Rita Guevara Sablan
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Rita Guevara Sablan (1926-2003) was a wife and mother of 10 children, an active member of her community, and businesswoman whose legacy – Sablan Enterprises – remains today.
Sablan, born on 8 January 1926 to Elena Santos Fejeran and Gregorio Delgado Guevara, lived in Ordot during her younger years and in Hagåtña as a teen. She is remembered by her relatives and neighbors as an entrepreneur from a very young age. She often found or made things and then sold them to neighboring children. She also helped tend the village store in Ordot that her parents owned.
Sablan lost her mother at a young age. Being the eldest of six children, she embraced the responsibility of raising her four brothers and sister. Her dedication to family was ingrained early and was constant throughout her life – helping them successfully learn and endure life’s lessons. Family life was good until the Japanese occupation during World War II.
The survival of the fittest was paramount during the war, testing her desire to live. Sablan said her worst experiences in life happened during this time. She rose early each morning, did her assigned chores and fell asleep late, wondering what tomorrow would bring. After all the tension and crisis of the Japanese occupation, she felt relief when the American’s reoccupied Guam and restored peace to the island. Times were hard for the family after the war but her strong will and business spirit sustained her.
Rita married Francisco Babauta Sablan in 1946. The two had 10 children: Johnny, Joseph, James, Josephine, Jeanette, Jerome, Jesse, Jeffrey, Joyleen, and Jerald and lived in Agat.
What I cherished the most with Frank and Rita Sablan was their unconditional love and affection for their children. They gave each of us the opportunity to develop our own personalities, helped us to become self-reliant and independent. They encouraged their eldest – Johnny Sablan to foster his love of music. They sacrificed to send him off island to learn, train and perfect his craft from the best musicians and artists stateside. He eventually become the island’s icon on CHamoru music. They instilled confidence and belief that we could be and do anything, if we wanted it bad enough, worked hard enough and set our minds to it.James G. Sablan
Sablan owned and operated Sablan’s Store, a retail store in the village for 54 years and the largest general store in Agat. Shoppers did not need to go to Hagåtña to go shopping for food- Sablan’s store had most everything people needed. The store was opened at 6 am every day rain or shine, and closed at 11 pm. Sablan would be smiling and ready to tackle the day and any unforeseen issues that might arise from the business, from family, or from whatever situation that day may bring. A positive mental attitude was her greatest strength.
Sablan had a set routine, planning her days, taking inventory, purchasing, and banking. She granted credit to those who asked – not like the credit card we know today but credit books – bound black and white composition books – one for each family. In the middle of the day she would take a break and rest. When rejuvenated, she would grab a drink, look out the huge store window, and envision how she would expand her business.
Sablan was always thinking of what she could do to improve. She continually expanded Sablan Store by adding new merchandise to include a clothing department on the second floor. Eventually she began designing and turning artificial flowers into wreaths, sprays, and arrangements for All Souls Day. She had a natural gift for design and could turn a box of plastic / silk flowers and greens to the most beautiful works of art. Sablan is remembered by her peers as the lady that makes beautiful wreaths at affordable prices. She did this annually and her floral tributes were well known not only for the residents of Agat and the south, but around the island. All Souls Day was a gangbuster sales day at Sablan’s Store every year.
Sablan had an easy rapport with bankers such as Gov. Joseph Flores and his grandson Phil Flores at Bank Pacific (formerly Guam Savings & Loan), and Jesus Leon Guerrero at Bank of Guam. When she needed their help to bring her latest business idea into fruition, she would ask with just a simple phone call. Out of respect for her work ethic and business acumen, the loans were granted. She was able to expand Sablan’s Store, build two commercial buildings, manage a 24-unit apartment building, and open a large laundromat. All her businesses were located in her childhood village of Ordot and her home village of Agat.
Sablan made a point to give back to the community. She was a member of the Port Authority of Guam board, and a member of the Mt. Carmel Parish Council. During her tenure, Sablan was instrumental in the financing and development of a Chapel at the Mt. Carmel Catholic Cemetery in Agat. She also participated in many civic and social events.
Christmas and Halloween were her favorite times of the year. She invited the village children to Sablan’s Store and treated them with toys, gifts, and candy. Sometimes, Santa would make an appearance. She knew which kids were troublesome and purposely sought them out, giving them counsel and encouragement. Sablan was also generous – needy families would often come to her for help and she never refused the opportunity to assist them mostly with food.
From humble beginnings Sablan dared to dream and with sheer will, determination, courage, and the belief that anything is possible. She took risks and turned Sablan’s Store into Sablan Enterprises – a collection of small businesses that continues to sustain her family long after her passing. This enterprise included Sablan’s Store, Jahame Apartments, Frank Tai Apartments, Seaside Commercial Complex, Casa de Bella (formerly Jahame Apartment II) in Ordot, Jesse’s Launderette, and a cache of real estate land holdings.
Rita, known as Tai, and Frank Sablan’s devotion to each other led to the beginnings of a new clan name on Guam: Familian FrankTai, a legacy of 57 years of marriage, 10 children, 22 grandchildren, 36 great grandchildren, and six great great grandchildren as of 2020.
By James G. Sablan, Sr.