Deceased former U.S. citizen awarded Mexicali's highest honor

July 14, 2001|By ARTURO BOJORQUEZ, Staff Writer

MEXICALI — James Williams Stone was seen as a "keystone" to Mexicali's past and future.

On Friday night, Stone was posthumously given the Mexicalense Distinguido award, presented by the Mexicali City Council as part of festivities honoring this city's anniversary.

Stone died Jan. 25, 1979, in Mexico City. His daughter, Gloria Stone Rojo of Tijuana, accepted the award on her father's behalf.

"It feels good that after he died 22 years ago, the ‘jaboneros' remember him and always try to recognize him, and that speaks very well about my father …," said Stone.


After working on the construction of the railroad from the Gulf of California to Mexicali, Stone said her father didn't want to go back to Phoenix — where he was born — because of the high temperatures.

"He felt like a Mexican, he did everything for Mexicali and, as he always said, ‘Mexicali Valley gave him all he had,' so he gave everything back," Stone remembered.

"(James Stone) was American but Mexican in his heart," said El Centro Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau president Clifford Caldwell, who attended Calexico schools with James Stone's daughters.

Born March 12, 1901, in Phoenix, James Stone earned a bachelor's degree in engineering from the University of Arizona in 1924.

A year later, he was sent to start the construction of the railroad from the Gulf of California to Mexicali, where he would eventually establish his residency.

James Stone was best known for founding Compañía Industrial Jabonera del Pacífico, a soap company, in the 1940s. The company's warehouse, known as "La Jabonera," was relocated to Mexicali's civic center a few years ago and is now home to Sol del Niño, a children's science and technology museum.

The soap company, which never really manufactured soap, processed cotton seed into cottonseed oil which was later used to make soap by other companies.

Stone also contributed to the founding of Banco de Comercio and Banco Mercantil de Baja California, both of which provided loans to Mexicali's agricultural businesses.

He helped, through the Jenkins Foundation, to create Centro de Enseñanza Técnica y Superior, better known as CETYS, one of the best recognized private schools in northwestern Mexico.

James Stone also contributed to the creation of Club Campestre de Mexicali, a golf course and country club.

Caldwell said of Stone's passion for golf: "He was a competitor all the time, he never let down."

Luis Sánchez Vázquez, a Mexicali city council member and chairman of the committee that chooses the Mexicalense Distinguido award-winner, said the City Council selected him because his work benefited Mexicali economically, socially, educationally and recreationally.

"He felt more Mexicalense than anything else," said Bill Blackledge, deputy manager of credit at La Jabonera.

On May 14, 1959, James Stone became a naturalized Mexican citizen.

Both outgoing-Mexicali Mayor Víctor Hermosillo and businessman César Córdova said Stone represented Mexicali's agricultural industry during regional Colorado River water users' meetings, blaming the U.S. government for the high salinity of the Colorado.

Hermosillo was the architect who designed and constructed Stone's home in the upscale Los Pinos neighborhood of Mexicali.

Said Blackledge of Stone: "He was the best patron I ever had. He was a sympathetic, serious and smart man who loved Mexican people."

Blackledge remembers Stone once approved credit to people who couldn't afford to repay.

Caldwell added, "Mr. Stone was involved in every part of this community."

Vicky Rodríguez, the Stone family's nanny for 36 years, said he was a great man, a great gentleman and a good patron.

"I will never find someone like him, they treated me as part of their family," she said.

She also said he helped anyone who wanted an education.

"Once, there was a high school graduation, and the students wanted him as their godfather because they wanted him to donate the graduation rings, and he agreed," Rodríguez said.

In addition to the rings, Stone awarded scholarships to the six poorest students.

Many have said James Stone's contributions to Mexicali helped to boost the economy of Mexicali and northwestern Mexico.

"Jimmy could've done more in another company, but he chose a community that now brings him recognition and appreciation," said Luis Sánchez Vázquez.

Because of his high-profile status within the community, many wanted Stone to enter politics.

"He was mentioned sometimes about running for governor and other offices, but he really felt he could make more outside politics," daughter Gloria Stone Rojo said.

She said of the recognition her father received: "The most terrible thing for society is to cast everything in oblivion" … "it is very important to remember people who left their trace."

James Stone was one of six candidates considered for the Mexicalense Distinguido award. The nomination were sent in by citizens and the selection made by the City Council.

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