SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) – Alice Martinez Harper gives to her community, feeds the homeless and gives former inmates a second chance by hiring them at her diner, Ma Harper’s Creole Kitchen.

She was born in New Orleans, or Nawlins, as she calls it. She was the oldest of 16 siblings, so she had to learn to cook at a very young age. She moved to San Antonio and worked as an airplane mechanic at  Kelly Air Force base, and after her retirement, she opened her restaurant.

Harper opened N’Awlins Creole Kitchen on East Commerce Street in 1990 and moved the restaurant to South W.W. White Road with a new name – Ma Harper’s Creole Kitchen. It’s currently located on North New Braunfels Avenue and has been featured on Guy Fieri’s show Diners, Drive Ins and Dives on the Food Network. Last year, Ma Harper received a brand new dishwasher and $20,000 check for her philanthropy from Mike Rowe’s Facebook series,”Returning the Favor.”

Saturday night, Ma Harper, as she’s known throughout the San Antonio community, received more accolades at a dual celebration for her 90th Birthday and Ma and Bill Harper’s 58th wedding anniversary.

Ma Harper celebrates 90th birthday and 58th wedding anniversary with Bill Harper/KTSA Photo-Elizabeth Ruiz

Lamar Higgins came all the way from Montgomery, Alabama to present the Rosa Parks Torch Award, the first time it’s been presented outside the state of Alabama.

“I met Ma Harper about 5 years ago, and she really touched my heart with the things she does in the community,” Higgins told KTSA News.  One of the things that impressed him the most was the fact that she gives convicted felons a second chance by offering them jobs, mentoring them and getting them on the right track when they’re released from prison.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg attended the celebration at Grace Lutheran Church Hall and presented Ma Harper with a proclamation from the City of San Antonio.

“Thank you, Ma, for showing us what a loving community can do when we come together. Thank you for leaving us a wonderful legacy,” said Nirenberg.

She also received a proclamation from the State of Texas.

“I’m so grateful to God to have the opportunity to have lived 90 years. What I did, God saw and he made it work,” said Harper.

She hopes to continue her philanthropic efforts for many more years, including her work with ex-convicts and sharing the word of God with them.

“Being able to introduce my ‘second chances’ back into community, that’s one of my most cherished project,” Harper said with a big smile, the big smile she greets her customers with every day.

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