He was a pioneering Mexican American who built generational wealth in the 20th century. An invaluable donor and supporter of the University of Texas Health Science Center, helping people improve their health through his giving. A war hero who earned high military honors.

Charles Uranga in the military.

The story of Charles “Charlie” Uranga was and remains an inspiring and significant figure in San Antonio’s rich history and one apt to recall today, on Veterans Day 2022.

Born on April 30, 1921, in Alpine, Texas, Uranga was one of nine children – all of whom were taught by their mother Guillerma and father Clemente to approach life with determination and persistence. Uranga was ready to begin his adult life early on: he dropped out of high school to marry his girlfriend, enlisted in the military and together, they moved to El Paso.

But that version of Uranga’s life was short-lived – in 1942, at just 20, he was drafted into World War II and tossed into the Battle at Normandy.

Recipient of France’s most prestigious award for military or civil service as well as the Bronze Star, Uranga returned home in 1945 with plenty to show from his tour through Europe, including the unbroken determination to be a self-made man.

Upon returning to Alpine in 1945, Uranga opened Charlie’s Food Market, a local supermarket. Eventually, his first business venture would serve as a steppingstone for how he would begin to acquire life-changing wealth: after selling the market, he purchased Eagle Oil Co. in the border town of Eagle Pass.

By the late 1970s, he sold Eagle Oil Co. to the Oklahoma-based company MidAmerican Pipeline, and made his way down to San Antonio, where he became a powerful businessman.

Decades later, Uranga’s legacy is perhaps best defined by his determination in life and his steadfast altruism.

Daniel Jonson of UT Health Science Center

“We are grateful for the generosity of the late Mr. Charles Uranga and his incredible support for the Department of Ophthalmology at UT Health San Antonio,” said Dr. Daniel Johnson, who chairs the department. “A World War II veteran, community leader, successful businessman, and visionary in every sense of the word, Mr. Uranga strongly supported the conservation, retention and restoration of human eyesight.”

Uranga’s legacy lives on through his endowed philanthropic fund at the San Antonio Area Foundation, which will continue growing in perpetuity for continued grantmaking. Over $450,000 has been donated since he originally opened the fund in 1978.

“His donations have enabled us to continue providing to our patients in San Antonio and throughout South Texas high-quality eye care by helping us to expand our clinical services and maintain state-of-the-art equipment,” Johnson noted. “We are humbled by Mr. Uranga’s kind gift and share his dedication to the health and well-being of our community.”

After Uranga’s passing in 2013, relatives spoke of his kindness and love.

“Charles and his beautiful first wife, Yolanda, were always very kind to me and my wife,” said cousin Armando Uranga. “One could always feel their genuine love and friendship for others.”

Charles Uranga and Yolanda Uranga

Uranga was not a descendant of prestige and wealth, but through his love and generosity, he enriched the lives of others for generations to come.

“Charles’ commitment to family, friends, our community, and to serving our great nation leaves a wonderful legacy,” said former Texas State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who chaired the Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military installations at the time of Uranga’s passing. “He will never be forgotten.”

The Area Foundation will make sure of that. The organization is always humbled when chosen by generous philanthropists such as Charles Uranga for their goals to give back to their community. Anyone interested in finding out the seamless process to open up a fund with the Area Foundation or to discover other giving options can click here for more details and contact information.

“The Area Foundation is so proud to be the home for Mr. Uranga’s lasting philanthropic legacy,” said Lisa Brunsvold, Vice President for Development and Donor Services. “His life, military service and career speak for themselves in terms of the tremendous value he brought to our community. What a role model for philanthropy in our community to recall on Veterans Day.”

Ben Wiese is a San Antonio-based freelance writer and a member of the San Antonio Area Foundation Marketing and Communications Department’s Storytelling Ambassador contributor network.