Minnie Gilbert Impacts the Valley

Minnie C. Gilbert Columnist, writer, historian

By Norman Rozeff, Special to the Star

For many years the Valley Morning Star’s featured column by Minnie Gilbert was greatly anticipated by its readers. Minnie was able to sustain her readership by astute research and dogged pursuit on a wide number of Valley subjects. She deserves remembrance by those readers still alive who followed her columns.

Minnie L. Carpenter Gilbert, reporter, columnist, and historian was born on 4 January 1900 in Bennington, Ottawa County, Kansas, the third of four surviving siblings born to Nella May Ramsay Carpenter and William Franklin Carpenter. By the May U. S. Census of 1910 the family of six had taken up residence iat Runn, south of Donna in Hidalgo County, Texas where William had purchased farm land to continue his vocation.

In latter 1910, after the flooding of the area in 1909, the family moved to San Benito, Texas. The summer of 1909 was a disastrous one with two hurricanes and an August flood. On August 27 Hurricane 6 hits Tamaulipas causing catastrophic damage including 2,000 deaths. Again the Valley is affected. Early the next month the Arroyo Colorado railroad bridge at Harlingen is damaged by high waters and train service to Brownsville is halted. Downtown flooding is so bad that rowboats can be used to move around the streets.

The move from Runn to San Benito entailed transporting all their household goods by wagon and herding their livestock. Horseback riding was nothing new to Minnie as she and her older sister Neta rode while herding their animals.

Upon being graduated from high school Minnie, at age 20, would take a position as a stenographer in a hardware store. She was then one of the few women to attend the University of Texas which she did for two years before taking up her profession, writing news stories, during her summer breaks.

On 23 November 1927 at age 27 Minnie married 24 year old William Frederick Gilbert, who was a machine shop mechanic at the time. Later he would be involved in law enforcement. By 1930 the frugal couple had purchased a house, valued at $4,000 in San Benito, and Minnie was employed by the San Benito News in her lifelong profession as a newspaper reporter. At this time the Light was a six day a week daily. As time progressed her articles would appear in the three major Lower Rio Grande Valley daily newspapers, The Monitor (McAllen), Valley Morning Star [initially the Harlingen Star], and the Brownsville Herald. In the World War II era Gilbert was named city editor of the Valley Morning Star. As the newspaper later related “at a time when only men could hold that position”. What she always looked forward to was obtaining a “scoop” before a competing newspaper latched on to it.

Gilbert and her husband were life-members of the First Presbyterian Church of San Benito. Minnie was also a memberof the D.A R. and served on the Cameron County Historical Commission as well as the Rio Grande Historical Commission at the University of Texas-Edinburg.

During 1941–42, together with Lucy Hopkins Wallace, Gilbert was instrumental in the organization of Valley By-Liners (later renamed the Rio Grande Valley Byliners). She was the organization’s first president. Among the group’s activities was the writing and publication of three regional books: Gift of the Rio (1975), a comprehensive study of the history and growth of the Lower Rio Grande Valley; Roots by the River (1978), winner of the Texas Historical Commission‘s award in 1979; and Rio Grande Round-Up (1980). Gilbert also contributed articles to all three publications as well as compiling “A History of First Presbyterian Church, San Benito, Texas 1910-1980” and in 1984 another book titled “Sunrise Song” concerning an early 1900s  Hispanic girl of the area celebrating her 15th birthday. In addition Gilbert  wrote “Bethlehem on the Rio Grande” about a pastorela play.

Lastly she wrote Wilderness Road (possibly never published post humously) about her family and Lower Rio Grande Valley history.

Gilbert retired from her long newspaper career in 1971. In its 8th Edition 1974-1975 Who’s Who of American Women Gilbert ‘s career was outlined. Her many papers are available in the Minnie Gilbert Collection  of the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley Special Collections and Archives at its Edinburg campus.

With no offspring and widowed after her husband’s heart attack death on 6 July 1964, Minnie died on November 29, 1999 in Harlingen, at age 99, just 35 days short of her 100th birthday. A younger sister Laura Nell Spears offered, “She’s a remarkable lady; she’s always looking after other people. She’s brilliant.” Minnie and her husband are buried in Mont Meta Memorial Park, San Benito, Texas.