Alex Salabarria is as good-natured a fellow as you will ever meet. He admits to being an indifferent student (albeit with a lengthy tenure at FSU). He embraced Mark Twain’s admonishment to “never let your schooling interfere with your education.” He says was never happier than when at Florida State.
The Salabarria family’s emigration-from-Cuba story could almost be a movie. His father fought as a revolutionary soldier under Castro. Once Castro revealed himself to be a communist, the elder Salabarria became a counter-revolutionary guerilla, and ended up working in-country as an agent for the CIA. His mother and father finally escaped to Puerto Rico, and then to Miami.
Alex was born in Miami and grew up in Ocala, seven years younger than his brother and nine years younger than his sister. “I was a mistake,” he laughs. Former Seminole punter and Pro-Bowler Rick Tuten was his high school mentor. Tuten encouraged Alex to follow his brother to Auburn, but the out-of-state tuition proved too daunting.
Alex enrolled at the University of Florida. After two years he transferred to Florida State. “I walked around the campus in Tallahassee, taking in the beauty and the culture and the feeling of the place. I fell in love with it.”
He waited tables at Bennigans for a while, and eventually joined their Management program. “I loved it,” he says. “I remember arranging it so I could work Deion Sanders’ table when he came in.” Alex laughs, “Man, he was really something, with the girls and the jewelry, rolling up in that white LeBaron convertible. Turned out Deion was a really good guy too, classy and a good tipper.”
Alex is Chief Executive Officer of Oaks Senior Living. Twenty years ago he moved to Atlanta to work with his father and help realize their dream of developing and managing communities for the elderly. “The Oaks Senior facilities are very upscale and beautiful,” he says. “We’re all in Georgia right now but we’re coming to Florida.” Alex’s wife Denise is Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
Alex met Denise in late 1998. “We were broke when we married, but we still scraped together $500 a year to give to Seminole Boosters. We’d drive down to the games on weekends.”
“Every year we’ve been able to do more,” he says. Considerably more, in fact. The Salabarrias have created a planned gift to Seminole Boosters of nearly $2 million, and they have endowed a Football Scholarship. They are Platinum Chiefs, and active in the Coaches’ Club. They have three children. Brock, 26 graduated from Savannah School of Art & Design and now resides in Cary, NC. Therese’, 24 graduated from Georgia Southern and works in the family business. Caylee, 22 is completing her degree at Florida State. “My last kid is graduating August 5th,” he laughs.
“I’m blessed that I was able to attend FSU, and to be around people like Bobby Bowden and Mike Martin, and the Women’s Coaches – people with the highest character. Right after God and my family, Florida State is my biggest passion.” He says. “I’m kind of a psycho fan…I throw chairs in the pool.”
“My father instructed me in morals and instilled my work ethic and Faith in God,” Alex says. “That is exactly why I am successful today.”
At this writing we learned of the untimely passing of our own Seminole, and Alex’s mentor, Rick Tuten.
Salabarria said, “When I was a very young man, Rick had a most positive influence on my life for which I could never re-pay him. I will miss him every day. Rick was a champion in every aspect, on and off the field.”
Yes, a champion indeed. Rick punted for the 1983 Miami Hurricane National Champions as a freshman. Later he transferred to Florida State and lettered two years including 1987, inaugural year of The Dynasty. Tuten played almost a dozen years in the NFL, most of it with the Seattle Seahawks. He was tapped for the Pro Bowl while playing for Seattle in 1994, and won a Super Bowl ring with the 1999 Championship St. Louis Rams.
His death was unexpected. He leaves behind his wife Jennifer and children Chase, Kinley and Ryan.
A fine man, Seminole and mentor. R.I.P. at age 52.
Max Alvarez’s mother lost both her sons within days.
Max’s parents left Spain to create a new life for themselves and their children in Cuba. After the communists took power in 1959, they decided to send their two sons away from the violent dictatorship overtaking the island.
Max’s brother (“seven years older than me”) went to Spain. Soon afterward, 13-year-old Max fled on the last ferry out of Havana to West Palm Beach. These young children of the great Cuban exodus were called “Peter Pans”.
Max’s parents had intended for him to go to America and then on to Spain to join his brother. But there had been an accident; Max’s brother had died on the same day Max was on his way to West Palm Beach. No one told Max anything for six months. He did not speak the language; he had no way to contact his mother and father; he did not know where he was to go or what was going to become of him.
Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh embraced Max and 60 more of these ‘Pedro Pans’ and kept them close to him. “I never left Miami,” Max says. Max’s parents were eventually able to leave communist Cuba and join him in Miami.
After graduating from high school, Max attended Belmont-Abbey, a small Catholic college in North Carolina. He transferred to Florida State as a junior. Max laughs, “I developed a strong southern accent in North Carolina. But of course I also sound Cuban so I’m sure I confused a lot of people!”
“I always worked,” he says, “And I am so grateful to Sherrill Ragans for giving me the opportunity to work as a resident advisor in Smith Hall and Kellum Hall, and as a counselor in DeGraff.” In 2006, the University named a new residence hall for Ragans.
Max graduated with his Master’s Degree from Florida State in December 1970. “On January 4th I went to work as a field representative for Cities Service Oil Company, which is now Citgo.” Max spent six years working for a number of oil companies before purchasing four low-performing 7-Eleven stations and creating his company, Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, Inc. “Nobody wanted those stations but me,” he says.
Max still has those four stations. He also now owns about 400 more gas stations primarily located in Dade and Broward Counties. Sunshine also contracts to supply another 100+ stations that he doesn’t own. His is the largest family-owned distributorship in the South.
On his loyalty to the Seminoles, Max says, “I never left Florida State. I am one of those people who start every day by making a list,” he says. “I examine the list in detail, and I give thanks. I thank every person and every institution that gave me the opportunity for a great education and treated me like a son.”
“If I had to give away everything I own tomorrow, it would count for less than 10% of what I was given.” My wonderful parents and Monsignor Walsh always stressed the importance of morality and basic human values.” Max is an unabashed patriot. “That’s why I love this country so much,” he says. “You can start a business out of the trunk of your car and grow it into a Fortune 500 company. “
Max is a Seminole Booster MICCO, and a Seminole player carries the Max Alvarez Endowed Football Scholarship. In 2016, Governor Rick Scott appointed Max to the Florida State University Board of Trustees. Max has been a financial supporter of Seminole Boosters for more than 25 years.