“Let’s Talk Clovis” – Celebrating Seferina Herrera Franco’s 100th Birthday

By Peg Bos, Clovis Museum | Contributed

Seferina Herrera Franco was born on August 26, 1916. See the ad adjacent to this article for your invitation to Seferina’s birthday party to be held at the Clovis Museum on August 27, 2016.

Seferina Franco is a loving, nurturing matriarch to five generations. Her extended family numbers more than 300 and she remains the guiding light in their lives. She still carries herself with grace and dignity. She has an inner beauty and intelligence that comforts and challenges her family and friends.

Her parents (Demetrio and Maria Herrera) lived in Frontenac, Kansas when she was born. Her father was a “reenganchados,” a term used for those under contract with railroad companies. The family moved to Clovis in 1919 when Seferina was 3 years old.

Many Mexican families arrived in Clovis during the Mexican revolution (1911-1920). They worked and lived on ranches, but many settled south of Old Town on Seventh Street. Migrant workers and families would camp in the eucalyptus grove along Clovis Avenue between Seventh and Eighth Streets.

Seferina left school after the fifth grade since the focus for young girls at that time was to learn proper manners, cooking and housekeeping skills that prepared them for marriage. She was also needed to drive the family truck and trailer to their campsite in San Jose. She smiles as she recalls she could barely see over the steering wheel, but they always arrived safely.

During a trip with her brother Ike Herrera (1925-2016), she remembers him telling her Mother that a trailer that was passing them was similar to their trailer. It turned out to be their trailer, it had broken away from the hitch! No injuries or damages occurred as it eventually landed in a field. They retrieved the wayward trailer and continued their journey.

In the early 1920’s, the Herrera family built a home in the 800 block of Fulton (Clovis Avenue). Seferina remembers the dirt streets and the horse-drawn water wagons that would help keep the dust under control.

Open dating was not permitted and men were not allowed to visit the home of their girlfriend. Fiestas for baptism, confirmation, birthday and weddings provided courting opportunities. Seferina loved to dance and she celebrated her 90th birthday by dancing with her family members.

Luis Franco (son of Justo and Eloisa Franco) was a determined and resourceful suitor for the hand of Seferina. Luis (age 34) and Seferina (age 23) were married in 1939. She brought five dollars to the marriage. She would continue throughout their married life to amaze and delight Luis with her ability to save and invest money.

Tradition dictated that wives did not work, but Seferina’s desire to “make some money” would prevail. Luis worked in the fields and also as foreman at Wawona Farms for Earl Smittcamp. Their children Frank, Rosalie, Gilbert and Olivia worked in the fields, but not during the school year. Their parents were determined that they would receive an education.

By 1944, Seferina managed to save $25 for a down payment to buy property at 836 Pollasky Ave. The sale price ($200) would require $10 monthly payments (no interest charged). It was financed by pioneer real estate salesman Frank Drury. The Francos moved an old house onto the property, but the home was destroyed by fire in 1945. They relocated to a railroad section house (rent $1 per month which included their electricity). Frugal Seferina continued to put savings aside to fulfill her dream of someday leaving the fields.

In 1948, the Franco’s traveled to Gardena, CA to manage a small restaurant owned by a cousin who had become ill. They returned to Clovis in 1949. Seferina had become an accomplished cook and remained determined to open a restaurant. They built a home on their property and also a 20×20 foot structure for their restaurant. They had no additional funds to open the restaurant.

In the early 1950’s, Luis was hired by Southern Pacific to work on the “pick and shovel” gang. It was hard work but provided a decent wage. His family continued to work in the fields.

In 1958, family friend Andy Pellegrino (owner of the Buy Rite Market) encouraged them to borrow money on their home and open “Franco’s Taco House”. The grand opening was on Clovis Day that year. Sales approached $20.

Their restaurant was only “take out” since it was located in a residential area. After a few years the city granted permission to install three tables. Their profit margin was slim (Seferina could earn more working in the fields) but she would not be discouraged. She believed someday their restaurant would be successful.

The business grew with Clovis and in 1973 they increased the seating capacity to 85 by expanding into their family living room (Seferina still lives in the remaining part of their home). They remodeled again in 1991 and increased capacity to 135.

Seferina became famous for her salsa and tamales. The recipes remain a family secret. Her daughter Rosalie Sandoval managed the restaurant for 34 years.

After serving Clovis for 50 years, the oldest Clovis Mexican restaurant closed on March 29, 2008. Seferina was the first Hispanic woman to receive the honor of being inducted into the 1994 Clovis Hall of Fame.

Seferina and her family provided us a rich heritage.