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1936 Joe 2024

Joe L. Cantu, Jr.

October 7, 1936 — June 26, 2024

Edinburg

He was the first man we ever loved. Our very own Prince Valiant. Our Atticus Finch. Our honorable gentleman dad. The measure of a man our future husbands would most certainly have to live up to. Daunting shoes to fill for any guy wanting to be a part of our world. But Fortino and Roy managed to do just that, and Daddy adored; respected; and was infinitely proud of his two sons-in-law.
Quietly, he led from behind the scenes, out of the limelight, never seeking attention or accolades, always putting himself aside for us and for others. Doing the right thing even when he thought no one was watching. But we were. We listened, too. And learned. This is who he was, who we saw growing up, and who we have always aspired to be. 
Thus, it is with shattered yet somehow full hearts we, his devoted daughters (Aissa, Sonya, and Ana Maria), announce the passing of our beautiful man; our extraordinary father, Joe L. Cantu, Jr. On June 26, 2024, at a well-lived 87 years old, he crossed from his Earthly to eternal life and entered the Kingdom of Heaven to finally meet his Savior Jesus Christ and reunite with his beloved Elvira. 
Jose Luis Cantu, Jr., the oldest of seven children, was born to Jose Luis Cantu, Sr. and Adela Cardenas Cantu on October 7, 1936. Joe was a descendent of well-known pioneering families who were recipients of the Cavazos-Cardenas Spanish Land Grant. His maternal grandparents, Salvador and Adela Mora-Cardenas owned El Cibolo Ranch where Joe enjoyed many days of endless adventures, and his great great grandparents, Jose Maria and Tomasa Valdez Mora, founded Mora Relampago Ranch (1875) listed in the 1979-1980 Texas Land Heritage Registry, the first year Hidalgo County was represented in the registry.
From the time he was a little boy until he took his last breath, our father had God in his life. Growing up across the street from Sacred Heart Church, he served as an altar boy throughout his childhood and teenage years. He loved telling us the story of how all the priest had to do was cross the street and ask Mrs. Cantu for one of her five boys to serve at a wedding, funeral, baptism, or Sunday mass. A member of the Catholic Youth Organization and then the Knights of Columbus, a lector and usher for countless years, and a St. Joseph School Board member, he continued to serve as a devout Catholic his whole life. And even though he moved from Sacred Heart Church to St. Joseph Church when he married, he continued to support both Catholic churches throughout his life.
When he became ill and was no longer able to attend mass in person, we remember walking into his house early on a Sunday morning and hearing him from the end of the hallway singing along with the priest from the Basilica of Washington D.C. When we entered his room, there he was, lying in bed watching mass on Youtube TV with his arms in the air praising God all by himself, again thinking no one was watching. But we were, and what a lovely sight to behold! His faith was unwavering and guided every aspect of his life. He lived as he believed, that serving others was equivalent to serving the Lord. We grew up seeing our father give so selflessly to everyone, and he instilled the same sense of charity in his daughters, punctuated by one of his famous dichos/sayings in which he stated, "I've never seen an armored car following a hearse." We will always remember this about our dad and continue to emulate his generosity for the rest of our lives. He passed on the importance of his Catholic faith to his children, and it is his faith that allowed him to be the exemplary father that he was.
Perhaps second only to his faith was his love for his family. He devoted himself to his girls: his wife, his daughters, and his granddaughters. He doted on us all yet never really spoiled us because he was just as strict as he was loving. For example, in our home where females reigned, it was never a question of who or when we would marry, it was always and only the emphatic declaration, "You will go to college and carve your own path." Husbands were always optional. And although he was always stashing money in our pockets, purses, and pillows, he was a stickler for staying on a budget. This is a lesson he never stopped preaching. Even toward the end of his life, he was still reminding us to pay the bills. Pragmatic to a fault; he was equally magical! We will never forget our most epic family vacation. It was 1976, and he planned every detail himself. Wanting his girls to experience as many forms of transportation as possible, we started in a taxi from our house to the bus station. Once we reached San Antonio, we boarded an Amtrak train to Los Angeles. From there we visited Disneyland, then it was on to San Jose to visit family and San Francisco where we rode trolley cars, drove down the crookedest street in the world, ate at Fisherman's Wharf, and shopped in exotic Chinatown. And we weren't done yet! We rounded out our tour de force with a trip to the Redwood forest where we experienced the majesty of nature as we stood among the tallest trees we had ever seen. The strict dad that didn't let us go on a date until we were sixteen was the same one who took us on a fantastical journey we will talk about for the rest of our lives. This doesn't even cover the fairy tale childhood and magical Christmases he and our mother brought to life for us. 
Daddy was the original girl dad, long before it was "a thing" on social media or Tik Tok. In between Barbies and paper dolls, we watched Dallas Cowboy football games with him since we were little girls. He taught us about pass interference and illegal motion, touchbacks, off sides, and Hail Mary passes. Over the course of fifty years, we bonded with our dad watching everyone from Roger Staubach, Golden Richards, and Too Tall Jones, to Troy Aikman, Tony Romo, and Dak Prescott. And let's not forget Tom Landry. From Cowboys to Hallmark cards, our dad was incomparable. He could go from talking trash in football to picking out the loveliest, most sentimental daughter birthday card on the shelves. Some of our most cherished memories are the Hallmark moments we had with him as we took turns reading aloud birthday and Father's Day cards, always adding our own thoughtful words at the end, his favorite parts. And in true girl dad fashion, we remember him driving down 4th street in front of Pan American University at the time "making the car dance" as he swerved around each curve to our squeals of delight from the back seat of our Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. 
And just as important as it was to him that his daughters were educated, he, too, was a scholar. He began his education at St. Joseph Catholic School across the street from his home where he attended from first through eighth grade. He then graduated from Edinburg High School in 1954, went on to receive a Bachelor's degree in math from Pan American College, and a Master's degree in Education from Texas A & I University. Daddy was an intellectual, cerebral man, a Phi Kappa Phi member since 1970, but one of his most memorable educational experiences happened on August 1,1966. While attending a graduate course at UT Austin, he described to us how shots rang out as he and his classmates crouched down below the windows of the classroom. Peering through the Venetian blinds, Daddy actually witnessed the University of Texas Tower mass shooting. While watching a recent documentary about the notorious event with him, it was interesting to hear our father's commentary as the horrifying details unfolded on the screen.
Although his faith and his family meant everything to him, we believe his true calling in life was teaching and community service. His commitment to education and learning defined him. Our entire lives we have heard about what an exceptional teacher our father was, but only after we grew up and became teachers ourselves did we truly understand and appreciate the impact he had on his former students, many of whom went on to become  leaders in the community. One of the most recurring comments he have heard over the years is what a strict disciplinarian Daddy was in the classroom. No one misbehaved in Mr. Cantu's math and science classes at Edinburg High School; even the students who misbehaved everywhere else walked into his class ready to get down to business. Just as common was the comment about how intelligent Daddy was and how he inspired his students to achieve excellence through education. He began his career in the classroom and ended as an Assistant Superintendent  with the Edinburg CISD where he served as a role model for excellence and integrity among his colleagues. 
And in 1995, upon his retirement from Edinburg CISD, the only district where he ever worked, the then superintendent of schools, someone who did not shower compliments, stated, "In my career, there have been few people I can truly say were good school people. Mr. Joe Cantu is one of them." Moreover, one of his former peers described Daddy as a "perfectionist, one of the most dependable employees, [who] never missed a day." And in his own words, Daddy summed up his feelings about his role as an educator when he said, "I loved teaching; I was tickled pink teaching." 
In addition to being a badass teacher and dad, he played an equally impressive role in the development of his beloved community throughout the years. His genuine desire to better his home town began early in his life when he became an Edinburg Jaycee member, just another example of his selfless character. Always a progressive thinker, he helped move the city of Edinburg forward through his numerous civic contributions. As a member of the Library Board, he was instrumental in getting Edinburg's first library built. While on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, he played a key role in countless projects created for the enjoyment of all. One of the ones he was most proud of was the creation of Edinburg Municipal Park with its scenic wetlands and world birding center that attracts patrons from all over the world. Additionally, he served as a member of the Planning and Development Committee, where he helped make the community run more efficiently and equitably for all its residents. And as the longest serving member of the Board of Directors of the Edinburg Teacher's Credit Union, he worked diligently to establish banking procedures that would benefit all members from 1965 to 2019. 
While we have always known our father to be a respected and admired pillar of his community, there is another side that perhaps not too many people know about. The side we know and love and what makes him even more endearing to us. A true Renaissance man, he was both a brilliant mathematician and wordsmith. Master crossword puzzler and quoter of Shakespeare, he oozed intelligence in every word he spoke. But his penchant for impressive vocabulary didn't stop with Shakespeare; he was a world class cusser, a trait one of his nephews admires most about our dad. He was so adept at it that he even concocted words we had never heard before. Along with his colorful vernacular, he also impressed upon us his many dichos/sayings. For example, he would tell us, "Te va salir mas caro el caldo que las albondigas" or "Quieres tapar el sol con un dedo." Another famous example is what he would say to a car or truck that sped passed him on the road, "See you at the light!" And then there was the more obscure, "I'm just telling you how the cow ate the cabbage." But perhaps the thing we will remember most about our dad is his absolute love of Texas Lottery scratch off tickets! We're sure he lost more than he won, but that never really mattered to him. Our dad was more interested in the mathematics/statistics of it all which made us feel less sorry for him when he didn't win. 
Always the consummate educator, at the end of his life, he was still teaching us how to be strong, selfless, and courageous. We moved back into the home he built for his girls, bringing it back to life so that he could hear and feel the love, the laughter, the smell and the taste of our lives. The little girls he devoted himself to became the women that never left his side, morning, noon, and night; cooked all his meals from scratch; gave infinite head, back, and foot massages; administered medication around the clock; watched Family Feud, Wheel of Fortune, and detective shows too numerous to list in the last months of his life. He did indeed teach us well. And through God's infinite love and guidance, we were blessed with the opportunity to experience the honor, beauty, and responsibility of helping usher our beloved father, our beautiful man from one life to the next. 
Comforted by the belief that he is reunited with our mom, his devoted wife of fifty six years, Elvira Cavazos Cantu, as well as his parents, Mamoo and Papoo, we, his adoring daughters, Aissa Cantu and husband Fortino Gonzalez of Edinburg; Sonya Cantu Rivera and husband Roy B. Rivera of Helotes; and Ana Maria Cantu of McAllen, will continue to live as our father instructed, with dignity; strength; humility; faith; and in the service of others; however, we will never get over the loss of our Prince Valiant, our Atticus Finch. His two cherished granddaughters, Sabrina and Sierra Rivera, of San Antonio will also deeply mourn the loss of their beloved Papa. Just as heartbroken over the loss of their eldest brother are his surviving siblings: Richard R. Cantu (Maruca), Eddie Cantu (Prestina), Sylvia Garcia, Fred Cantu (Marilyn), Arturo Cantu (Irma), and Lupita Cantu-Morse (Kevin). Numerous nieces and nephews will also be missing their Uncle Joe and his irreverent wit and humor as well as his quiet wisdom.
So we end as we began, missing our handsome, elegant, chivalrous, witty, distinguished, extraordinary father. In his honor, we would like to raise a glass and toast the first man we ever loved, "We adore and admire you, Daddy, and we will miss you bigger than the sky. But the honor and pride of being your daughters will carry and guide us through the rest of our days... until we see you at the light." Always and Forever, Your Favorite Girls.
Having the honor of serving as pallbearers are his two dearest sons-in-law, Fortino Gonzalez and Roy B. Rivera and his four treasured brothers, Richard R. Cantu, Eddie Cantu, Fred Cantu, And Arturo Cantu. Honorary pallbearers are his brothers' sons.
Our family would like to extend our sincerest thank you to Dr. Raul A. Martinez and his wonderful staff: Ruth, Irma, and Alicia, for their tender care of our father and the kindness they showed him for over forty years. Also, to Laura Cortez of Amavi Hospice and her incredible staff, we would like to express our profound gratitude for the extraordinarily compassionate care they all provided for our precious father during the last weeks of his life. Moreover, we want Letty, Magda, and Lisa to know how very much we appreciate the dignity with which they treated Daddy as well as the grace they personified as they guided us through the most difficult time in our lives. Our sincerest gratitude to Father Greg Labus for visiting Daddy, praying with him, and administering the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
Our family will be receiving visitors Friday, July 5th, 2024 from 5-8 PM with the Rosary recited at 6 PM at Memorial Funeral Home, located at 208 E. Canton Rd. Edinburg, TX 78539. The Funeral Mass will be celebrated, Saturday, July 6th, 2024, at 9 AM at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 114 W. Fay St. Edinburg, TX 78539. Interment will follow at Hillcrest Memorial Park, 1701 E. Richardson Rd. Edinburg, TX 78542. 

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Service Schedule

Past Services

Visitation

Friday, July 5, 2024

5:00 - 8:00 pm (Central time)

Memorial Funeral Home - Edinburg

208 E Canton Rd, Edinburg, TX 78539

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Rosary

Friday, July 5, 2024

6:00 - 7:00 pm (Central time)

Memorial Funeral Home - Edinburg

208 E Canton Rd, Edinburg, TX 78539

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Funeral Service

Saturday, July 6, 2024

9:00 - 9:30 am (Central time)

St. Joseph Catholic Church

114 W Fay St, Edinburg, TX 78539

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Burial

Saturday, July 6, 2024

10:00 - 11:00 am (Central time)

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