The kids at Sunday school called Adolph “T.J.” Mendez “Mr. Sticker Man.”
“Every Sunday they would give out stickers to the kids in their bibles and the little kindergarteners would give him stickers to put on his name badge,” Brenda Johnson, Mendez’s daughter, told the Texas newspaper New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung. “He was very loved by all.”
From the pews of Oakwood Church, where he taught kindergarteners on Sunday, to the local basketball court where he often played, Mendez was a beloved member of his close-knit community in Texas Hill Country.
“He was patient, loving, kind, RIDICULOUSLY smart, and he was so silly,” Johnson said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News. “My dad was the type of person that could strike up a conversation with anyone and would make a friend everywhere he went. He had an unbelievably big heart and loved to share it with everyone around him wherever he went.”
Mendez died Thursday due to complications stemming from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. He was 44.
A water technician engineer who traveled often for his job, Mendez was the first member of his Texas community to die of the disease — leaving his town in shock.
By all accounts, Mendez, who played college basketball at the University of Texas at San Antonio, was in excellent health. He was still active at his local basketball court earlier this month, playing up until the court was closed March 9, friends told KABB, the Fox affiliate in San Antonio.
A kid at heart, Mendez could often be found jumping on the trampoline with his three young boys, the youngest of whom is just 9.
After beginning to feel ill earlier this month, Mendez started treating what he thought was a cold with over-the-counter medication, according to Johnson. When he didn’t get better, he visited his doctor, who gave him steroids in hopes of stopping what the doctor thought was a common virus.
On Thursday, March 19, Mendez still didn’t feel well and returned to his doctor. This time the doctor sent him to the hospital for a COVID-19 test. After he got the test, Mendez was told to go home and self-quarantine. But on March 23 at 3 a.m., Mendez was taken to a local hospital by ambulance after his fever spiked. That night, he was transferred to a hospital in Austin for an emergency surgery. The next day, his test results finally came back. He had COVID-19. By then Mendez was fighting for his life, dealing with multiple organ failure.
On Thursday, the family received a call. He had suffered from a massive brain hemorrhage. There was nothing more the doctors could do for him.
“Before they unplugged him, they let us speak with him, they put the phone on speakerphone and all of his family were able to say goodbye,” said Johnson. “The nurses held his hands the whole time and made sure to tell us that he was never alone throughout his entire stay.”
“We want people to know that they need to take this pandemic SERIOUSLY — it is not just something that happens across the world,” added Johnson. “This can happen to anyone, just as it did us.”
The day after Mendez died, Ray Still, pastor at Oakwood Church, put out a statement on Facebook. Like Johnson, Still used his statement not only to mourn the loss of his parishioner but also to compel other members to take this disease seriously.
“He was healthy and strong, and in no fault of his own, was stricken with this dreadful virus. His passing should be sobering to all, that this pandemic must be taken seriously,” wrote Still. “God the giver of all good things, has given us a brain and we should use it for the benefit of our family and our communities. Follow what our officials have asked of us and we will endure with God’s help.”
Mendez is survived by his parents, wife Angela Mendez, and his six children — two of whom were from a previous marriage, according to his obituary.
At the time of the obituary’s publication, a date for his memorial still hadn’t been set. Like so many who have lost loved ones to this virus, the family is mourning in quarantine.
On the day her father died, Brenda Johnson changed her Facebook profile photo to one of her and her dad walking down the aisle at her wedding just last year, both with wide smiles on their faces. Johnson talked to the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung about how she remembers that day.
“It was really special to get him to do that for me,” she told the newspaper. “I looked at him and told him that he wasn’t allowed to look at me or I would start crying.”
“Before they opened the chapel doors, he looked down on me and I looked at him and we both started crying,” she said. “It was the sweetest thing.”