SAN ANTONIO, TX–MAY 10, 2022–Helen Kleberg Groves passed away peacefully at home in San Antonio, Texas, on Friday, May 6, 2022. She was born 94 years prior in the same city on October 20, 1927, the only child of Robert Justus Kleberg Jr. and Helen Campbell Kleberg.
Raised on the King Ranch, “Helenita” went on to graduate from Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia and attended Vassar College. From there she began her long, fascinating and varied life.
She had many passions in life, but ranching, fine horses, and family were central. Her abiding love of the Ranch, its land, livestock, and the people who worked there, formed the foundation for all she did. She was a crack shot with her Colt pistol, often bettering the men around her and continued to be a keen and accurate dove and quail hunter into her nineties.
Helenita ranched her entire life, from overseeing King Ranch’s Buck and Doe Run Valley Farms in Chester County, Pennsylvania, to her own Silverbrook Farms in Staunton, Virginia, to Silverbrook Ranches in Texas, she focused on raising the best Santa Gertrudis cattle and Quarter Horses in the country.
She campaigned many champion cutting horses including Miss Peppy Also and Pay 21. She was a skilled rider and loved competing across the country, winning many championship buckles and collecting limitless friends along the way. Known as the “First Lady of Cutting,” she was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1998.
Thoroughbreds were also a lifelong passion for Helenita. She led King Ranch’s Assault into the winners circle after his 1946 Triple Crown victory, and went on to breed, own, and race numerous horses in her rust and lavender silks throughout her long life. She co-bred and owned the champion filly Althea, who won the Arkansas Derby, as well as numerous other Grade I winners such as Serape, Free Drop Billy, and Hawkbill, among others. Later in life, she could be found in Saratoga Springs, New York, in August, enjoying the races and regaling all around her with her tales from decades past. She loved horses and the people she encountered around them.
A lifelong learner, interested in numerous subjects including history, politics, the arts, and the sciences, Helenita was a voracious reader with a steely memory. She thoroughly enjoyed lunching with many of the prominent scientists from the institutions she supported, continuously expanding her broad intellect. She also was devoted to her strong corps of “Monday Night Ladies,” who are known to be the catalysts for much of the important charitable and political work done in San Antonio.
Helenita was an extraordinary philanthropist, who took her service very seriously. She served as President of the Robert J. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation until 2020 and continued on the board until her death. Additionally, she has served on the boards of educational institutions as well as the National Sporting Library and Museum, in Middleburg, Virginia.
Her knowledge and acumen as a rancher, horsewoman, and cattle raiser made her an indispensable member and leader on many boards including the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the National Cutting Horse Association, the US Equestrian Team, and, of course, her beloved King Ranch, where she served as a Director from 1956-1988, and where her influence was felt for the remainder of her life.
Helenita’s contributions were recognized by more institutions and organizations than can be printed succinctly here. She left a mark wherever she went. Full of curiosity, she always put her fullest effort into every day of her life and engaged many fine friends along the way.
Predeceased by her ex-husband, Dr. John Deaver Alexander, and her second husband, Lloyd L. Groves, Helenita is survived by her six children, all of whom gave her great pride: Helen C. Alexander, Emory A. Hamilton (Fred), John D. Alexander (Claire), Caroline A. Forgason, Henrietta K. Alexander, and Dorothy A. Matz (Michael). She is also survived by her grandchildren, Deaver, Cadell, and Robert “Berto” Alexander, Helen H. Cottingham (Charlie), James Forgason, Laird George, and Alex, Lucy, Robert, and Arthur Matz.
A memorial service will be held on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 at 11AM at First Presbyterian Church, 404 North Alamo Street, San Antonio, Texas, with the Rev. Dr. Bob Fuller officiating. The interment will be private.
Honorary pallbearers will be Deaver, Cadell, and Berto Alexander, Helen Cottingham, James Forgason, Laird George, Alex, Lucy, Robert and Arthur Matz.
The family would also like to recognize the extraordinary care her caregivers provided late in her life, especially Araceli Sutherland, Flor Smith, Dominique Palomo, Julieta Chavez, Ana Cardoza, Stephanie Sutherland, Jessie Gutierrez, and Karel Hoffman. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to The King High Historical Foundation, The National Sporting Library and Museum, or any of the numerous charities Helenita supported throughout her life.