RIO COMMUNITIES — Rio Communities resident and World War II veteran Ernest D. Mascareñas will celebrate his 102nd birthday on Monday. He attributes his longevity to daily naps and a five-course breakfast every morning.
The elderly veteran spends his days in the sunny home of Shawn and Mary Justus, who provide VA medical foster care services.
“We want to honor our veterans in their final years,” said Shawn.
Shawn said Ernest is mostly cheerful and appreciative, laughs a lot and eats well for his age.
Born and raised in northeast New Mexico, Mascareñas is the son of Manuelita and David Mascareñas, whose New Mexico roots go back 400 years.
Growing up in the 1920s and ’30s, the Mascareñas family barely had two nickels to rub together but they raised seven children on a ranch near the sparsely populated town of Roy in Harding County.
Mascareñas remembers riding a horse to school and racing with other children to see who could arrive at school first.
As a young man, he served about two years in the U.S. Army during WWII.
“I was a soldier in a group and I did whatever they asked me to do,” Mascareñas said.
He said the military did a lot for him.
After serving in the Army, he enrolled at the University of New Mexico, earning his bachelor’s degree in political science. He also studied law for about a year at UNM, until his wife, Ernestine, said he spent too much time at school, Shawn relayed.
Mascareñas loved sports as a youth. He fondly remembers the time in college when he was a pitcher for the Lobo baseball team and struck out the first three batters.
“It made my teammates happy,” Mascareñas said.
Some time after graduation, he worked for the 12th governor of the state of New Mexico, John E. Miles. He met Ernestine in 1946, who also worked for the state government.
The couple raised five children, Evylin, Tina, Becky, David and Grace. They did lose one twin shortly after birth, Shawn said.
Most of Mascareñas’ daughters and grandchildren live in Albuquerque, with one daughter in San Diego. He lost his only son, David, to a rare disease, and Ernestine died in the 1990s.
Gardening was one of Mascareñas’ hobbies and he was known for his rose garden, Shawn said.
“Everyone spoke highly of him and his rose garden,” he said.
For 30 years, Mascareñas was a district manager for American General Insurance Company, until he started his own company, Mascareñas Insurance Agency in Albuquerque.
Being of service to others was important to Mascareñas. He is a lifelong Catholic and was a member of the Knights of Columbus. He also served for 10 years as the ward chairman of the Democratic Party.
His favorite book is “Don Quixote,” which he has read multiple times, Shawn said.
Perhaps the Army veteran some how identified with the middle-aged gentleman from La Mancha in Spain, who was obsessed with chivalrous ideals to defend the helpless and destroy the wicked.
When Mascareñas took his family for a vacation in Vienna years ago, he visited Spain by himself. He still loves to talk and sing in Spanish.