The Heart of Fiesta®

Women Steering San Antonio’s Community Spirit

By Michelle Vasquez  |  Photography by David Teran


Fiesta® San Antonio is more than just an event; it’s a testament to the power of community and volunteerism, with several women at its helm making an impact on the city’s cultural and economic landscape. Steeped in history since 1891 with the Battle of Flowers, Fiesta® brings people together to enhance our overall community through inclusivity. The collective spirit of those who come together to volunteer fosters a sense of unity and culture.


The Fiesta® San Antonio Commission, a self-sustaining organization, leads the collaboration of over 100 groups to support causes ranging from education to conservation. This support helps participating member organizations (PMOs) effectively raise funds for their missions. According to a 2017 study by the UTSA Center for Community and Business Research, Fiesta activities generated $340.1 million in sales for the local economy, tax revenues and tourism dollars.


Leading the charge are women like Ferne Burney, Senior Vice President of the Fiesta San Antonio Commission and Chairman of Accreditation and Compliance for the Commission, and JoAnn Boone, a Fiesta Commission Presidential appointee focusing on special projects. They have spent years dedicating their efforts to Fiesta, enhancing its production and contributing to the success of PMOs, including The Conservation Society of San Antonio that hosts “A Night In Old San Antonio®(NIOSA®), one of Fiesta’s largest events.


Lisa Pierce, NIOSA Chairman and Fourth Vice President of the Conservation Society, spearheads this particular volunteer effort on its behalf. In turn, the Commission offers indispensable organizational support and technical assistance, including subsidies for insurance costs to participating non-profits.




Ferne Burney


Ferne Burney actively manages the mobilization, activation, and technical support for PMOs in her role. Some duties include advising and aligning these organizations with turnkey support and safety measures.


With her extensive experience as a 30-year executive at Abbott Laboratories, Ferne brings a wealth of knowledge in project management and leadership to the table. She champions “servant leadership,” and leading by example, always enhancing communication and visibility for member organizations, which in turn bolsters their community impact.


The Commission itself launches an opening event, Fiesta®Fiesta, which brings together all 100 PMO’s and all Fiesta revelers for a night of camaraderie and festivities. The event is free and open to the public. The PMOs are responsible for hosting their own activities thereafter, and others, such as UTSA and The Witte Museum, host Fiesta® events as part of their day-to-day operations.


Volunteerism sparks Ferne to get things done. The old adage, “if it is to be, it’s up to me,” inspires Ferne to “do what I see as the gift I can give and encourage others to do the same.” This drive is what got Ferne involved in Fiesta to begin with, the ability to make a difference.


She muses on the state of volunteerism’s decline since the pandemic and is encouraging of others to be committed to a path of helping others. “I have been given much in my life and I have had a wonderful career. Volunteering fills that gap,” she says. Her pivotal role enables PMOs to optimize their mission fundraising, strengthening the community through their efforts in San Antonio.




JoAnn Ezquerra-Boone


Ferne is joined by many, including JoAnn Ezquerra-Boone, former CEO of the river barges—a loved San Antonio activity for locals and tourists alike. JoAnn helped to turn around the prominence and profitability of the river barge cruises and, in so doing, made the barges iconic to San Antonio. Given her role in adding to the San Antonio landscape, she grew to like the idea of contributing to other iconic activities like Fiesta.


In her role as a Commission Presidential appointee, JoAnn spearheads major initiatives, including transforming the Miss Fiesta® from a pageant into an event that spotlights educational excellence. “I’m proud to say that the five women we selected last year were between the ages of 18 and 22 and were first-generation college attendees,” JoAnn reveals.


She emphasizes the program’s role in creating community ambassadors and role models for future generations and school age children in San Antonio. Women who participate must meet stringent academic requirements, demonstrate need and be willing to dedicate a year of community engagements to inspire others to pursue their education and to get involved with their communities.


Besides her involvement with Miss Fiesta, JoAnn contributes to the Fiesta® Foundation, which, among other things, provides additional subsidies for insurance to PMOs and sponsors scholarships for the five women representing Fiesta as reigning scholars. JoAnn focuses on how these efforts can help organizations progress step by step.



Lisa Pierce

Lisa Pierce


The Commission collaborates closely with its partners, the PMOs, and the Conservation Society is one of the largest. Through the efforts of the group’s volunteers, “A Night In Old San Antonio” (NIOSA) is a leading fundraiser for historic preservation in the nation, funding nearly all of the Society’s efforts, programs, and services.


NIOSA showcases San Antonio’s diverse culture during its event in historic La Villita. Since 2010 alone, this event has generated over $12 million to support historic preservation, education, and advocacy programs of the Society. It also bolsters the local economy by supporting local suppliers and contributing to the La Villita Restoration Fund.


Lisa Pierce, NIOSA’s 2024 Chairman and a dedicated volunteer, highlights the event’s role in preservation and community engagement. “The annual reunion of all NIOSA® volunteers is what I love most; we are one huge family!” she enthuses. The commitment of volunteers, many from families that have participated for generations, is a key to the event’s success.


It takes 10,000 volunteers, or the size of a small army, to put on NIOSA, with only five paid staff members assisting. Lisa leads this effort, overseeing everything from decorations to security, finances, food, entertainers, and much, much more.


Two main motivations keep Lisa volunteering year after year: the legacy of preserving the city’s historic fabric and the spirit of volunteerism. She values the connections made while working alongside others to make a difference and have a great time. Lisa notes, “What makes NIOSA special for our guests is the magic created through 165 booths and entertainment stages, continuous live musical acts, decorations, souvenirs, and the dedication of many volunteers.” This year, the legendary Mariachis Campanas de America will perform nightly.


Volunteerism is deeply ingrained in Lisa’s DNA. Beyond NIOSA and the Society, she is a lifetime member of the Fiesta San Antonio Commission, active in the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, a member of the Assistance League of San Antonio, a child advocate for Child Advocates of San Antonio (CASA), and much more.


Through the dedication of volunteers and the leadership of individuals like Ferne Burney, JoAnn Ezquerra-Boone, and Lisa Pierce, Fiesta continues to unite in celebration and purpose, reminding us that when a community comes together, there’s no limit to what can be achieved. Fiesta® San Antonio not only honors the city’s rich history and culture but also paves the way for volunteerism and the community’s spirit to thrive.


To follow in the footsteps of these amazing women, anyone can volunteer with Fiesta® and become a part of the Commission or join the cadre of PMO volunteers collaborating, celebrating and making a difference in the community with old and new traditions. For more information about how you or your organization can get involved, go to


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