La Feria News

Jesse Zuniga remembered by friends and family as a man passionately committed to his city, family

Jesse Zuniga took great pride in serving in the La Feria city commission and would often say, “I was born in La Feria, I live in La Feria, and I’m gonna die in La Feria.” Photos courtesy the Zuniga family


La Feria City Commissioner Jose de Jesus Zuniga, known as Jesse by his friends and colleagues, passed away suddenly on Friday, Aug. 7.

His passing was made public in a post on the city of La Feria Facebook page late Friday. Zuniga was 50 years old.

In a release, the city commented: “It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Mayor Pro-Tem and Commissioner Place 1, Jesse Zuniga. Our deepest condolences to the Zuniga and Aleman families on behalf of Mayor Maldonado, City Commissioners, board members and the entire city of La Feria.”

Condolences, prayers for comfort for his grieving family, and remembrances poured in on the social networks.

Although he was raised in Santa Maria and graduated high school in Mercedes (class of ‘88), Zuniga took great pride in having been born in La Feria and chose to settle and raise a family here.

“One of his favorite things to say was, ‘I was born in La Feria, I live in La Feria and I’m gonna die in La Feria.’” said his son Andrew Zuniga.

“He was always cheering on the La Feria Lions and bled maroon/gold,” added daughter Jessica Zuniga.

Jesse Zuniga (center) loved spending time with his family: daughter Jessica Zuniga, his son in law Chris Castellanos, wife Maricela Zuniga, and his grandkids Jessa Zuniga and Christopher Castellanos. (not pictured son Andrew Zuniga)

It was at Mercedes High School that Jesse would meet his future wife Maricela, a native of Bluetown. They had been married 32 years this past June.

Jesse Zuniga was very civic-minded but never actually aspired to enter into politics, his wife Maricela recalled. Zuniga had worked for Burton Auto for 23 years before taking a management position with Napa Auto Parts.

It was during the election of May 2014 that then La Feria city commissioner and soon-to-be elected mayor Victor Gonzalez Jr. planted the seed to Zuniga’s political career.

Gonzalez, a family friend, approached Maricela during their visit to the polls and asked to speak to her husband when they were done voting. It was with Gonzalez’s mentorship and Maricela’s encouragement that made Jesse run for commissioner place 1 during the May 2016 election cycle.

Zuniga went on to serve two terms as a member of the La Feria City Commission, winning re-election this past year. Zuniga also served as a member-at-large in the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council.

“Jesse Zuniga brought the current environment of La Feria, it’s culture, to the city council.” says Gloria Santillan Casas, a family friend and community leader in her own right.

“He represented an age group that is up and coming in our community. His passing is a big loss to the community.”

More than anything else, however, Zuniga had a passion for helping others and saw his political position as a way to do that.

“He was always trying to help out someone anyway he could,” Maricela said.

Although the exact cause of his passing is unknown, Zuniga had recently recovered from the COVID-19 virus and was “ready to go back to work,” his wife said.

“We would like to thank the citizens of the city of La Feria for allowing my dad to serve them,” Jessica added.

“He was always talking about ideas to help better La Feria. We would also like to thank the leaders of the city of La Feria. Thank you for accepting my dad, your friendship and hard work. He took great pride in being a commissioner and being a part of an amazing group of people dedicated to make the city a better place. We would like to thank everyone for their condolences and prayers for our family. There are no words to express how much it means to us.”

A viewing was held Thursday, Aug. 13 at Heavenly Grace Funeral Home in La Feria and was also live-streamed via the Heavenly Grace website. The chapel service was held Friday, Aug. 14, also at Heavenly Grace.

Jesse Zuniga (far left) with the other members of the La Feria City Commission pose for a quick group photo at the 2020 Fiesta de La Feria last February.

It is with the heaviest of hearts that we, the Mayor and Commission of the City of Laferia, offer our sincerest condolences and heartfelt prayers to the family of Mayor Pro Tem Jesse Zuniga.

Jesse was part of a team that embraced and respected each other’s opinions even when there were differences because it was those differences that led to discussions on how to make the best decisions for our community. His input will be missed as his passing leaves a serious void in what has been a very productive and effective team.

Mayor Pro-Tem Jesse Zuniga loved his city and served it with an abundance of pride and distinction. He was very passionate about his role as a public servant and he especially enjoyed speaking with people whether it was while campaigning or just running into someone in town. Jesse, as he was fondly referred to by us, was very active in anything that was La Feria community related, such as Christmas Parade planning and participation and school functions such as the tailgate barbeques for the La Feria High School Fighting Lions.

Mayor Pro-Tem Jesse Zuniga is survived by his wife of over 20 years, Mari. They were inseparable, you would never see one without the other and together they enjoyed life to the fullest. He was also very fond of his granddaughter, Jessa, whom he spoke of frequently and showered with attention.

Jesse was more than a commissioner or team member, he was family. His memory will live in our hearts.

Respectfully, Mayor Olga H. Maldonado

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