Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

Pedro Enriquez leaves a legacy of compassion

As the northern regional manager for the Illinois Migrant Council in Harvard, Pedro Enriquez’s job made him an important man in the local Latino community. But to anyone who knew him, he was even more than that.

Enriquez, 61, Woodstock, died of heart complications Nov. 17. He proudly shared his Latino heritage and was a guide for those in need and an advocate for education.

Growing up in Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, Enriquez had seven younger siblings, but later served as a father figure when his father went to work in the United States. After his family moved to Woodstock, they quickly became immersed in the community. The Enriquez family was one of only a few Mexican families to come to the area as a family, and Enriquez’s sisters were among the first Hispanic women to attend Woodstock High School and some of the first Hispanic women to hold office jobs with the city of Woodstock and serve as interpreters. In 1992, the family was a finalist for Hispanic American Family of the Year, by the Hispanic Family of the Year Foundation.

His sister, Maggie Enriquez Rivera, said her brother was the second Hispanic liaison in McHenry County through the IMC, founded in 1960, which sparked his passion for helping his fellow community members.

“That’s where he learned of the needs that the Latino community had,” Rivera said. “He would, many times, drive people to the hospital, interpret for them, drive people to court to make sure they were getting their needs met. He would go out in the fields just driving around looking at where the migrant workers were to make sure, if they needed something, they knew his organization existed.”

Enriquez’s family said he went above and beyond his work to help families.

“He was a strong supporter of family unity,” said his sister, Anna Enriquez.

As a single parent, Anna Enriquez said her brother became a father for her son, Ernesto, taking him camping, attending all his concerts and sporting events and having him grow up as a brother to Pedro’s sons. She said he helped several other families in need who came to him through the IMC, providing them with resources, bringing them home for a meal and even offering the comfort of his home for a night or two.

“We are a very extended family, the whole McHenry County is our family,” she said. “For him, everyone was important.”

When Elizabeth Chavez moved from the Chicago area to McHenry in 1995, she had a 6-month-old baby girl, a 4-year-old son and no insurance; not even enough money to buy diapers. Although she was not a migrant, she said Pedro Enriquez helped to provide her with resources, friendship and opportunities for her and her children.

She said Enriquez helped her acquire food vouchers, put the family on his church’s Christmas list and encouraged her to pursue her nursing degree at the College of Lake County. Chavez moved her family to Woodstock and obtained a scholarship for school.

“We had really nothing,” Chavez said. “He always encouraged me as a single mom, ‘Don’t give up! Go to school for the kids.’ Just seeing what I could be and that I could do something with my life for the kids and me, because of the positive influence that people like Pedro gave me … I’m forever grateful.”

Anna Enriquez said her brother was always encouraging education at home and in the community. When they lived in Mexico, he would walk his sisters through sandstorms to get to school. His sons Julio, Raul and Eric, and daughter, Mabel, said their father was constantly asking them and their two older siblings about assignments and work, and keeping after them and their cousin Ernesto to achieve success. With a library full of National Geographic magazines and the Encyclopedia Britannica, he was a constant student.

To keep traditions alive and inform the public, Enriquez and his family and friends founded the annual South of the Border Festival on the Woodstock Square to celebrate the true Mexican Independence Day Sept. 16. His family said he enjoyed playing guitar there with his band of brothers to celebrate his heritage with the community.

For the past two months before he died, he shared his passion for music with acquaintances, who became good friends, at Stella’s Off the Square cafe. Owner Danielle Delatorre said Enriquez came in, making every morning bright as he grabbed a cup of coffee and spoke with new friends Steve Czarnecki and Alissa Aleman about their goals and futures and struck up conversations with everyone at Stella’s, starting a “little morning crew.”

Delatorre said the friendly Pace bus driver would honk the horn for Enriquez if he was not out at the stop and would come in to ask where he was if he didn’t get on.

“He’s only been taking the bus for a couple months,” Delatorre said. “You know how many people take the bus? … I’ve never had a Pace bus driver really do that.”

Enriquez’s wife, Eluid Enriquez, and family said he was a great mentor, friend, father and brother to all.

“I don’t know how the irony could be any more out there,” said Pedro’s son Julio Enriquez. “He had the biggest heart in the world, but, on a physical level, it just wasn’t the strongest. There’s a lot of good that’s going to be missed because he is no longer with us, but the good he did is obviously going to withstand the test of time because he was a powerful man.”