The Value of a Life Mentor

Growing up in poverty, in and of itself, is not a unique situation. Uniqueness sets in when a nine year-old knows the bars in the low income projects where he lives because that’s where he goes to shine shoes and sell burritos on Saturday mornings. Mario Samaniego was that child, and earning his keep was his small contribution to their rather large family.

Mario has nine brothers and sisters and although they were all born in El Paso–with the exception of his parents who are from Chihuahua–Mario’s father decided that they should live in Juarez while he commuted to El Paso to work on a daily basis. With such a young family that depended solely on his income, it was easier to provide for them if he worked here and they lived there. The drawback to the plan was that the children were not learning English and, as parents, they understood how important that would be for their future. Thus, when Mario was nine years old, the family moved back to El Paso.
Every Saturday morning, Mario was off on his quest to make a little bit of money to help out. He roamed from bar to bar on Alameda Ave. chanting, “Shine, shine!” Those who didn’t want their shoes shined most likely would be interested in a warm homemade burrito. Mario’s mother would make fresh burritos wrapped in wax paper for him to sell. Twenty-five cents for a burrito and fifteen cents for a shoe shine was what he spent his day selling and he would earn up to $3.00 a day. “That doesn’t seem like a lot of money now, but back then, it was enough to buy a pair of 501 jeans,” chuckles Mario as he describes his childhood.

By the time he was fifteen, he realized that if he wanted to do something with his life, he needed to get out of El Paso. At the time, there was not much for a teenager to do besides school and he was getting too old to shine shoes. So, in 1967, Mario and his older brother, Marco, decided to move to Indio, California where they lived with an uncle. Shortly after arriving, Mario’s uncle got him a job at a local store owned by a Jewish man named Lester Warshaw. Lester was a serial entrepreneur who was always opening stores and building or remodeling his properties and Mario was there to assist at any capacity. Mario started working for Lester as a freshman in high school making only $1.50 per hour. Anywhere he needed help, he would send Mario. “If the carpenter needed help, I would help. If the plumber or painter needed help, I would help. I saw it as the University of Life because I learned a lot working for him,” explains Mario. It wasn’t very much money, but today he appreciates the lessons he learned from working towards personal growth. “The best thing I ever did was leave home and take that job with Lester for $1.50 an hour,” affirms Mario.

At one point, Mario had three part-time jobs and from each he learned many valuable life lessons. But from Lester, not only did he learn about himself, Mario also learned about a different lifestyle that included the finer things in life. He admired the way Lester conducted himself and noticed how he dressed, lived and the luxurious Mercedes he drove. It was a lifestyle Mario aspired for himself. However, he didn’t have the money for that lifestyle and realized that his education was the key to getting there one day. Mario considers Lester a life mentor and says that still today they maintain a close friendship and try to see each other whenever they can.

“I am a dentist today because of Lester. I would have never thought of becoming a dentist had he not suggested it to me,” explains Mario. Lester asked what he planned to do after graduation and Mario answered, “I think I want to be a pharmacist. It seems like a nice indoor job that pays pretty good money.” His thought was that he didn’t want to work outdoors as was the case with this current job. Indio, California is very hot in the summer and part of Mario’s job included doing construction work outdoors.

“Mario you’re going to have to study really hard to be a pharmacist. Why not be a physician or a dentist instead?” asked Lester. “You’ll study just as hard but you’ll limit your revenue as pharmacist. As a doctor, you can do much better,” Lester insisted. At this point, Mario was about twenty years old and he had never even been to see a dentist. All he really knew was that they worked on teeth. He made an appointment for his very first dentist visit and got a cleaning. In the meantime, Mario took mental notes at the dentist office and was convinced that he should look into it more.

Mario enrolled in college and after receiving his Bachelor of Science degree, he was accepted into dental school at Loma Linda University. He then joined the United States Air Force to complete his residency and received specialized training in every area of dentistry. Never did he imagine that he would love being a dentist and find it so gratifying. In 1984, Dr. Mario Samaniego started his practice, Alamogordo Dental Group, and then in 1985 he opened Las Cruces Dental Associates. Growth in both practices occurred and it was necessary to bring in other doctors to assist with the patient load. Presently there are four doctors in the practice, Dr. David Samaniego and Dr. Jaime Gonzalez who are both partners, as well as Dr. Gary Sellers.

Today, the practice specializes in TMJ problems, orthodontics, complete reconstructions and cosmetic dentistry. One of Dr. Samaniego’s top priorities is continuing education and being in general dentistry requires keeping up with the latest developments. Dr. Samaniego is the only dentist in the area that uses a bioesthetic approach in treating his patients. This technique combines stable TMJs in alignment with the patients bite to create long lasting beautiful smiles. Dr. Samaniego is very concerned about the education of the younger generations and for years has been involved in raising funds for scholarships. Several years ago he also funded a program that provides scholarships for senior students going to college. To date, approximately fifty scholarships have been given to students as part of his efforts.
Occasionally, Dr. Samaniego is compelled to drive by his old neighborhood in the projects in El Paso, marveling at how that little boy selling shoe shines and burritos would have never thought that fifty years down the road he would be a successful dentist and businessman. All thanks to the invaluable lessons learned from his life mentor, Lester Warshaw. “The good Lord has blessed me with so much more than I deserve and He has opened many doors for me,” concludes Dr. Samaniego.

Las Cruces Dental Associates
2469 E. Idaho Ave., Las Cruces, NM

Winter 2013
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