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Lydia and Al Cantú: the Faces of San Antonio's Information Center

Lydia and Al Cantú have been married longer than AARP has been around as an organization; 59 years to be exact. And they're just getting started.

The inseparable pair, 77-years young, is AARP’s first point of contact for thousands of San Antonians each year as hosts of the Information Center. They’ve been loyal to the organization and have seen it grow and change.

Says Al: "We went straight to AARP when we retired, which we both did on the same day – Thanksgiving Day of 1987."

The Cantus met in their neighborhood while they were in high school. Due to the way the school district lines were drawn, they attended different high schools: Lydia attended San Antonio Technical and Vocational and Al attended Jefferson High.

Al joined the Navy at age 17 and remained in the service four years. After serving his country, he then attended night classes at San Antonio College and St. Mary’s University, studying accounting. Meanwhile, Lydia worked as a beautician for several years and in bookkeeping at Broadway and Kelly banks. By this point, the young married couple had a daughter Sandra, an only child, who is a teacher in San Antonio today.

San Antonio's Kelly Air Force Base brought Lydia's and Al's careers closer together for most of their work lives, with Al working as a materials manager for the air force. In 1959, Lydia also went to work at Kelly as a key punch operator and clerk typist. She retired from the Comptroller and Finance Department as an accountant for budgeting and financial control of world-wide fuel purchases for the Navy, Army and Air Force.

"Kelly Air Force Base made the Hispanic middle class in San Antonio," Al says. "The salaries they paid gave us a reason to get a college education."

Early retirement at age 54 meant the Cantús now had more time to give back to their community. They held volunteer positions with LULAC, raising funds and giving scholarships; were board members for an organization for foster children; and served as troubleshooters at KMOL TV, which is now WOAI TV. But the one constant and most enjoyable volunteer activity in their lives since retiring has been with AARP.

"We've worn many hats," says Al.

Among those was the volunteer position of AARP health advocacy coordinator for the region before the advent of state offices and later as Assistant State Director to 26 chapters in San Antonio, Laredo, Rio Grande Valley, Kerrville, Corpus Christi and surrounding counties.

"Lydia drove me everywhere and accompanied me to meetings all around Texas," he says.

Their dependable work landed Al a job as delegate to the AARP national convention in Anaheim, CA, and Lydia a job as hospitality coordinator for the 1992 San Antonio convention, when Henry Cisneros was mayor. During the "Golden Afternoon" (Tarde de Oro) events in San Antonio and throughout Texas for seven years, Al and Lydia volunteered at the membership booth signing up new members.

But it is at the Information Center – located first at Central Park Mall and now at the North Star Square Shopping Strip – that they have spent the bulk of their AARP volunteer time. The office is just a few blocks away from home, making the daily weekday trek convenient.

The Information Center is a central point for AARP's popular Driver Safety and Tax Aide programs, with volunteer driver safety instructors and tax preparers using it as a home base. Routine days are interrupted by special events such as news conferences, volunteer appreciation activities and organizing bus trips for Lobby Day in Austin, and sport team events involving the San Antonio Spurs and San Antonio Missions, among others.

The number of callers at the Information Center has increased quite a bit since the early days, says Lydia. This March, for example, 506 calls came into the Information Center, followed by 860 in April. Most of the difference was due to the April 15 income tax deadline and the number of people who came to the center for free tax preparation assistance.

The center is fortunate to have a retired CPA volunteer who assists people with tax problems year round, says Lydia.

The Information Center is always looking for volunteers like Al and Lydia. There are two shifts per day, Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Says Al: "We get to meet a lot of different people, especially during the tax season. We're performing a service that helps both our members and the community at large."

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