Community activist, "Kelly Katie"
Emilia Sánchez was known for her generosity and care for her neighbors. She was also one of the first “Kelly Katies,” women who worked at Kelly Air Force Base during World War II.
Sánchez was born in 1911 in the Westside. Her father ran a pecan distribution and shelling business, Aurelio Sánchez and Co., out of his home at 817 S. Colorado and at a factory at 306 Tejeda Road. Picking pecans was one of the few jobs available for the poor, and so her father’s business offered vital employment opportunities.
When World War II began, many men in San Antonio left to serve in the war. Emilia answered the call as well, taking a civil service job to fill the need for more labor. At Kelly Air Force Base, she served as an aircraft instrument mechanic and, later, in sheet metal work. She recruited other women to apply as well, noting that it was an important patriotic duty to the country and a good opportunity for well-paying jobs. After the war she continued to work at Kelly until her retirement in 1974. She is honored at the Ring of Honor at the Kelly Veteran’s Monument with a bronze bust in honor of the "Kelly Katies," along with others who served at Kelly, including Lt. Benjamin Foulois, the base's founder; Lt. George E. M. Kelly, the base's namesake; Wilbur B. Miller, a World War II Tuskegee airman; Twila Donelson, a civilian item manager killed during the crash of a C-5 returning from Vietnam; and Rudy Lorraine, a Native American who was a medic in the Army Air Corps in World War II.
But her works and acts from her faith were of prime importance during her life as an active member of the Sociedad Guadalupana at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine parish for many years. She lived first at 817 S. Colorado St. and then across the street at 816 S. Colorado, which is currently the Casa de Cuentos belonging to the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. When Emilia lived at 816 S. Colorado, her home was known to the neighborhood as the "Casa de la Misericordia." The community knew they could appear at Emilia's house day or night with a need for assistance and Emilia would be ready with an herbal cure, a shared prayer, or food. As a longtime Guadalupana, she helped fundraise for the church, hosting tamaladas and jamaicas. She was devoted to her faith, praying for the lost and abandoned and being available for whatever was needed in her community.
"She [Emilia] and many other parishioners [at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church] were connected very strongly to...popular piety..., things that were not officially recognized activities of the Church but were part of who we were at the time, and so she was always very connected to her neighbors... and always helping the poor."
— conversation with Sylvia Zamarripa, August 2, 2020