Austin high school namesake Gonzalo Garza dies at 95

Gonzalo Garza — educator, student advocate, decorated veteran and namesake of Garza Independence High School in East Austin — died May 17 at age 95.

“Gonzalo was a beautiful human being,” said his partner, Judy Barnes. “I always thought of him as a ‘holy man’. He was always sweet and kind and truly loved his God, his family, his friends and all the children. school and what his education and life goals were.

Garza was born on January 10, 1927, on a farm near New Braunfels to Carlos and Victoria Garza, migrant farm workers.

Some of his earliest memories date back to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

“We were really almost starving because there was very little work for my dad and food became scarce,” Garza told the University of Texas Voces oral history project, which records veterans’ memories. latinos and latinos, in 2001. “My uncle, Martin Villareal, was better off, even though he had a large family. Upon finding out about our situation, he gave us half a wagonload of corn. My mother made tortillas of corn that we ate with shortening and salt for a while.

As a member of a large migrant family, each member of which worked in the fields, Gonzalo attended many schools in his youth. Garza began his classroom education in 1937 at a one-room country school southeast of New Braunfels known as the “Mexican School”. He started school “not knowing a word of English”.

Gonzalo Garza enlisted in the Marines in 1944 at the age of 17.  He served in World War II and the Korean War.  The GI Bill helped raise this child of migrant farm workers in an education that led to a doctorate and high positions in school administration.

Military service, education and defense of students

In 1944 – at age 17 – Gonzalo left Northside Junior High School in Corpus Christi to join the Marines. He served his country with honor in World War II and in Korea, earning the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart in battle.

Under Japanese fire, his company landed on the islands of Saipan and Tinian. They were tasked with staging a famous diversionary “fake landing” on Okinawa to protect the real landing on the other side of the island. Garza then searched for fleeing Japanese soldiers in the caves of Saipan.

Returning from service, he earned his GED certificate and studied at what was then called Del Mar Junior College in Corpus Christi.

“I promised myself that if I ever came back, I would graduate from high school,” Garza said, “goal number one, and I’m thinking about furthering my education and going to college.”

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With the help of the GI Bill, he attended St. Mary’s University in San Antonio in 1949 and received $90 a month to subsidize his tuition and living expenses.

“The GI Bill was, I would say, a savior not just for Hispanic servicemen, but anyone who served in the military had a right to claim this bill,” Garza said.

In 1950, another war interrupted the Navy reservist’s education and he headed to Korea, where in the freezing cold he developed frostbite on his feet. sergeant. Garza was sent home in November 1951.

Back at St. Mary’s, he studied Spanish and history and earned his BA before teaching at Edgewood Elementary in San Antonio. He received his master’s degree from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio in 1954.

He taught at Corpus Christi Elementary School before becoming a vice principal and principal there while serving as director of the Nueces County Head Start program. Garza moved his family to Austin in 1969 so he could earn his doctorate in education at UT, which he did in 1976.

Garza was hired as a zone superintendent in Houston, district superintendent in Eagle Pass and superintendent in San Marcos before returning to Austin to become associate superintendent in 1981.

He became deeply involved in his namesake high school and dedicated himself to dropout prevention.

“Dr. Garza loved coming to school,” recalled Mamie Hickerson, a retired teacher from Garza. “He liked to take the time to visit the students. He always asked the students how they were doing and what they wanted to do after graduation. At the end of the year, he returned to the school to thank the faculty for their hard work.”

“He was an advocate for children who nearly dropped out of school,” said Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, Voces project manager. “My eldest son, who hated high school, graduated there. The teachers there were really understanding and caring – a big difference from what we found at other schools.”

Throughout his life, Gonzalo Garza, top right, was surrounded by family and friends.  Here he is with his family in San Antonio in the late 1950s. The decorated veteran and career educator is known for his sense of humor and devout Catholicism.

Gonzalo Garza: “hard work, life, love and success”

Gonzalo Garza married Delores Scott Garza in 1954. They had five children: Charles Lee Garza, Louis Garza, Larry Garza, David Garza and Patsy Mendel.

Dolores died on June 21, 2009. Prior to that, while she was in memory care, Gonzalo visited her once or twice a day. Gonzalo is survived by his five children as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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“His life story is immense and he would always be happy to tell you about it,” friends Melanie and David Kellerman wrote in a joint email. “But Gonzalo never told his story with boastfulness. His story was always told with humble pride. Gonzalo’s life story is one of hardship, determination, hard work, life, love and success.”

Many of Garza’s memories revolve around his devout Catholicism. He attended mass every Sunday and said the rosary at least twice a day, Barnes said. He organized a “Holy Family” group at St. Helen’s Catholic Church in Georgetown.

“We all met with him every month to share stories and our faith,” Mike Douglas said. “Each meeting was a unique opportunity to fully appreciate this self-made American hero who filled each meeting with humor and humble life experiences that we will always cherish.”

Several friends and family members have commented on Garza’s sense of humor, as well as his love of televised sports and westerns. The game of horseshoes was another passion. He has won several medals in the sport at the Senior State and National Olympics.

“He woke up in the morning still happy and ready for any adventure,” said Barnes, who became Garza’s companion after his wife’s death. “He was funny and delighted with the reactions to his endless jokes. Since I met him, I have never laughed so much.”

A funeral for Garza was held in Georgetown, and a funeral service with military honors followed at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

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