March 5th, 2018
Rubén Saltares Ruíz
Synopsis by Dorianne Saltares
- Teacher at Brevard County Public School, Florida
- Master of Arts Western Illinois University, Illinois
- Bachelor of Arts University of Puerto Rico – RUM
Rubén Saltares Ruíz was born on January 15th , 1932 in Rincón, Puerto Rico. His parents were Marcolina Ruíz Pedroza and Francisco Saltares Mercado. He was registered seven days after his birth, on January 22nd, 1932 under the name of Rubén Saltares Ruíz. Two months after his birth the family moved to Mayagüez, where he has lived most of his life. His siblings were Sergio Saltares, Oscar Saltares, Virginia Caro, all deceased, and his younger sister Elba Moreno, who still lives in Rincón, Puerto Rico.
Rubén grew up during a time of extreme poverty. Clothing and meals were limited. His mom struggled to feed him and his siblings. She had to make ends meet with the little she had. He remembers walking barefoot a very long distance just to get to school. He failed 4th or 5th grade because he was extremely sick and stayed home during that school year. He was very weak and extremely thin. He graduated 9th grade from José de Diego Middle School with a D average. From 6th to 9th grade all classes were taught in English, a language he did not speak. How could he succeed in school being instructed in English when he spoke only Spanish? This severely affected his academic performance in school. Going to high school with such low grades and no financial means to pay for school made it difficult for him to continue his education. Only rich people could afford an education at that time. His options were limited, so he tried getting odd jobs here and there to help support his family. He started shining shoes, charging 3¢ for small shoes and 5¢ for big ones. He gave most of his money to his mother. He would sometimes keep just a little to pay for a movie and a treat at the local cinema.
His older brothers, who helped support his family financially, left PR and went to New York to make a living, given that there were not many job opportunities in Puerto Rico at that time. They got married, started a family, and their financial help for the family ceased making it more difficult for the younger siblings and the parents. Rubén decided to go to New York to live with his brother and to try to make a living. He could not find a job for a while. One day he just started working in a factory peeling shrimp, earning 75¢ an hour. He could not earn enough money to support himself and also send money to his parents in Puerto Rico. The job slowed down and the company had to let him go. Financial difficulties forced him to return to Puerto Rico, where his family was going through extreme financial struggles. At this time, he decided to enlist in the ARMY.
He did his Army training in Tortuguero Training Camp for three months. Shortly after that, at the age of 19, he was sent to the Korean War in 1951. Training for three months was in no way comparable to the reality of the war he was thrown into at such a young age. He traveled to Korea and was immersed directly into war with the Medical Company 65th Infantry Regiment. The weather was brutal. He was exposed to extreme cold weather that he was not used to. He saw many Puerto Rican soldiers get their legs amputated from frostbite. Many soldiers in his platoon died. Like many other Puerto Rican soldiers, he fought with valor and honor in defense of the United States of America.
While he was at war he got a Red Cross cablegram saying his mother was ill and he needed to return home to be by her side. Travel was difficult and long. He traveled by plane from South Korea to Japan, from there to Hawaii and then to California. When he reached California the Red Cross asked if he could pay for a plane ticket to PR. He did not have any possibilities to pay for the ticket at the time, so they put him on a train to Alabama for five days and nights. Once he arrived in Alabama, he had to wait for a flight to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Once in Aguadilla, with difficulty, he found a way to get to Mayagüez to see his mom. He stayed for a month. During this time his mother recuperated miraculously. Having her youngest son safely home from war was the medicine she needed.
He had to go back to military service. He remembers an incident on the flight from Texas to California that saddened him deeply. They were passing food to all the soldiers and they asked him if he had paid for the meal and he said no. They denied this meal to him. Here he was as a soldier on his way back to war, being denied a meal. He prayed Psalm 23 for comfort and after a while everyone on the flight that had eaten that meal started to throw up. Was this a sign? When he reached California, he stayed in Camp Stoneman for sixth months. While waiting for his orders in Camp Stoneman, he was sent by mistake on a train to New Jersey, where many military soldiers were being sent to Germany. He stayed in New Jersey until he received his orders to go to Fort Brooke in San Juan, Puerto Rico. At Fort Brooke, he worked in the kitchen. He was honorably discharged after 22 months of service.
Rubén was a body builder. He opened a gym where men and women could work out and get fit. He participated in many bodybuilding competitions in which he received several recognitions. He was known as the Most Muscular Man in Puerto Rico in 1954. El Mundo Newspaper called him “La Sensación Mayagüezana.”
In 1955 he had a program called “Desarrolle su Cuerpo,” in WORA TV, Channel 5. It was an exercise program to help keep the body fit. He won awards at the junior and senior levels in weight lifting during this time, as well.
He decided to continue his education and get his high school diploma. He graduated from the Vocational High School in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico in 1956 with a G.P.A. of 3.95. While attending high school, he competed athletically in weight throw events with other high schools in the island, scoring top scores in that sporting event. After graduation he was chosen by the Department of Education of Puerto Rico, along with 12 other students from different towns in the island, to go to Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois to study English. He studied there for a year. When he returned to Puerto Rico he studied at different colleges, but he received his Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Education from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico in San Germán. The Dean at the University saw his extensive educational coursework and potential, thus she helped him get his education degree in 1964.
Rubén Saltares taught for 34 years before he retired. He taught seventh grade English at María Dolores Faría. He also taught sixth grade English at Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Charles T. Irizarry and Theodore Roosevelt Elementary Schools. He received the Teacher of the Year Award at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School while he was a teacher there. He also worked for the Board of Education of Puerto Rico, teaching conversational English to adults for more than 25 years. During his career as an educator he also wrote poetry and short stories. Some of the writings that were published were "The Story of my Youth," the poem "Tierra," and the short story "Canela," which were published in an English reading textbook for 5th grade students used in the public schools in Puerto Rico.
In 2015, an organization called "Los Inmortales del Deporte de Mayagüez," honored Rubén Saltares for his contributions in sports in the areas of weight lifting and bodybuilding. His name will be forever remembered along with other athletes for their contributions and promotion of sports in Puerto Rico.