THREE RIVERS – Sonny Ybanez found his dream job at age 60, and 25 years later, he is still plugging away, working full-time at the Three Rivers Recycling Center.

“I don’t want to retire,” Ybanez said. “I love my job. I really like working with the people.

Ybanez is a mainstay at the recycling center, and the George West resident, lives near the high school with Tive, his wife of 58 years. 

He didn’t start working for the city of Three Rivers until he reached an age when many people think about retirement.

Ybanez previously worked for the city of George West in the wastewater department, However, at that time in the early 1990s, George West didn’t have retirement benefits for its employees, Ybanez said, adding that it does now.

A job opening at Three Rivers allowed Ybanez to continue working, and what was initially viewed as a two-year commitment turned into a quarter century — and counting.

“I had a friend who worked for Three Rivers at the time and he said, ‘Come on over here — we need you,’” Ybanez said. “Some people wondered why he was hiring a 60-year-old. They thought I’d work two years, but I’m still here.”

Coming into the office every day is something Ybanez said he enjoys. In addition to talking to people, he said he likes to operate the machines on site, and he demonstrates an ability to do so that would be impressive for someone less than half his age.

Ybanez said the recycling center, located across the street from Three Rivers Farm and Ranch store, accepts aluminum, plastic, cardboard and paper, along with scrap iron and old water heaters.

“But this is not a junkyard,” Ybanez said, pointing out that some people dump items such as old mattresses and other items that the recycling center is not equipped to receive.

“The recycling center is a jewel for a community this size,” said local resident Pat Jarrett. “People from George West also come here to use it. But people shouldn’t drop off things like old chairs, golf clubs or mattresses. It shouldn’t be abused.”

Jarrett credits the city and Ybanez for the center’s success, adding that she is thankful a small community can support the facility.

Dee Dee Guajardo, accounts payable clerk for the city of Three Rivers, and Virginia Herring, executive director of the Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce, both expressed admiration for the job Ybanez does.

“He does a wonderful job keeping everything going,” Guarjardo said. “He always has a smile on his face and is so cheerful. He brightens our day. We love Sonny.”

“I think the job helps keep him young,” Herring said. “I know he’s done it for quite some time, and he does it well.”

Longevity runs in Ybanez’s family. He has an older brother and sister who are 97 and 95 and still active, another sister who is 88, an 82-year-old brother, and an 80-year-old “baby sister.”

While the number of octogenarians who work full-time may be small, Ybanez has a big impact on his co-workers, Kevin Curry and Ramon V. Zuniga Sr.

“It’s great to work with him,” Zuniga said.

“I’ve told Sonny before that he’s my inspiration,” Curry said. “He helps me get my butt out of bed in the morning. 

“I know that if Sonny is going to be at work, then I’ve got to be at work. He’s a lot of fun to be around and to work with.”

Ybanez and his crew man the recycling center Monday through Friday (except holidays) and volunteers work at the center from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday. While the center is officially open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, Sonny said he is usually there until 5 p.m.

While he takes weekends off, he said he does appreciate the efforts of those volunteer groups who take the Saturday shift.

“They keep things clean and organized,” Ybanez said. “Mondays would be a lot harder for me if it wasn’t for them.”

Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. He can be reached at 361-786-3022 or theprogress@mysoutex.com.