Retried Ambassador Mark Oldham on Houston Street. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Somewhere in the draft of a thrilling murder mystery set in 1940’s San Francisco, there’s a touch of San Antonio. Mark Oldham, Centro San Antonio Ambassador from 2011 to 2019, is spending his retirement working on a lifelong passion: his novel. While his work of fiction is based mostly on his parents’ memories of their hometown, pieces of San Antonio- like historic architecture- sneak their way in.
As a maintenance ambassador, Mark spent a lot of time feeling out the city. “I liked being outdoors,” he explains. As a child Mark would travel from California to visit family in San Antonio, often during the holidays. He was in San Antonio during the World’s Fair in 1968 and remembers spotting Lady Bird Johnson on the river. Because of this he has a familiarity with the city, which aided him as a Centro Ambassador.
While Maintenance Ambassadors are primarily concerned with keeping downtown clean, they serve as an information resource for locals and residents as well- like the Public Service Representative Ambassadors. Mark loved to connect with people from around the world and show off the city he knows and loves. His memories of the city color the conversations he’s had with people downtown and highlight the momentum of a growing San Antonio.
Centro Ambassadors help downtown visitors with directions as seen on Houston Street. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Mark worked primarily along the Museum Reach of the River Walk. He cites the River Walk extensions as the most transformative projects during his long history in San Antonio. He’s amazed at the growth downtown, and excited for the future of the city.
However, he wasn’t always looking at a bright future. He moved to Texas almost ten years ago for economic opportunity. “It’s a people friendly state,” he explains. San Antonio just made sense given his familial and emotional connection to the city. Mark knew that the city was friendly, but it would take a very challenging experience for him to learn the extent of its welcoming nature.
A few months after arriving, Mark became gravely ill after suffering acute appendicitis. The life altering ordeal drained his resources, and he found it necessary to seek aid from Haven For Hope. Mark had never felt that helpless before. He had always relied on himself but had to rely now on the compassion of others. But after it all, he says he wouldn’t have traded his experiences for anything else. “Haven itself probably saved me,” he explains.
The Haven staff member who worked with him, Gabriella, was able to connect him with Centro San Antonio for work. Mark was among the first Haven For Hope residents to go on to work at Centro San Antonio as an Ambassador. Today, around 40% of the Centro Ambassador team are former residents at Haven.
Mark is an embodiment of the substantive change the partnership between Haven For Hope and Centro San Antonio is making to the community. Mark says he owes everything to Gabriella for helping him to find a stable and fulfilling role after his personal hardship. “If she was here right now, I would give her a big hug,” he laughs.
Although his retirement has come, Mark still feels a deep connection with the Ambassador team. He shares an especially close bond with General Manager Mike Pacheco. “For me, he would have been the perfect older brother,” jokes Mark, who is Mike’s senior. The home Mark has made in San Antonio, as well as the experiences, will undoubtedly echo in his writings set in a fictional, thrilling tale.
And the work he has done as well as the aid he has given will undoubtedly echo throughout the San Antonio community for a long while.