family histories of the original Spanish settlers and their descendants.” 

Known throughout the Brownsville community as the “genealogy lady,” Yolanda became interested in books and genealogy at an early age. She was taught to read by her father and by the age of five she became fascinated by his genealogy work.

Yolanda’s interest was not only in family histories but in the heritage – the culture and traditions – of those families. She believed people must know their history before they can know themselves.

Throughout her years of helping others, Yolanda traced her own family’s roots back to a French-born ancestor who settled in 1585 in what was then New Spain.

In 1954 Yolanda was a student at Texas Southmost College when she began to work in the TSC and the city of Brownville Zachary Taylor Library in the Fort Brown Memorial Center. 

In the process of organizing a system for the newly opened Taylor Library, Yolanda began to pull aside rare books and locating them in a corner of the library workroom to help prevent daily wear and tear.

This was the humble beginning of what would become the Hunter Room in the Arnulfo L. Oliveira Memorial Library, a remarkable collection of university archives, genealogy, local history, rare books and personal collections donated to the library.

Knopp said Yolanda was a valuable resource to him and many others in the community.

“Yolanda was always eager to assist me and all researchers in their quests for information on local history,” Knopp said. “At one point she was serving as President of the Matamoros Historical Organization while also serving as Vice President of Brownsville Historical Association. Also, she was well-acquainted with the Fort Brown ghost stories, and claimed to have encountered some mysterious circumstances herself.”

Through her work she had contact with Former First Lady Barbara Bush, the late author James A. Michener and numerous professors from other universities who requested her services researching the first 14 families that were established in 1776 in Matamoros.

Although Yolanda retired in May 2001, she continued to tutor individuals and groups on genealogy.

Yolanda was married to Alfonso Gomez; they knew each other as children and were reunited years later – in the library.

Visitation will be held from 4 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 2 at Funeraria Del Angel Buena Vista, 125 McDavitt Blvd., Brownsville. A rosary will take place Wednesday evening at 7 p.m.

A chapel service will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 3 at Funeraria Del Angel Buena Vista with interment to follow at Buena Vista Burial Park.

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