December 3, 2023
Gonzalo Garza, namesake to Garza Independence High School, laughs with former Garza principal Vicki Baldwin in 2009. Garza taught school in San Antonio and Corpus Christi. After earning his doctorate at the University of Texas, he served in various superintendent roles in Houston, Eagle Pass, San Marcos and Austin.

Gonzalo Garza — educator, student advocate, decorated war veteran and namesake for Garza Independence High School in East Austin — died May 17 at age 95.

“Gonzalo was a beautiful human being,” his partner, Judy Barnes, said. “I always thought of him as a ‘holy man.’ He was always gentle and kind and really loved his God, his family, friends and all kids. … He would ask a total stranger if he was in school and what his education and life goals were.”

Garza was born Jan. 10, 1927, on a farm near New Braunfels to Carlos and Victoria Garza, migrant farmworkers.

Some of his earliest memories were of the Great Depression during the 1930s.

“We were really almost starving because there was very little work for my father and food became scarce,” Garza told the University of Texas Voces Oral History Project, which records the memories of Latino and Latina veterans, in 2001. “My uncle, Martin Villareal, was better off, although he had a large family. Finding out our situation, he gave us half a wagon of corn. My mother made corn tortillas that we ate with some shortening and salt for a while.”

As a member of a large migrant family, whose every member worked in the fields, Gonzalo attended many schools in his youth. Garza started his classroom education in 1937 in a one-room country school southeast of New Braunfels known as the “Mexican school.” He began school “not knowing one word of English.”

Gonzalo Garza signed up for the Marines in 1944 at age 17. He served in World War II and the Korean War. The GI Bill helped lift this child of migrant farm workers into an education that led to a doctorate and high positions in school administration.

Military service, education and advocate for students

In 1944 — at age 17 — Gonzalo left Northside Junior High School in Corpus Christi to join the Marines. He served his country with honor in World War II and Korea, earning the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart in combat.

Under Japanese gunfire, his company landed on the islands of Saipan and Tinian. They were assigned to stage a famous diversionary “false landing” on Okinawa to protect the real landing on the other side of the island. Garza later searched for straggling Japanese soldiers in the caves of Saipan.