Cementing a family legacy in San Antonio

April 17, 2024 Katie Pfledderer
Four restored smokestacks in San Antonio pay homage to the area’s storied past, and for branch leader Ernest J. Martinez, they symbolize even more.

Ernest J. Martinez celebrates during the grand opening of the San Antonio Alamo Heights branch.

Ernest J. Martinez celebrates during the grand opening of the San Antonio Alamo Heights branch.

“Through faith AND prayer, the right people were put in my path,” shared Ernest. “Regarding this photo, I will never forget that day and the inspiration that led to this moment on October 19th, 2023!” His story begins at a time when San Antonio looked a lot different.

A cement factory and its employee housing once occupied what is now the Alamo Quarry Market in San Antonio, Texas. The façade of the original factory and some of its equipment are incorporated into the market’s design, serving as a testament of how the area’s past helped shape what San Antonio is today. For Schwab’s San Antonio Alamo Heights Independent Branch Leader, Ernest J. Martinez, the area’s history played a significant role in his journey as well.

A deeply rooted family history in the community

Back when the cement factory was still up and running, Ernest’s late father, Jaime P. Martinez, helped advocate for the plant’s employees amongst other workers in the community. “He was very involved in the community as an organizer and activist, so I grew up being involved…” explains Ernest. One of his father’s early mentors and friends was none other than Cesar Chavez, American labor leader and civil rights activist. 

After the passing of Cesar, and with the blessing of the Chavez Family, Ernest’s father founded the 100% volunteer led 501(c)(3) Cesar E. Chavez Legacy & Educational Foundation (CECLEF). With an aim to preserve the life and legacy of Cesar E. Chavez, the organization set out to help address food insecurity, provide scholarships, and encourage unity through educational and community outreach efforts.

After Ernest’s father passed away in 2017, the board voted Ernest in to lead the foundation, and today he continues to serve as chairman for CECLEF and The Annual Cesar Chavez March which is now co-sponsored by the City of San Antonio.

Ernest is incredibly proud of the organization’s continued growth and reach. In addition to the annual marches, CECLEF hosts an annual food drive which benefits the San Antonio Food Bank, and the Annual Jaime P. Martinez Thanksgiving in the Barrio Event which provides turkey and trimmings to families during the week of Thanksgiving.

Schwab employee Raquel (Lozano) McCain (center) and her daughter Madeline with Ernest at the 14th Annual Jaime P. Martinez Thanksgiving in the Barrio event.

Schwab employee Raquel (Lozano) McCain and her daughter Madeline with Ernest J. Martinez

Ernest also encourages others to pursue their passions and career interests. “When I’m in the community and meet young people through the foundation, I take the opportunity to offer encouragement and mentor others. There is no better way to uplift young people, and mentoring doesn’t have to be formal.”

He’s especially proud of the CECLEF Scholarship Fund, a program that awards scholarships to area high school seniors. “As a parent, we want our kids to do better than we did.” Being the first of his family to graduate from college, he understands the importance of education and believes it plants the seeds of hope for young people. 

The pathway into financial services

Ernest himself received a lot of encouragement and mentorship from others and credits his family for inspiring his pursuit of a career in financial services. “My grandfather, who came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico and served in the military, was an early inspiration and influence in my life. He embraced entrepreneurship as an owner of a barber shop and always encouraged me to pursue the American dream.” 

Ernest also grew up watching his mom and aunt work as tellers at the local bank. Over time, his aunt’s social skills and warm personality drew people into the bank and attracted a lot of business. She was eventually promoted to senior vice president—a position rarely held by a woman in the 1970’s. “She always encouraged me to pursue a career in financial services,” says Ernest. “She was an encourager, and everybody loved her.”

After heeding her advice, he eventually got his first job in financial services at USAA. During his time there, he developed a deep admiration of the leadership style of then CEO General Robert F. McDermott. “His treatment of employees and members was based in a belief in the Golden Rule, to treat everyone with dignity and respect, and he encouraged everyone to reach their potential.” Ernest credits that experience for helping him appreciate the importance of making things as easy as possible for clients, a lesson he now instills in his team.

Paving the way for others

As the new year gets underway, Ernest and his team are eager to continue their commitment to the community, whether it’s through meaningful financial planning conversations or community outreach.  “It is my hope that as we grow that we never lose sight of our client service model. Details matter when it comes to service. But equally important is encouraging my team to embrace good causes they resonate with. Giving and volunteering changes lives.”