Robin Raquet

VIP Tour Guide / Hostess – San Antonio Fair, Inc. 1968

In April of 2015 I had the pleasure of meeting with Mrs. Raquet to hear some of her memories of working as HemisFair ’68 as an official hostess. Below is a transcript of my conversation with Mrs. Raquet.

Images from the Fair courtesy of Robin Raquet

What was your job at HemisFair ’68 ?

I was an official VIP tour guide / hostess. Our duties included: staffing the five information booths located around the Fair site, leading VIP & group tours, to accompany groups to various events around the grounds, booking areal tours on the Goodyear Blimp, etc…

Every morning we would participate in the formal flag ceremony during the 180 day run of the Fair.

Our training was extensive and took place over the course of several months before the opening of the Fair in April of ’68. The training sessions covered many different areas including: the history of the State of Texas, the history of San Antonio, the Fair site which also included each national & corporate pavilion, one to learn about the key people involved with the Fair and one for the several dozens of pieces of artwork on display throughout the fairgrounds, etc…

How did you first get involved with HemisFair ’68 ?

Fair organizers had put the word out that they were looking people who knew multiple languages to serve as VIP guides. At the time I had recently graduated from Texas Tech and was fluent in both English and Spanish. We had people from all over the state come and work in our department as guides, there were several who were fluent in three or four languages.

What was the atmosphere like on the grounds during the six month run of HemisFair ’68 ?

It was pure happiness and optimism. Those of us who worked on the Fair were pound of the Fair and of San Antonio and wanted to have visitors enjoy their experience with something to see or do at every turn. Several of us enjoyed spending our off hours at the Falstaff Pavilion listening to a great folk singer – Lofton Kline.

Now that being said we did have a few day’s which were very somber. We had lost Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. two days before the opening of the Fair and then Bobby Kennedy was assented on the 6th of June. I remember the national flags at the U.S. Pavilion were at half mast, at those times it was tough to have all the great excitement of our World’s Fair then to have those national tragedies occur at the same time.

What was the food like at the ’68 World’s Fair?

It was amazing! There was a variety of foods which no one here had ever tried before. There was one guy Justin Arezzhi who came to San Antonio from the American northeast and operated an ice cream parlor at HemisFair, afterwards he stayed here in S.A. to open “Justin’s Ice Cream” which has a location on the river walk. I remember there was a Belgian Waffle booth run by Joe Cosniac who also stayed here in S.A. after the fair and opened “Paesano’s” which now has three locations in town, there was one historic home near the western gate which served crepes, the French and Germans had restaurants which were both located in historic homes on the site. Mr. Sharma was popular, he had a Tanjore oven built on-site for fresh bread and chicken.

Were there any VIP tours or guests which stand out in your memories of HemisFair ’68?

The one guest which stands out most was the entertainer Tiny Tim. He was sort of a precursor to Michael Jackson, very unique style and appearance. When I was giving him a tour of HemisFair a lot of people recognized him asking him for his autograph or a photo with him, that was a lot of fun.

When it came to super VIP’s such as government officials or visiting heads of state our main job was to drive the tour carts for them and their security details. The group from Costa Rica comes to mind they enjoyed visiting every national pavilion and they even took me out for dinner afterwards.

Another tour which stands out was for a group of blind students. The unique thing there was that we had to create a tour of HemisFair where they could feel the textures or enjoy the audio content.

Earlier you talked about the assassinations of MLK & RFK. How did the culture and events of the time affect or shape HemisFair ’68?

Well, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated two days before the opening of HemisFair ’68 we did not know how the nation was going to react. Were there going to be marches or demonstrations near the site, fortunately there were none and Fair opened on time.

When Robert Kennedy was assassinated on June 6th, two months into the run of HemisFair ’68 it was also very somber. A lot of people rallied near the United States Pavilion, many already scheduled events were canceled, several of us huddled around each other for support.

Did you have a favorite pavilion, show or attraction at HemisFair ’68?

Yes, the “El encanto de un pueblo” (The Magic of People) which was the Alexander Girard exhibit. I actually got to meet him once, a very charismatic and dynamic person and the exhibit showcased his massive collection of Latin American Folk Art in several diorama’s. Every time I went to the venue I always discovered things I did not notice on previous visits. When I gave VIP tours this was always a popular stop for guests.

The other was a photo exhibit of the works of the B/W photographer Yousuf Karsh. One that stands out in my mind was an image the took of England’s Winston Churchill.

As for a pavilion I would say the U.S. Pavilion because it really opened our eyes to all the problems the U.S. had at that time and how do we get to where we should be.

Another great pavilion was the Spain Pavilion, they featured flamingo dancers which were very popular and it was air-conditioned. Every so after they would bring in a different group so we never saw the same group or style twice.

Were you working the day of the Mini-monorail accident?

Yes I was. The accident involved two trains which collided near the Lakeside Pavilion. Unlike a conventional train ours was a single rail and elevated 15 – 20 feet off the ground. So when the two cars collided both had half of their cars fall off the elevated track onto the ground below. One lady was killed because she fell out of a car into the lagoon below before the car landed on top of her trapping her under water.

One thing I remember was we had a lot of U.S. Airforce trainees from Lackland AFB visiting the Fair that day. Immediately the jumped into action by clearing the crowds around the accident, as well as, pathways for emergency services.

For my final question, Did HemisFair ’68 have an influence on your life after the gates closed on October 6, 1968?

I would say exposure to other nations and an understanding of how we are all part of a global society. Prior to HemisFair my only exposure to other nations was the summer I spent in Mexico as an exchange student. Because of HemisFair I was exposed to several other great nations: France, Germany, Japan just to name a few. During the Fair I spent a lot of time with the guides from most of the national pavilions and really get to learn first hand about their history and cultures. During the somber times the hostesses from the various national pavilions rallied around us to show that it was not a U.S. loss by a global loss. It got me interested in traveling not just around the U.S. but around the world.