Let’s Talk Clovis: The American life of Octavio Ruelas

Octavio B. Ruelas, 1926 – 2006, worked for the City of Clovis for 26 years. (Clovis Museum)

Octavio B. Ruelas (1926-2006) was born in Tamasujlita Municipio De Tecolotlan, Mexico. His parents, Isidro and Augustina, were sharecroppers who supported their family by growing sugar cane and corn.

His loyalty to his new country was documented by his belief: “As Americans, you will learn English, you will follow your new country’s laws, you will work hard and never need public assistance, you will succeed, and you will love and honor God.”

Handsome Octavio would marry beautiful Mary Correa on August 8, 1945.  They would celebrate 61 years of marriage.

Their children Jesse, Joseph, Raquel, Octavio, Irma, Elizabeth and Angelina remember family truisms that they were taught: “Their family would not seek public assistance, it was sink or swim, failure was not an option, you are going to make it and you can be or have whatever you want as long as you work hard.” All seven children graduated from Clovis High School and each attained successful careers.

His obituary recorded: “He was one of the original migrant workers in the (1942) Bracero program. He left the program towards the end of his second year and with two friends he drove across country to Tennessee in search of better work and pay. Finding none, he took his friends to Chicago where they worked in the steel foundries as general laborers. He would always joke that they were probably the only three Mexicans in the windy city.”

“Saving enough money to purchase a film projector, sound equipment and a ticket home to Mexico, he began his entrepreneurial career by creating the “original drive-in theatre” in his hometown and surrounding area. He would set up his speakers on the church towers, announce the movie selection for the night and entertain the townspeople with music prior to showing them a movie under the stars, for a fee, of course.”

The Ruelas family (three children) were leading a comfortable life in Mexico, however, Octavio believed his wife Mary did not. He knew there would be greater opportunities in the United States. By 1953, after selling all their possessions, the family arrived in Fresno and Octavio began working for Santa Fe Railroad. After two years of successful employment, the family (now four children) were sent back to Mexico since they did not have legal immigration status.

Octavio’s manager, Virgil Durando, was so impressed with Octavio’s character and work ethic, he arranged for the family to return as legal residents in 1956. All members of the Ruelas family would become U.S. citizens.

On their return, the family moved to Friant where Octavio was foreman for a large ranch. In 1965, he was hired by the City of Clovis Public Works Department as a heavy equipment operator. He retired in 1991 after 26 years with the City of Clovis.

In 1959, they would buy a home in Clovis (North DeWitt) for $10,950. Mary worked at the Clovis Memorial Hospital (built in 1965 at Sierra & DeWitt) for 24 years. Octavio also worked at a second job with a Clovis winery.  

Octavio was also an accomplished trumpeter and singer, he would go on to create a successful Latin music orchestra, “Octavio Ruelas y Sus Latino’s”.  His mother did not approve of his band and physically documented that displeasure by breaking a guitar over his head.

His daughter Angelina from ages 6 to 13 years, sang with the band and remembers traveling the Valley with her dad.

The Ruelas family provided us a rich heritage.

Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.