JANESVILLE—As sunset Tuesday on Janesville’s south side, about 20 friends and family gathered in a garage to pray for the soul of J. Guadalupe Aguilar Mendoza.
Lupe, as everyone called him, was an immigrant from Mexico who built his American Dream by surrounding homes with beauty.
They recited the rosary and sang songs, part of a nine-day novena that is traditional in Mexico, said Steven Aguilar, one of three sons who are mourning the loss of their father, along with their mother, Celia Aguilar.
Lupe died, along with his nephew Jaime Aguilar Mendoza, on Oct. 8, at a party in Beloit.
The family still doesn’t know what happened to the men, but their deaths saddened family members and friends near and far.
The uncle and nephew were celebrating the visit of a relative from Atlanta. They fell asleep and never awoke, said Tomas Ochoa, a cousin of Lupe’s widow, Celia Aguilar.
Decorative boulders, stones and vibrant trees and perennials surround the house, the work of a man who always smiled and could never stand still for long. He was always doing something, even on his days off, said his son Steven, 13.
His days of work at his business, Lupe & Sons Landscaping, were long and hard, but he took the time to get to know his customers, said Mike Heine of Janesville, who wrote on Schneider Funeral Home’s tribute wall for Lupe’s obituary.
“Of course we were impressed by the quality of his work, but we were more impressed by the quality of his soul. What a kind-hearted, fun, dedicated individual who had such passion for the work he did,” Heine wrote.
Lupe came to the United States as a teenager in 1986 from the Mexican state of Guanajuato, first living in Chicago and later Janesville, which he loved, his family said.
“My dad just thought this was a beautiful place,” Steven said.
When winters ended landscaping work, he would return to Mexico, where as a boy he had milked cows to help his family.
The family of 12 children were poor farmers.
Lupe finished the third grade. He always told his sons he wanted them to at least finish high school.
“He didn’t want us to be struggling, like him, getting up early and coming home late,” Steven said.
Lupe got his start in landscaping with Petranek Brothers of Janesville.
Lupe owned his business for about seven years. He built sidewalks, retaining walls, patios and fire pits.
, sometimes accenting the hardscaping with shrubs and flowers.
The family said authorities are waiting for lab tests before they say what killed Lupe and Jaime. One thing they were told after the death was that Lupe’s arteries were critically clogged.
“I’m pretty sure his work was keeping him alive,” Steven said.
About 400 people attended the funeral Saturday, and the procession to Milton Lawns Cemetery was massive, said the Rev. Drew Olson of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.
Lupe’s oldest son, Miliano, 31, plans to take over the business.
“We look forward to now working with … Miliano,” the Baums wrote. “Lupe represented to us a model of what all Americans are and what this country is built on. We are all immigrants looking to better our lives through hard work and entrepreneurialism while maintaining love of family and friends. Lupe … touched our hearts. He will be missed dearly.”