Sam Garcia never made it past fourth grade, but he raised more than $500,000 for other people’s kids to go to school.
A renowned leader in Fort Worth, Mr. Garcia — a World War II veteran, business owner and civic advocate — died Thursday at 91.
“He was a pillar of good leadership — always wanting to do the right thing,” said Rosa Navejar, a former president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “That is one thing I will always remember him by. He said we have to pave the way for the next generation.”
“He looked for ways to open doors and was always willing to go that extra mile to find a way to better to the community. And he knew education was a key factor in that. He was a strong believer in education,” Navejar said.
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Brought from his native Mexico by his undocumented parents to Pittsburg, Okla., Mr. Garcia overcame poverty, tuberculosis, the death of both parents as a boy and a lack of formal education.
He earned three Bronze Stars and his American citizenship serving in World War II and then came to Fort Worth in 1958 and started his own remodeling company, S&G Construction, two years later.
“I don’t know about college, but I’ll tell you one thing — Sam Garcia had a Ph.D. in life,” said Sergio De Leon, Tarrant County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5.
De Leon, 42, first met Mr. Garcia as a 21-year-old college student. De Leon would go to Mr. Garcia’s office for a place to study and to use Mr. Garcia’s typewriter for his homework, since he did not have one of his own.
“He was a very giving individual and his contributions will be felt for many years to come, through the very people helped,” De Leon said. “And they are, I want to say, in the thousands, from members of government to young aspiring students.”
Mr. Garcia was a leader in numerous organizations, according to the city’s website, including the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; the United Hispanic Council; the Hispanic Debutante Association of Fort Worth; the International Good Neighbor Council; the American G I Forum of Tarrant County; League of United Latin-American Citizens (LULAC); Image de Fort Worth; and the Mexican-American College Education Fund.
“He is obviously an icon in the Hispanic community and a pioneer — one of the true great leaders in the Hispanic community of the last 50 years,” said Fort Worth City Councilman Sal Espino.
For 10 years Mr. Garcia also edited and published The Community News, a local newspaper committed to improving the quality of life of the Hispanic community.
Many of those papers, in addition to many of his personal photographs, journals, memorabilia and awards, were donated to the Fort Worth Library in 1999 and in 2006. Those records are available to the public at the Fort Worth Central Library’s Genealogy, History & Archives Unit, 500 W. Third St.
“This collection is important to the library and to the general public, because it is helpful to a broad range of researchers interested in the history of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, specifically as pertains to our local Hispanic community,” said librarian Suzanne Fritz in an email.
Mr. Garcia was recognized in 1990 as the Fort Worth Volunteer of the Year, in 1991 as Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Member of the Year, and in 1999 he was Man of the Year.
Juan Perez, a close friend, said his accolades are too many to count. What is important, Perez said, is the impact Mr. Garcia had on the community.
“He was doing something that is difficult to see around us, but it is very selfless. He had a goal to improve civil rights for everybody and to get rid of discrimination,” Perez said. “That was his goal in life.”