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His nickname is Abuelo – Spanish for grandfather.

It’s a sign of respect and a fitting moniker for Enrique Padilla Sr.

He’s been a beloved figure to people in his community for many years.

Like the way he gently tugs the earlobes of family members, friends and just about anyone he meets. It’s a sign of affection he has used for as long as anyone in his family can remember – “especially the kids,” said his youngest son, Enrique Jr.

Thursday, Padilla had a lot of earlobes to tug during his 100th birthday party celebration at his grandson Mark’s house in South Buffalo.

Dozens of family members, old friends and other loved ones joined him for cake, ice cream and lots of stories.

“If he grabs your ears, that’s a good thing,” Padilla’s daughter-in-law Olivia said.

Padilla was born in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, on Aug. 15, 1913. He was one of eight children.

His job was to milk the cows. So these days – when he pulls the earlobes of some of his closest family members – he jokingly adds the sound of someone milking an udder, said his oldest grandchild, Evelyn Padilla Rodriguez, a City Hall worker.

In 1947, Padillo left his family behind in the Caribbean in search of a job in America and a better life for his wife, Carmen, and their two sons, German and Enrique Jr.

Life was harsh at first, Enrique Jr. said. Culture and language barriers made it hard to secure stable employment.

But Padilla didn’t give up. He was determined to achieve his vision of a brighter future.

Then he landed a job doing farm work in North Collins and would go through various farm jobs before landing a position in 1951 with the New York Central/Penn Central Railroad.

That’s when he moved his family to Buffalo.

Padilla worked at Penn Central for 22 years. And on his birthday, the Railroad Retirement Board hand-delivered to him a certificate of achievement.

It sits next to a letter signed by President Obama and his wife, Michelle, wishing him a happy birthday.

There’s also a proclamation from Mayor Byron W. Brown and another from the Common Council, both recognizing Thursday at “Enrique Padilla Sr. Day” in Buffalo.

He also received a plaque from his church - La Arca de Salvation Church - which he co-founded in 1953 with 12 others.

They started it in Padilla’s house on South Division Street.

Then he bought a house on Myrtle Avenue, where the group had services until it moved into its present location at 445 South Park Ave. near Louisiana Street.

“They still have over 100 members,” said his son Enrique Jr.

Padilla’s wife died in 1995. Their oldest son, German, died three years ago at age 74. In the 1950s and 1960s, he was a professional boxer known as Pancho.

Padilla has been living with his son Enrique Jr. and daughter-in-law since 1985.

He has seven grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren, and he is a great-great-grandfather to eight. Padilla can still move around on his own, although doctors recently provided him with a walker.

His eyesight is also fading, so he relies a lot on Olivia to get around.

He said it’s his faith that has kept him going for 100 years.

“God is first,” the centenarian said. “And everything comes from God.”

email: dswilliams@buffnews.com