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Meeting Fred Maravilla

November 2, 2018

Yesterday, I had the immense pleasure to meet one of the people featured in our exhibit Be Heard: Latino Experiences in Indiana, open through Saturday, Nov. 3.

We rarely get the opportunity to meet with the subjects of an exhibit but the Be Heard series, which has grown out of our special collecting initiatives – LGBT, Latino and Asian – mean we can hear many of the voices of these fellow Hoosiers. Collecting oral histories is one of the main focuses of the initiative as well as in the exhibit. Even at that, nothing beats getting to meet someone like Fred first-hand.

Fred Maravilla turned 100 years old on March 8, 2018, and in the words of President and CEO, John Herbst, looks about 78. He came to the U.S. as a young boy in 1922 from Guarachita, Michoacán, Mexico, with his father and mother, Ignacio Garcia Maravilla and Margarita Ruiz Ochoa. Ignacio started work for Inland Steel and New York Central Railroad and the family settled in the Indiana Harbor area.

This is a photo of brothers Ignacio Jr. and Fred Maravilla. Ignacio (left) was about one year old and Fred (right) was about three. In this photo, the boys are wearing clothes their mother cut and sewed herself.

Fred (right), age 3, next to his brother Ignacio, age 1. The brothers are wearing outfits their mother made for them.

“I didn’t know a word of English when I came to the United States. In fact, I had a very difficult time when I started school because my English was very limited. … I started school in 1924; I was six years old. This was right after the Teapot Dome Scandal in 1923. My dad lost his job, and he had to go work on the railroads. So we moved to Gary; we were living in a boxcar. I got to be six years old and I started school there in Gary.”

He graduated from Washington High School in 1935 and married his first wife, Sabina “Sophie” Medrea in 1942. That same year, Fred was drafted into the U.S. Army and served with the 450th Bombardment in the European theater during WWII. His service in the military gained him his citizenship. When he returned, Fred began working for Inland Steel. He went on to receive a bachelor’s and master’s degree in foreign language and taught Spanish in high schools as well as several universities. Early in his teaching career, he developed basic English and citizenship courses for the many immigrants working at Inland Steel.

Fred Maravilla in profile in front of a panel he is featured on in the exhibit, Be Heard: Latino Experiences in Indiana.

Fred attributes his longevity to God and genetics. His mother was, as he puts it, “a three-century lady.” She was born in 1897 and lived to 104 years old, dying in the year 2000. When asked if he had ever smoked, Fred first said that he hadn’t but immediately takes it back. “I smoked once. My mother smoked until she was in her 90s. When I was eight years old, I stole a package of cigarettes from her … I smoked all the cigarettes. And I got so sick [that] I never wanted to smoke again.”

Fred Maravilla looks on at his wife listening to selections of his oral history in the exhibit Be Heard: Latino Experiences in Indiana.

Fred’s wife, Gail, listens to selections from his oral history interviews featured in the exhibit, even though she’s probably already “heard it all before.”

You can find more about Fred Maravilla in the collection guide titled Frederick Ruiz Maravilla Oral History Interview, 2016. See more photos of Fred and his family here. Next in the Be Heard series is Be Heard: Asian Experiences in Indiana. The exhibit will be open in late spring 2019.

Chelsea Sutton Blogger Headshot

Chelsea Sutton is communications coordinator at the Indiana Historical Society. She started drinking coffee at age 3 with her dad and always stays up too late reading.

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