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Sunday, Mar 29, 2015

Pennsylvania man reunited with photos of mother and Elvis



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HERNANDO BEACH - Thanks to a small gift store that sells second-hand items in Hernando Beach, a Pennsylvania man was reunited with a family heirloom and the mystery of a beautiful woman in a photograph with Elvis Presley was finally solved.

Sandra Marie Pedraza, a Tampa woman who became the Latin American Fiesta Queen of 1956, is featured in the photo with Presley who was in Tampa that year for a concert at Fort Homer Hesterly Armony.

Teresa Quiñonez, who owns All Most Nu with her husband Eduardo, purchased the photos at an estate sale, thinking they might be worth something.

Instead, the framed photos of Pedraza and Presley sat in the shop with a $60 price tag, generating little interest.

"No one even asked for a discount," said Eduardo Quiñonez, 60 , a Cuban immigrant who moved to Hernando in 2005.

Quiñonez and his wife had tried to find a potential buyer for the photos and searched the Internet with no success. They even researched obituaries, digging for some clue as to the identity of the person with Presley, because the photos were framed with two dates "1936-1998".

An article in the The Tampa Tribune from 2002 solved the mystery: "Sandra Marie Pedraza was a student at Jefferson High School, in Tampa, where she was crowned Homecoming queen and was later crowned Latin American Queen 1956." The woman also met Presley, according to the article.

The Latin American Pageant was founded in 1927 and was considered one of the most prestigious crowns in the Tampa Bay area.

Pedraza had lunch with Presley at The Colonnade Restaurant in Tampa when he was in town for a concert, according to the article, which says Pedraza died of heart problems in 1998, and had six children.

Pedraza's son, Christopher David English, who lives in Wilkes-Barr, Pa., was happy to learn that the photos still existed.

"The photos that I have are reproductions," English said. "You found the originals in the store."

He had given up looking for the lost photos of his mother.

English, 51, said that his mother was born in New York, but was of Cuban descent. Her parents were from the city of Santa Clara located in the center of Cuba, but his mother had lived in Tampa since she was very young.

Once Pedraza was crowned Latin American Fiesta Queen, she attended several events including an international goodwill trip to Cuba.

"My mother told us that she really enjoyed the trip to Cuba," English said. "She was also proud to represent Tampa and her Cuban heritage while she was Latin American Fiesta Queen."

Of meeting Presley, English's mother told him the King of Rock 'n' Roll was "very handsome" but she didn't fall for him because she was in love with her high school sweetheart, whose first name was David.

"I know that because my middle name is David and my mother told me that is where she got the name," English said. "I don't know how true the story is but that is what she would tell me."

Pedraza did not marry her high school sweetheart, but in 1959 met English's father, Christopher, who proposed marriage.

Pedraza dedicated one of the photos to her first husband, writing "To Chris my love forever, Sandra".

English said that photo, was given as gift to his father.

Quiñonez sold English the photos for $40.

"They are very special family moments," English said. "These pictures are of great significance for my family. A kind of treasure."

Between emails and phone conversations, English remembered his childhood in Tampa.

"I spent a long time living with my grandparents called 'Mima' and 'Pipa'. They lived near Havana Avenue close to St. Joseph Hospital. My grandfather, Ray, was an electrician and worked in Ybor City and West Tampa," he said.

"Every Tuesday night, my grandfather took me to see professional wrestling in the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory," said English.

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