The J. Economedes gym filled quickly with students, friends, coworkers and the community for a memorial service for Alberto Garza Jr., who taught at the Edinburg Consolidated School district for over 24 years.

Garza was among five educators from the Rio Grande Valley killed in the bus crash last week in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico. The other educators were from the Brownsville school district.

The JEHS Orchestra, Choir and Mariachi all played music and a slide show with pictures of Garza were on display on a big screen facing the audience.

Tomas Pena Jr., ECISD Assistant Fine Arts Director and head band director, said Garza was a dedicated educator who did not limit his teachings to ECISD. He taught at South Texas Community College and at The University of Texas-Pan American.

Garza directed plays, built costumes and acted on several stage performances.

“Beto, you are continuing on your journey. You have gone on to the ‘undiscovered country.’ We hope to see you there one day. Save a seat for us,” he said.

Superintendent Gilbert Garza Jr. spoke to Garza’s students directly and told them to stay strong and said Garza would be there in spirit during their upcoming competition. “Do the best for him,” he said.

Students and faculty shared stories of how Garza had impacted their lives, with tears in their eyes, they shared with the audience.

Debbie Winslow, who was a colleague of Garza, remembers he told her to live life to the fullest. “Are you living life, or are you just simply existing in this life?”

Garza’s younger brother, Severo Garza, said he was amazed at how the Edinburg community had come together in support.

“It’s incredible, I knew my brother loved working here, he loved the community and loved this school,” he said. “To see the turnout, to have his students and peers speak — it’s awesome.”

He said he wished his brother could have seen the memorial and seen what he meant to everyone in the community.

The night of the memorial would have been Garza’s 53rd birthday, and Severo said the memorial was his birthday celebration. “It’s kind of hard, he would be celebrating his birthday, and in a way we are celebrating his life,” the brother said with a smile on his face.

Severo pointed out his brother would have loved this tribute, but would have said, “Ya parale. Enjoy yourself, get out there, cry no more.”

Traveling was Garza’s passion. “He traveled so much because I think he wanted to experience different cultures. He always compared what people would eat, drink, shared and compared them to himself,” Severo Garza said.

His travels took him to countries such as Spain, Japan and other places in the United States. He was very fond of Mexico, and would visit Mexico up to four times a year.

“Before he left on this last trip, he told me that in Zacatecas he was looking forward to eating conejo guisado,” Severo said laughing.

Severo said he will miss his brother’s big smile and his big laugh the most. He hopes to also continue his brother’s tradition of barbecuing every Sunday. “We will try to barbecue like him. But we will never, ever be able to barbecue like him. I don’t think it would be wise to try,” he said.