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A pioneer in Houston business -

A pioneer in Houston business -

Angela Morales went from dirt poor to millionaire – but don’t call it luck

By: Debbie Housel of the Houston Post Staff
Published in Viva Magazine
A supplement to The Houston Post Published March 19, 1993

Don’t mention glass ceilings to Angela Morales. The 5-foot fireball would categorize complaints that women can’t get ahead as whining and hand you a sledgehammer. Being on the “outside” is something the 85-year-old petite woman vividly remembers.     Her late husband, Felix, attended a segregated school. She remembers restaurants that refused to serve Hispanics and a sign that read, “No dogs or Mexicans allowed in the park.” And the terrifying fear when the couple was threatened by four “rednecks” with hoods and shotguns. Instead of bursting into a chorus of “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me,” the couple ushered in a new era and built a small empire. Born on May 5, 1907 – Cinco de Mayo – Morales has gone from dirt poor to a millionairess. Luck? Hardly. Felix and Angela Morales paved the way for other Hispanic businesses by making shrewd business decisions, having courage and tenacity.

  • They opened the first Hispanic-owned funeral home in Houston.
  • They were the first Hispanics to win a contract from the Harris County Commissioners Court to bury indigents.
  • They opened the area’s first Hispanic radio station, KLVL-AM.
  • Felix Morales was the first Hispanic to be named to the Pasadena Hall of Fame.
  • They created a Union Fraternal Society whereby Hispanics could pay $5.20 a year for funerals.
  • They opened the first cemetery for Hispanics in Houston
  • Angela Morales was one of the first Hispanic women in the county to receive a funeral director and embalming license, The license she received in 1942 has the word "His" carefully blacked out and above, Morales wrote "her". 

Totally restored in 1992, the Felix H. Morales Funeral Home at 2901 Canal Street is breathtaking with is vaulted ceilings, chandeliers and antique furniture. Morales stares at a picture of her husband as she thoughtfully twists the simple wedding band he placed on her finger on March 12, 1928. She has never taken it off. Her arthritically swollen fingers tell the story of hard work, sacrifice, love and today, wealth beyond her greatest expectations. Their story began in the barrios of San Antonio. In 1927, Angela’s mother was dying of cancer. She asked her young daughter to marry so she could die in peace.         Later that day, Felix, her brother’s friend, came by and asked Angela what was wrong? “Momma wants me to get married so I’ve got to find a husband,” Morales recalled replying. “Who are you going to marry?” the young Felix asked. “I don’t know,” she said. “Why don’t you marry me?” he asked.  And that was that, Morales said laughing. Felix Morales was one of five brothers who were all morticians. In 1931, one brother had a funeral home in San Antonio and another in New Braunfels. Houston was open turf. The couple bought a used ambulance, hearse and family car from his brother in San Antonio and headed for “cow town,” Morales remembers. In Houston, all the funeral homes were owned by “Anglos” and Hispanic funerals were usually handled in garages, Morales explained. “It was during the depression and times were hard,” she said. “People used to come in and pay us eggs, chickens, pork and maybe, ‘maybe,’ a couple dollars to bury their family members.” Then in 1935, the Harris County Commissioners Court held an open bid to re-bury a graveyard where paupers had been improperly buried.

With World War II raging at the beginning of the 1940s, Felix Morales worried that he would be drafted.  “He didn’t mind fighting for our country; he was worried about the business. He told me, ‘You have to go to school and get your embalming and funeral director’s license.’“I wasn’t sure I wanted. But he told me, "Look, if you don’t, when I come back there won’t be any business here. You have to keep business going so I’ll have something to come back to," she explained. She shudders when she remembers the first body she prepared. “The flesh, I just couldn’t forget the feel of the flesh on my hands for weeks,” she said rubbing her hands together. She makes no qualms about which business is her favorite. “The radio station was something Felix wanted. This,” She said tapping on a beautifully arched banister inside the funeral parlor, “this is what I love.” Why? “People, families call up at all hours in pain grieving over the loss of someone they loved. In this business, we can show them compassion; we can show them love and make it easier. We help people; you have no idea how good that makes me feel.” Morales’ son Joe, who died in 1979, was also a funeral director and embalmer along with 36 other Morales offspring. She proudly hugs her granddaughter Christina Morales who operates the funeral home. Christina Morales, a striking raven-haired beauty, is a far cry from a pasty-faced mortician. “I always knew, in the back of my mind, I would do this (mortician).” Christina Morales said. “My grandma, she always told me I could make it and now I get to help others.” It took years and many candles for her patron saints, but finally the family got a radio station in Pasadena and Latin American studio behind the funeral home. Once again it was time for the family to learn a trade from scratch. The work immediately made an impact. “Mexicans didn’t have a voice. They never had any newspaper or anything. With the station, they had someone telling them in our language what they could do.” When someone’s house burned down or when somebody’s child had run away, the dual station broadcast, the news in Spanish. Morales credits her husband with having the golden touch. It’s indisputable, however, that they were a team. Nephew Felix Trevino Morales, the owner of Trevino and Sons Funeral Home, said his uncle comes up with the plans but it was Angela Morales who carried them through. “He never wanted to be recognized and was a very modest, simple man. She went out and got it done.” “’They’ve done a lot for Hispanics in Harris country, they were the pioneers. He didn’t mind using the radio station to help his community,” he said. Their philanthropy began many years ago when they would give scholarships to various schools in Houston and Pasadena. On March 6, Pasadena honored her husband by naming a new elementary school his name. “Those little children going into that school will see his name and he will be an inspiration. They will think, ‘Hey if he can make it, I can make it.’ That to me is the most important of all.”

Ever since we opened our gates we have approached life (and death) differently. While some just see the end of a loved one’s life as a time for grief and mourning, we prefer to think of it as a time for reflection, appreciation and even celebration. This is evident in everything we do, from the way we conduct our services to the amenities we choose to offer. We are not a burial ground. We are a close knit community dedicated to honoring, sharing and preserving the amazing and inspirational stories that are life.

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