For Joanne and Aldon Williams, the journey to Cordillera spans islands, years and destiny. Both were born in the tropical, sugar-beached Caribbean and spent their youth in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. They were young teenagers attending different private schools when the junior high schoolers met. Joanne was 13 and Aldon was 15. The connection was intense and immediate.
By Cheryl Van Tuyl Jividen :: Photography by Mark Humphries
“It was love at first sight,” says Joanne, “We were inseparable.”
The young couple, both serious students, dated through the end of their freshman year of high school, when Aldon’s family moved to Florida. Joanne says the separation was heartbreaking and the two lost touch of each other. And life happened. Aldon graduated valedictorian of his Miami Florida high school receiving a 4-year academic scholarship to the University of Miami and another to their Medical School where he graduated in 1990. An internal medicine internship, a 3-year anesthesia residency and a 1-year fellowship in pain medicine followed. He earned board certifications in anesthesiology and pain medicine and began practicing medicine in South Texas 21 years ago.
On her own trajectory, Joanne left the islands after high school and attended the University of Notre Dame, earning a degree in Psychology. Her career has included Merck Sharp & Dohme in Chicago before moving to Houston where she studied in the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Houston. An internship for a not-for-profit ignited a passion for management and fundraising that led to work in the field of advancement for a variety of Houston not-for-profits including the Volunteer Center, Child Advocates (CASA), Council for Alcohol & Drugs, Houston and St. Luke’s Episcopal Health Systems. She was an active member of AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) and earned her certification as a professional fundraiser (CFRE). “I realized my dream of working in healthcare and doing what I love best, raising money. It was greatly fulfilling to work on St. Luke’s Episcopal Health Charities Initiatives, advancing health in Houston-area neighborhoods, while raising money for the hospital’s $100 million capital campaign.”
In total she spent 18 years in Houston and that’s where fate came calling. After no contact and having not seen each other in 25 years, they unexpectedly ran into each other at an event. Joanne says, “We considered this chance meeting, serendipitous. It was love at first sight, a second time around, and it felt it was our destiny to be together.” Aldon adds, “It was totally random and the chance of a lifetime.” The couple wed in 2007. There is a treasured token from long ago says Aldon, “I kept a photo of us always. It was taken at Joanne’s 8th grade graduation.” A lot has changed since those days in St. Thomas and a lot hasn’t. Joanne says, “We were best friends then and are still best friends.”
While apart, Aldon and Joanne had each married and had children. “We are a close family and love spending time and traveling together,” says Joanne. Aldon’s daughter Brittany works for Chrysler in Charlotte, North Carolina and is engaged to be married in 2018. Like her father, she graduated from the University of Miami, before earning an MBA at Tulane University and is currently working on a Doctor of Management in Organizational Development and Change. His son Cameron studied engineering at Louisiana State University and lives in Houston. Joanne’s daughter Jessica, an aspiring author, graduated from Manhattanville College and lives in Westchester, New York working in advertising for DAC. Her son Alexander graduated from Penn State with an acting degree and works as an associate producer at FSB Chicago. In the future, Alex plans to start his own production company.
When not at Cordillera, the ocean-loving couple live on South Padre Island. “On South Padre we live on the beach and cherish living on the water, seeing sunrises and sunsets each day. We love to chase sunsets and have taken hundreds, if not thousands, of sunset photographs,” says Joanne.
But for all their love of the sea, the Hill Country has had its own special appeal. “We have always loved the Texas Hill Country. Over the years, while visiting close friends Carla Cooper and Jim Puetz who are members of Cordillera Ranch, we began a search for a place to eventually retire. It was again, love at first sight,” says Joanne. “Thanks to Carla and Jim, we were introduced to Cordillera. We purchased a lot on our first visit in 2008 and joined The Club.”
The golf course was a huge draw for Aldon, a self-described “golf-aholic” who started playing 21 years ago. As a member of the MGA, Aldon has played in every C-Star (except one) since the beginning. “I fell in love with Cordillera’s golf course and we would drive up from the Valley a couple times each month just to play,” says Aldon.
On Sunday afternoons, they would head back to the Valley. With each visit, the couple’s sadness to have to return home after their Cordillera Ranch weekend escapes grew. “Our original plan was to continue to work full-time in the Valley and drive out on weekends to play golf and enjoy The Club. We were not planning to build until closer to actual retirement. We had fallen in love with Cordillera and couldn’t wait to get back out on the next visit,” says Aldon. On a drive home one Sunday, they agreed they wanted to have a home at Cordillera Ranch to enjoy now rather than wait until retirement.
They began the process of building in 2015. “We worked very closely with our builder,” says Aldon who spends a lot of time in his outdoor kitchen. Joanne agrees, “We had a great building experience and enjoyed creating our dream home at Cordillera. We designed our home to be warm and inviting, built for entertaining with lots of open and outdoor living spaces.”
The couple has fully enjoyed the Cordillera life. They have participated in special events such as CTRC fundraisers, wine dinners and a recent wine trip, as well as golf tournaments, kayaking, utilizing the handgun range and the trails. “As a Hill Country community, Cordillera’s quality of life and unique offerings is very appealing to us,” Aldon says, “I love the sense of tranquility; it’s quiet and peaceful. I love nature — it’s so restful after a long work day. To have the golf course just a golf cart hop or a short walk away is priceless.” Joanne adds, “As we settle into our new home, I hope to become more involved at Cordillera as well as in the local community. I believe we are called to do things in our lives. I’m open-minded and looking for that next calling.”
The couple and their dogs still get a good share of beach time. “We will still be commuters for a while and not living full-time at Cordillera. I will continue to work in the Rio Grande Valley three days a week, however, I’ve also opened an office in the San Antonio Advanced Spinal Pain Management, and started seeing patients one to two days each week. Eventually I plan to open an office in Boerne and be closer to home,” says Aldon. He adds, “Fortunately, I love what I do and I’m looking forward to helping more patients in the San Antonio area effectively address their pain issues and improve their quality of life.”
When not at Cordillera or South Padre, Aldon and Joanne love to travel and feel very fortunate to have visited many places together in just 10 years. Joanne says, “We are especially fond of Italy and the Amalfi Coast, and have returned to a favorite spot there several times. Tuscany is also one of our favorite places to explore and we have named our home ‘Villa Bramasole’ for the villa in Cortona, Italy. Cordillera is our ‘Tuscany’ in the Hill Country! This year, we are planning a trip to the Galapagos, and we still have a long bucket list of places to visit, hopefully when Al retires!”
Whenever retirement comes doesn’t impact Aldon’s gratitude, “It’s a path to retirement, to get to enjoy it while still working is a dream come true.”