Courtesy / Jonathan Alonzo
When Ken Flores arrived at Hobby Middle School on Thursday, he was met by a drum line and escorted down a hallway. As students applauded, danced, and cheered, Flores flashed a wide smile beneath a gold crown and waved, moving toward the gymnasium in a parade befitting a king.
Which he is. Flores is Rey Feo LXX, a Fiesta ambassador of goodwill, who was making his 78th school appearance during his reign as the “Ugly King.”
After reaching the gym, accompanied by his daughter, Ariana Flores, Fiesta’s La Reina, and a second daughter, Mia, a Hobby seventh grader, the Floreses received a royal family greeting. When Ken introduced his youngest daughter, an eruption sounded.
“The entire gymnasium screamed her name – Mia!” the father said. “I didn’t know my daughter was that well-known in school.”
The Floreses are so well-known in San Antonio during April they could be considered the First Family of Fiesta. Ken’s daughter, Ariana, a junior at St. Mary’s University, serves as Reina de la Feria de las Flores, or “Queen of the Flower Fair.”
They are the second father-daughter combination to serve as Rey Feo and La Reina simultaneously. The first: Ken’s father and sister, Antonio Flores and Lorrie (Flores) Tijerina, reigned in 1996. In 2003, Ken’s mother, Irma Flores, became the first Hispanic woman to serve as president of the Fiesta San Antonio Commission.
“It’s been an amazing journey to continue the legacy,” said Ken, who is CEO of Allegiance Environmental Services.
In 2015, Ken raised $229,197 for the LULAC Rey Feo Scholarship Fund to secure the title for the city’s Tricentennial anniversary. That same year, Ariana raised a record $75,128 for the Tom Morton Sandoval Parent/Child Scholarship to claim the title of La Reina.
Contractually obligated to visit 50 schools, father and daughter set out to reach 70 or LXX, the golden roman numeral on Rey Feo's sash. By the end of Thursday, they had visited 79. Their message: Stay in school and get a college education.
“It feels wonderful to go across the city of San Antonio as an ambassador,” said Ariana, a 21-year-old business major. “To preach education has been really rewarding. The kids think we make an impact on them. But they don’t realize they are making a huge impact on us. They hold a special place in our hearts and I love it.”
The Rey Feo Scholarship Fund dates to post-World War II San Antonio. In 1947, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Council No. 2 wanted to provide scholarships for underprivileged but deserving youth. A competition for charity was launched and the first Rey Feo was crowned. In 1980, El Rey Feo became an official part of Fiesta.
According to the Rey Feo Scholarship Foundation website, the nonprofit organization has raised more than $7 million in scholarships for more than 3,000 students. Most recipients are first-generation students from low-income families. One hundred current students are receiving $1,500 each for books and tuition.
Each Rey Feo visits nursing homes, hospitals, orphanages, and schools. Antonio Flores made numerous visits as Reo Feo XLVIII in 1996. Twenty-two years later, he crowned his son, who visited his first school, Crockett Elementary, on March 6.
In his youth, Ken watched how his father spread goodwill and cheer, how he touched the hearts of children and inspired them to pursue higher education. Years later, Ken was asked about serving as Rey Feo.
“People that knew me when my dad was Rey Feo said they could see me taking that role one day,” Ken said. “It just happened at the right time, the right place. I thought about it for a while and realized that it’s not often you get asked and decided it was time. I was going to do my best and represent the brand of Rey Feo.”
Ken and Ariana visited only elementary schools with one exception. On Thursday, they went to Hobby Middle School, where Ariana attended. “It was awesome to go there,” Ariana said. “It brought back so many memories.”
Raising money for scholarships came easily for Ariana. A former high school and college volleyball player, she organized a sand volleyball event and the donations poured in. The record-breaking haul allowed Ariana to serve as Fiesta royalty with her father.
“I feel so blessed to experience this with my dad,” she said. “It feels special to go on this journey with him.”