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Ubilla and Company’s Real Stone Monuments builds special relationship with veterans
Real Stone & Granite president Jose D. Ubilla is proud that his Fort Pierce company has provided unparalleled quality in all natural and engineered stones for countertops, flooring columns, fireplaces, staircases, and pool decks for 30 years.
You’ll find that same kind of pride in his Real Stone Monuments division — a premier fabricator of memorials, monuments, and headstones.
Working with various veterans groups, Real Stone Monuments has created memorials that recognize the ultimate sacrifice of service men and women in maintaining the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. Vietnam veterans, Navy SEALS and veterans of World War II, Korea, Pearl Harbor, and recent conflicts have had memorials built in their honor.
What makes Real Stone’s involvement with veterans groups so special is Ubilla’s appreciation of his own journey to where he is today as owner of one of the very few companies of its kind in the state of Florida, certified by the Natural Stone Institute [formerly Marble Institute of America].
“There’s a purpose and a legacy in life, and when I started this [company], I had no idea; I was just working,’’’ said the 62-year-old Ubilla, a native of Nicaragua, who established Real Stone & Granite in 1993 in Palm Beach County before moving it to its South Market Avenue location, off South U.S. Highway 1, in 1999.
“I was doing a TCBA show at the St. Lucie County Civic Center on 25th Street and Virginia Avenue,’’ Ubilla said. “That’s where I met a lot of Treasure Coast builders and people back in the humble beginnings.
“We had our laser machine that engraves images on granite at the show,’’ he said. “And there was a gentleman who came to the show booth wearing the blue Lowe’s vest [Lowe’s was located at Edwards Road and U.S.1 where Twin-Vee PowerCats Company is today]. “And I thought he wanted to talk countertops. He was asking questions and asking questions.’’
On the show’s final day, he came back to see Ubilla and handed him a business card.
“Surprising to me, it said Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 566, St. Lucie County. He was the treasurer. And he says, ‘We’re doing a memorial in Veterans Memorial Park in Port St. Lucie and we want to get an appointment with you.’ I said, ‘Sure.’ I had never done a monument of that magnitude. I had done small plaques and tombstones.”
A meeting with a group of veterans was subsequently held in Ubilla’s second-floor conference room.
“They laid out the plans and I took the challenge,’’ Ubilla said. “It turns out that as I started, it hit home: The price of freedom. It hit home to why am I even here in this country.”
Ubilla says it wasn’t his decision.
“I came here in 1978 to go to college for agricultural economics and go back [to Chinandega, Nicaragua] in four or five years after I finished college,’’ said Ubilla, who left just before the revolution that saw the Sandinistas overthrow the government of Anastasio Somoza.
“I had to drop out of college because my entire family was exiled from Nicaragua,’’ Ubilla said. “I started working in this trade because my brother Pablo had a tile contracting business in Miami. As an engineer, he didn’t like stone so much ironically, so he gave me the small stone projects and taught me how to read plans in 45 minutes. I developed an automatic passion for the stone business … and the rest is history.’’
His brother, Alejandro Ubilla, who is the company’s vice president, and Urbano Lopez, who is the territory manager in Bahamas, have been there since day one.
“I couldn’t have done it by myself,’’ Ubilla said.
Fast-forward to 2000.
It was during that meeting to discuss the plans of the Vietnam Veterans Wall that Ubilla “realized I really want to do this. I like these guys. I like what they’ve done for this country and my thoughts of respect immediately went to the 1,952 names to be engraved on the monument. They were all Floridians who gave it all.
“It’s important that we build these memorials,’’ said Ubilla, who became a U.S. citizen about 25 years ago. “Each memorial that we have built since has its own story, has its own set of people who wanted to do it. And I wanted to make that happen, not as a business anymore. Like I said, each memorial has its own story.’’
As an example, Ubilla spoke about a special request when creating the Vietnam Veterans Wall.
“One event that made it so special,’’ he said. “The mother of one of the names on the wall wanted to be there when we engraved that name. We made that happen for the lady, Mrs. Tucker.’’ The Vietnam Veterans Wall was dedicated in May of 2003 to the 1,952 Florida men and women who died in Vietnam.
Joseph Lusardi, president of Chapter 566 for eight years and who served on the Wall committee, said the group had a “great rapport’’ with Ubilla.
“Whatever we asked of him, he came through for us,’’ he said. “Jose is great. Not only did he do that project, but we also had three other projects in the park he did for us — Purple Heart Memorial, Three Soldiers Monument, and the Fallen Soldier Monument.’’
Ubilla was recognized in 2005 by then-mayor Robert E. Minsky with a proclamation, declaring June 14 [Flag Day] in the city of Port St. Lucie for his “patriotism to our nation and his responsibilities to our veterans.’’
Ubilla was also involved with the World War II Memorial, Korean Memorial and Gold Star Families Memorial at Veterans Memorial Park.
One of Ubilla’s recently completed monuments is the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument that was dedicated in September of 2019 in Trinity Park in downtown West Palm Beach.
Hershel “Woody’’ Williams, who died in June 2022 at age 98, was the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. The Louisville-based Woody Williams Foundation assists in the promotion, creation, and implementation of Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments in communities in every state and U.S. territory. As of March 17, these monuments can be found in all 50 states, 193 communities and 118 more in progress.
Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments are a two-sided tribute made of black granite. One side bears the words: “Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a tribute to Gold Star Families and Relatives who sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom.’’
The other side tells a story through the four granite panels: “Homeland, Family, Patriot, and Sacrifice.’’ At the center of this tribute is a silhouette of a saluting service member, which represents the “Legacy of the Loved Ones who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our Freedom.’’
“It turns out to be a unique one because I did it in conjunction with an artist, Gisela Romero from Orlando, to give color to the images,’’ Ubilla said. “The engine behind the project [Lauren Berkson], lost her dad when she was 10 months old.’’
It was a special dedication and moment for Berkson, whose father, Capt. Joseph Berkson, an Army Ranger, was killed in the Vietnam War.
“He was so generous and kind,’’ Berkson said of Ubilla. “He let us know that he was a grateful American and that he wanted to do anything he could do to help us honor our fallen and their families, so that meant a lot to me. It’s nice that we have somewhere to go because before that, we didn’t have anywhere to go.’’
As for how many he’s done in the last 22-plus years, Ubilla said, “To be honest with you, I have to sit down and count them, but it’s at least 15 to 20 — all different sizes, all different styles, all different geographic areas.
“There’s one in Sebastian that’s very interesting — it’s the Four Chaplains Monument that speaks volumes about the cultural melting pot that this nation is.’’
The unique granite monument, dedicated near Riverside Park in February of 2012, pays tribute to four chaplains of different faiths who died rescuing civilian and military personnel as the American troop ship USAT Dorchester sank on Feb. 3, 1943, in what has been referred to as the second-worst sea disaster of World War II.
Ubilla worked with the Four Chaplains Monument Committee that included Ernie Heaton, one of the ship’s two remaining survivors, and committee president Larry Wapnick, who was serving as president of the Veterans Council of Indian River County at the time.
“I first met with Jose in 2010,’’ Wapnick said. “He was a delight to work with and also very creative. He bent over backwards with his assistant Amy Roberts to help us.’’
Ubilla was up for the challenge.
“We did everything from procuring a rock for the base — a native Florida rock from Bushnell, where the Florida National Cemetery is located — to getting the company to donate it. And we here at Real Stone designed the rest of the monument and how it sits on the rock.
“It’s all solid granite and visible from both sides, which was very challenging to design,’’ Ubilla said.
Wapnick has seen firsthand Ubilla’s work ethic.
“He is dedicated and unflappable when he sets his mind to doing something,’’ Wapnick said. “I have seen at least five or six different tile businesses go out since meeting Jose. He has always been strong and delivers the best product with consistency and everything.’’
When asked what’s his favorite project, Ubilla said, “It turns out usually the most recent one ends up being the favorite because I give everything I have to make it the best. I focus on getting the idea of what the architect or the veteran or the team wants to do. It’s been a fascinating process to learn, to hear them tell the story like this one, for example, the chaplains — it took me a month or two to come up with that concept.’’
As for the typical timeframe for a project, Ubilla says, “It depends on the size, the complexity and how much work the group has done creating the concept, promoting the idea, executing the project, having already worked with an architect or a designer. A lot of them come to me with nothing.’’
Sometimes, not even a budget.
“In most cases, you know they have a budget,’’ Ubilla said of potential clients who contact him. “In a lot of cases, they don’t. So I do what I can in every way I can to keep the costs down. I donate my time if necessary. Whatever I have to do.’’
Count on Ubilla giving a project the required time.
“I find the time; I make the time,’’ says Ubilla, who has 38 employees at Real Stone & Granite in Fort Pierce and another 11 at Real Stone’s Bahamian operation. “I juggle between the regular customers, but I do what I have to do to find the time and make it happen.
“I realized by working with these groups how important it is for future generations to recognize the value of freedom, which is something that was once taken away from me in the late ’70s, early ’80s,’’ Ubilla said. “It’s a great way to leave a message for future generations by being part of building these monuments.’’
For more information and an impressive portfolio of monuments and memorials crafted in beautiful stone and granite by Jose Ubilla and his Real Stone Monuments team, visit realstonemonuments.com. You can also call 1.866.732.5472 or email Jose@realstoneandgranite.com.
Joe DeSalvo joined Indian River Media Group as a writer in 2022. He previously was director of specialty publications for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, where he and his department produced award- winning advertorials and advertising-based products for clients such as developers and car dealerships. Joe also served as the newspaper’s sports editor. He also held reporting and editing positions at newspapers in Fort Pierce, Stuart and Tampa. He and his wife, Mary, live on North Hutchinson Island.