Photos courtesy of Peter “Sonny” Ada. View more photos for the Maria Palomo Ada entry here.

One of Guam’s first millionaires

Maria Palomo Ada (1903 – 1996) also known as “Tan Maria” to the many in the community who knew her, co-founded a series of business ventures along with her husband, Pedro Ada, or “Tun Pedro” as he was more affectionately known. The two of them ran their businesses together for more than 50 years. Through their retail, wholesale, and market businesses, the couple became well known in Guam and throughout Micronesia. Ada’s Markets became a household name in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. The duo also became Guam’s first millionaires while developing real estate and acquiring new properties through their company Ada’s, Inc..

Just as they known for their business success, the Adas are noted for their humble beginnings. The former Maria Roberto Palomo was born in Hagåtña on 10 February 1903, the daughter of Vicente Ada Palomo and Ana Ramirez Roberto. She became a school teacher and worked as a clerk at the JM Torres Store in Hagåtña as a second job, carefully saving any additional earnings. She met her husband, who was born and raised in Saipan, after he finished his studies at the Jesuit-run Sophia University in Tokyo and then moved to Guam.

When Joaquin Leon Guerrero, father of Bank of Guam founder Jesus Leon Guerrero, offered to sell Leon Guerrero’s retail store in Hagåtña to Tun Pedro for $500, it was Tan Maria’s savings that allowed them to take advantage of the opportunity. She was reluctant to part with her hard-earned savings, but eventually agreed. The story of Tun Pedro and Tan Maria became inseparably intertwined from that moment.

The store was located in Hagåtña, and through sheer hard work, the two were able to make enough money to open a second store near where the Julale Shopping Center stands in Hagåtña today. Tan Maria efficiently managed the store’s finances and inventory, while Tun Pedro was skilled at forming good business relationships with their customers.

Construction of a third store in Maite began shortly before the outbreak of World War II, but the Japanese occupation put a halt to all business activity. Their stores were destroyed during the war, and when the American forces retook control of the island, the two were among the first entrepreneurs allowed to resume their business.

Founder of Ada’s Market

They opened a grocery store in an old residence in Hagåtña, and soon moved the store to their own home, using the basement as a warehouse. Eventually, they were able to build a concrete building to house Ada’s Market, and from there their business took off.

In the late 1940s they took over ownership of Tun Ben Palomo’s Barrigada store, and in 1949 formed a joint venture to open Food City in Tamuning (they eventually bought out their partners to gain sole ownership).

In 1958 they opened a new market in Sinajana, constructed the Ada Plaza Center near the Hagåtña post office in 1964, and opened a new Ada’s Market in Dededo in 1969. In 1973, they left the retail business to focus on real estate developments and other businesses, selling their stores to Seiyu of Japan.

Throughout their success in business, Tan Maria and her husband were well known benefactors in the community, quietly giving scholarships to young seminarians and donating money to the University of Guam and Catholic parishes. They were devoted Catholics and maintained a strong family unit throughout their lives. They had two children, Agnes and Pete, and many grandchildren.

In 1993 Tan Maria and Tun Pedro were both inducted into the Guam Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame.

Tan Maria died on 2 September 1996, almost a year after her husband died.

By Leo Babauta

For further reading

I Manfåyi: Who’s Who in Chamorro History. Vol. 2. The Hale’-ta Series. Hagåtña: Political Status Education and Coordinating Commission, 1997.