Juanita Gamez Mayorga
Juanita Gamez Mayorga was born December 2, 1940 in San Antonio, TX. She was born in a house in the Westside of San Antonio and was the first daughter and child of her beloved parents Margarita and Gilberto Gamez, Sr. (both deceased) who raised Juanita along with her 3 younger sisters and one younger brother in a house surrounded by chain link fencing that featured metal Cocker Spaniels on the gates and kumquat trees in the front yard at 142 Zavala (now 142 W. Zavalla). The small home was located very near Union Stock Yards San Antonio – the main receiving point for shipment of cattle to San Antonio from South Texas in the mid-twentieth century – where her father earned his living as a laborer to support the family.
Juanita valued education highly. In an era when so few Mexican American women finished high school, she was proud to have graduated from Fox Technical High School (San Antonio) in 1958 but always regretted that she could not go on to attend college. Because of this inability, her life’s purpose became focused on making sure that her daughters obtained college degrees. After high school, where she was tracked into training for clerical work, she was glad to obtain a secretarial position at Santa Rosa Hospital in downtown San Antonio and dutifully contributed her wages to her family’s income. While working at Santa Rosa Hospital, she met her husband Rojelio Mayorga, a native of McAllen, TX who was stationed at Fort Sam Houston. Rojelio had joined the U.S. Army as a teenager. They married on February 27, 1965 and remained married until Rojelio’s passing on September 10, 2007.
Juanita and Rojelio raised two children: Irma (1965) and Hildegaard (1966), both born in Heidelberg, West Germany. While pregnant with Irma, Juanita flew on a plane for the first time when she joined Rojelio at Heidelberg Army Base. The U.S. Army would station the family in West Germany again in 1976, this time at Pirmasens Army Base. Juanita loved to travel and experience new places, and the opportunity of these two postings in Germany enabled her to see Europe, adventure through legendary palaces, imbibe new foods, and most importantly, show it all to her girls. While in West Germany, at every opportunity she could find, Juanita organized her family’s travel across the European continent by car, camping across Europe in order to afford their excursions. She took her daughters to Italy, France, Luxembourg, and many parts of West Germany. She was able to see renowned sites such as Rome, the Eiffel Tower, and Neuschwanstein Castle.
In the U.S., Juanita also found the means to take her daughters across the U.S. to visit and learn about all types of sites including zoos, aquariums, famous seascapes and beaches, lakes, theme parks, museums, architectural and historical landmarks, art museums, cultural sites, and many, many national parks. These memorable trips along with the many cross-country moves Juanita organized for Rojelio’s Army postings imbued a lifelong love of travel in her daughters. Even as an elder, Juanita adored travel to new places, new experiences, and she continued to pursue learning opportunities – frequently signing up to take a wide variety of adult education classes, including guitar!
Juanita stayed at home as a mother during her daughters’ early childhoods but returned to full time work in the early 1980s to help with the family income and to begin saving ravenously for her daughters’ college educations. She applied for and obtained a post with the U.S. Civil Service, where she was first employed at Ft. Huachuca, AZ, and then worked 23 years at Randolph AFB in San Antonio. At Randolph she was proud to have worked intimately with individual Airmen’s personnel files and helped process important documents connected to their service. In total, she completed a 25-year career in the U.S. Civil Service and retired in 2006.
Janie had an abiding love for all animals - fish to fowl, family dog to feral cat - and cared deeply about their treatment and welfare. In her retirement, she enjoyed taking daily walks of 4-5 miles in the early mornings. On these walks, she would bring dog and cat food and when she encountered stray animals, she would feed them. If she found injured animals, she would seek help for them. And, more than once, when an animal was neglected by their human guardians – chained in yards, or left in the freezing cold, or left in the unforgiving San Antonio heat – she would find ways to provide food or water to them or provide blankets for warmth and shelter. She did not understand how humans could be cruel to animals and offered aid and rescue of many kinds including generous donations to San Antonio animal shelters and rescue programs.
She also offered generous monetary donations in support of many different types of non-profit organizations including: cancer research, diabetes research, Easter Seals, arts organizations, and places such as the Smithsonian Museum and National Geographic Society because she believed in tendering care for history and the environment. She also always gave out dollar bills tucked aside in her purse to those who were injured, destitute, or elderly who asked for help on the streets of San Antonio.
Juanita was most proud of the fact that her daughters graduated from both high school and college. A very generous and attentive mother, she paid in full for her daughters’ college educations and also helped both her daughters obtain advanced degrees. From a very young age, she nurtured her daughters’ interests in the arts: she taught them to sew, embroider, knit, and crochet (among a host of other crafts) by first taking classes herself and then returning home to teach them what she had learned. She always filled her home with books, preferring that her young daughters spent time reading or learning over anything else, including chores or any type of housework. She always believed that her daughters could do anything they wanted and never believed that their dreams should be constrained because they were women. Her belief in her children’s strength and abilities was boundless and empowering. She didn’t note herself as such, but she always moved in the world as a feminist: someone who advocated fiercely for the equal treatment of women and girls in all regards.
Since her teen years, she was a fan of Elvis Presley, collected his records throughout her life, always played “Elvis’ Christmas Album” during the holidays, and delighted in watching all his television specials in the 1960s and 1970s. She could nurse the most miserable plant (found in a discount pile at a nursery) back to life: she had a powerful green thumb and filled her home with a wide collection of plants that thrived in her care.
A lifelong devoted and practicing Catholic, she was a committed parishioner at St. Monica Catholic Church (Converse, TX). She was named after a saint: on her birth certificate her full name is San Juanita Gloria Gamez, and she always kept a statue of San Juanita and the Virgin Mary on her bedroom bureau draped with dried palm leaves collected from Holy Weeks. She was the type of person who would stay just a touch longer after Mass to kneel on a pew and offer special prayers for her loved ones. She always wore a silver cross around her neck and always gently made the sign of the cross on herself each time she traveled past a church or sacred site.
Later in life, Juanita was debilitated by severe arthritis and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, which also caused her severe discomfort, pain, and delimited her mobility. She also suffered from kidney complications. Her passing was caused by renal failure and natural causes.
Juanita is preceded in death by her husband (2007), her mother (1963), her father (1973), and her younger brother Gilberto Gamez, Jr. (2021). Juanita is survived by her beloved daughters Irma Mayorga (Ph.D.) (Minneapolis, MN) and Hildegaard Mayorga (MBA) (San Antonio, TX) who grieve her passing but are glad she is no longer suffering from physical pain. She is also survived by her younger sisters Anjelica Ortegon, Bertha Gamez, and Victoria Guzman, her many nieces and nephews including Barbara Lopez, Letty Barron, and John David Guzman and her numerous grandnieces and grandnephews. She very much enjoyed sending each of her family members carefully chosen cards and notes via U.S. mail to celebrate their lives and mark special occasions such as holidays, birthdays, marriages, births, graduations, and personal accomplishments.
There will be no public funeral services for Juanita – her daughters will return her body to the earth in a private manner. Juanita always carried a rosary and prayer cards in her purse. We share the prayer below, copied from one of her prayer cards, because it offers thoughts that reflect how she cared for those in her life.
“I Said a Prayer For You Today”
I said a prayer for you today
And know God must have heard
I felt the answer in my heart
Although He spoke no word!
I didn’t ask for wealth or fame
(I knew you wouldn’t mind)
I asked Him to send treasures
Of a far more lasting kind!
I asked that He’d be near you
At the start of each new day
To grant you health and blessings
And friends to share your way!
I asked for happiness for you
In all things great and small
But it was for His loving care
I prayed the most of all!
If you are so moved to pay respects to Juanita’s life & memory (and in lieu of flowers), we suggest making a donation in Juanita Gamez Mayorga’s name to either of the following organizations, both of which she supported actively:
San Antonio Humane Society
4804 Fredericksburg Rd.
San Antonio, TX 78229
City of San Antonio Animal Care Services
4710 State Highway 151
San Antonio, TX 78227
Phone: 210-207-4PET (4738)
Visit Photo Gallery section to view photos