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Beloved San Diego ISD band and mariachi director loses life to COVID-19

Melissa Cantu Trevino
Alice Echo News Journal

The small communities of San Diego and Premont are mourning the loss of a beloved band and mariachi director.

Sunday afternoon the family of 50-year-old Hector M. Cantu took to Facebook to advise the communities of his untimely death due to the coronavirus. The news quickly spread, hitting the hearts of many – from his colleagues to his students. 

He is the first teacher from San Diego Independent School District to pass away from COVID-19, according to Superintendent Dr. Rodrigo Pena.

Hector M. Cantu, beloved teacher, band and mariachi director, loses battle with COVID-19.

“After winter break Mr. Cantu did not return and we were notified that he had tested positive for the virus,” Pena said. “We got word of his passing yesterday and it's unbelievable ... A year ago he took our mariachi students to state and now we are dealing (with his death.)”

Cantu wasn't just a teacher in the classroom. He became a part of many families. He was a friend, an inspiration and a mentor to many.

San Diego Band Director Abelardo Perez mourned the loss of Cantu.

“Your fight is over my friend. You get to be in a place free from the nonsense of this world and free from this pandemic that has hurt so many people. The impact you’ve had on countless students throughout the years is immeasurable. You were a great friend, always there for me and my heart hurts writing this. So much to say but I’ll leave it at this for now ... rest easy brother, you will always be remembered. Eternal rest grant unto him, o' Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. Requiescat in pace.”

Hector Cantu with his Mariachi students after receive first place at State.

Cantu's teaching career began over 20 years ago in the Premont School District.

Cantu was interviewed by the Alice Echo News Journal in May 2019, when he was selected as the May Amazing Teacher. He talked about how his passion for music and teaching began. 

He said he fell in love with music as a child, but when he took his first high school band class with Mr. Cortez at Premont ISD his love for music and education really began.

Cantu was a Premont grad of 1989, and started his teaching career at Premont ISD, where he taught for 15 years. He began at San Diego ISD nearly six years ago.

“Our hearts are broken with the news regarding Mr. Hector Cantu. Just by seeing the posts on (Facebook) we know that you impacted so many. You were so inspiring to so many students. We always begged you to come back to Premont, but we know your heart was with your San Diego family. You will forever be loved and cherished. Our deepest condolences to Mr. Cantu's parents, children, family, friends, students and the love of his life, Melissa. We love you sir,” said Premont Band Mariachi Booster Club on Facebook.

He leaves behind his wife, Melissa, his parents, Eloy and Grace Cantu, his children, Michelle and Jake (Raelynn), his sister Shimel, nieces and nephews, countless friends, and students he loved. 

“Hector was contagious to all who met him. His smile that he shared ... The corny jokes and hand gestures to make you laugh til you hurt ... The outpouring love he gave not only to his children and his family but to all those who shared his life with him,” said Michelle Gomes, long-time friend of Cantu.

“He had a love for music I think the moment he came out of the womb. His drive to share that love and to mentor young minds to appreciate and grow in their love of playing music, in marching, in feeling the emotion while embracing the Mariachi tradition. What he shared and what he gave was his all ... he'd go beyond what he needed to in order to achieve his dreams, his goals, his love of being that 'adopted dad and brother' to so many.”

A GoFundMe account for Cantu has been set up to help the family with funeral expenses. If you would like to donate go to: 

In Memory of Hector Cantu - Funeral Expenses, organized by Michelle Gomes