Most everyone has seen him, usually dressed to the nines in a sharp suit and hat, adorned with an abundance of gold, dancing along with just about every parade, festival, or social event in the region.
Edwin “Pops” Maldonado, age 73, emanates vitality wherever he goes. Even though he claims he has a temper, most have never seen that side of him.
The name “Pops” came from a girl at the door of a night club. Maldonado said she called him an old man even though he was still in his 30s at the time. “She called me ‘Pops’ and from that day on it stuck.”
His signature get-up got its start when he was just out of high school and working for the Puerto Rican government. Maldonado wore a three-piece suit to work every day. “My dad always said ‘first impression counts.’ I came to United States and started buying zoot suits,” he said.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Maldonado was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1966.
After basic and other trainings at various Army bases around the country, he became an aircraft mechanic and deployed to Vietnam for a year.
From there he returned to Puerto Rico where he met his future wife Maria Victoria Calderone, better known as Tania.
Maldonado went back to Vietnam for six months in June 1969 as a civilian with the Department of Defense. Upon his second day back in Puerto Rico in December 1969, he and Tania got married.
Maldonado decided to re-enlist in the Army in 1975.
Eight years later at Fort Polk he was medically discharged due to a back injury sustained while stationed in Germany.
At that time he decided to stay put in Leesville. “When you live in the rush and go to big cities, you get tired,” he said.
Tania died in 2003 but Maldonado has never remarried. “My wife was unique, she was the love of my life,” he said. “I had two wives before her, but she was my angel. We never fought; she never complained.”
Together they raised their four sons – the eldest Edwin Martos (died as a result of diabetes in 2012), Mario Francisco, Edwin Emmanual, and Solimar Yarie.
Maldonado also has a daughter, Jenny Caridad. She was his second child but to a different woman.
After living in Leesville for over three-and-a-half decades, it has become a part of Maldonado and certainly he has become a part of the local culture. “My roots are in Puerto Rico but Leesville is my home,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade it for nothing.”
No matter which festival or event he attends, Maldonado feels welcome there. “That’s why I like Louisiana – it’s unique,” he said.
Maldonado has not smoked since 1976 and has abstained from alcohol since 1982. “I’ve never done drugs in my life, not even in Vietnam while people are smoking marijuana.”
When he is not at festivals and parades, Maldonado walks twice each day inside Walmart for the sake of exercise and socializing. He also plays in pool leagues three nights per week.
Maldonado’s message to younger generations is to stay away from drugs and alcohol, and show respect for everybody. “It’s a two-way street – you show love, they will love you. You show hate, they gonna hate you,” he said. “Beauty is from the inside out. I accept people for who they are – live and let live.”
On January 15 Maldonado will turn 74-years-old.