By DAN SANTELLA The Monitor
McALLEN — Businesswoman Lillie A. Gonzalez, founder of El Pato restaurants, died Saturday after a months-long sickness. She was 98.
“Anything she touched, she generally turned it into gold,” Yolanda Gonzalez, Lillie’s daughter, said.
“No obstacle, only opportunities: That was her philosophy,” she said.
Yolanda Gonzalez, 61, owns breakfast taco destination Ms. G’s Tacos N’ More, which is located at the site of her mother’s first El Pato that opened in 1974 at Pecan Boulevard and North 23rd Street in McAllen.
The second El Pato location went up about 1975 in Edinburg, across from the University of Texas-Pan American. El Pato’s third location overall and second in McAllen was built about 1975, as well, at 12th Street and Business 83.
El Pato restaurants had nine locations across the Rio Grande Valley when Lillie Gonzalez sold them about 2001, her daughter said. Today the popular restaurant has 13 locations from Brownsville to La Joya, according to its website.
Lillie Gonzalez was born June 12, 1915, in La Costa, Texas. She was married and widowed twice, first to Melvin E. Wolter from 1944 until his death in 1950, and then to Joseph H. Gonzalez from 1951 until his death in 1984. She left high school during the Great Depression, eventually receiving a GED about 1969.
The entrepreneur is survived by two children from her first marriage: Frederick M. Wolter, 68, of Harlingen and William E. Wolter, 64, of Grapevine. She and her second husband had two children: Yolanda F. Gonzalez and Joseph H. Gonzalez Jr., who passed away at the age of 55 four years ago Monday.
Lillie Gonzalez and her second husband first began spending time in McAllen in 1966. The couple had founded and oversaw McAllen’s Bego Records recording company, “one of the largest Tejano music recording companies in the nation,” Yolanda Gonzalez said. Joseph was a businessman, working with Mexican foods across five states, and a grocery store named El Pato, the future restaurant’s namesake. The family kept homes in both Saginaw, Michigan, and McAllen.
In Saginaw, Lillie Gonzalez also received an appointment from Michigan Gov. George Romney — father of former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney — to verify that humane living standards were kept in migrant camps.
Following the sales of Bego Records and Joseph’s northern businesses, the family permanently relocated to McAllen in the early 1970s, Yolanda Gonzalez said.
Lillie Gonzalez is additionally survived by seven grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and her 96-year-old sister Magdalene Nuñez of McAllen.