Mandolinist William ‘Bob’ San Juan at The Regent on April 27 with his son-in-law, Robert Mancini. (Photo courtesy of Linda Chion.)

By Linda Chion

William ‘Bob’ San Juan received a standing ovation of sorts at The Regent last month following his rendition of “God Bless America” on a 12-string mandolin, an instrument the 90-year-old learned to play after enlisting with the United States Coast Guard at age 17.

With decades of playing under his belt, San Juan, a Riverview resident, continues a family legacy started by his father and carried out by each of his three brothers, all of whom, like the patriarch San Juan, played the mandolin and retired as guardsmen officers after decades of collective service.

“We all were self-taught, and we loved the instrument because our dad played it,” San Juan said. “Growing up, we listened to him play, and some of it must have stuck.”

How much so was evident April 27 at The Regent in Riverview, where San Juan played to a packed house at the 2022 Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge Kickoff Luncheon and Awards Ceremony, presented by the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District. San Juan played throughout the event but most dramatically after the presentation of colors by Brandon High School JROTC members. Attendees remained standing and protracted applause ensued as San Juan strummed his final notes.

As a volunteer, San Juan typically plays at nursing homes on Sundays and for special occasions hosted by others. He said he was particularly pleased to be opening the Hillsborough 100 luncheon program in concert with the JROTC students, as he believes it is important for young people to learn about military service.

His mandolin brings back memories, as San Juan continues a musical tradition handed down by his father, Vicencio, and deepened by his brothers, Vincent, Pedro and Ramon. San Juan’s mandolin bears a photo of his wife of 68 years, Juanita, who died in 2019 and urged him to continue playing.

“I like playing for other people,” San Juan said after his performance at The Regent. “It just makes me feel good. And I thank God for giving me whatever talent I have to be able to share it with others.”

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