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East Austin community leader Johnny Limón has died at age 69

Michael Barnes
Johnny Limón, pictured in 2011, advocated for affordable housing and environmental justice in East Austin. He also volunteered for Meals on Wheels and More as well as Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

San Juan “Johnny” Limón, an East Austin community leader known for helping almost anyone who asked, died either Saturday night or Sunday morning at age 69.

He was discovered at his home on Limón Street, named for his family, where he had lived for decades with his mother, Eloisa Ojeda Limón, who died just before she turned 104 in 2017.

“He lived with my grandma his entire life until she passed away,“ his nephew Lonnie Limón said. ”Big loss for my family and for Austin.“

The cause of death was not known. Johnny Limón had been sick, but tested negative for COVID-19, Lonnie Limón said.

Johnny Limón worked for Tracor, a defense electronics contractor, until his retirement.

“He got involved in the community in a heavy way,” Lonnie Limón said. “My Uncle Johnny appeared before City Council many times. His personal passion was making sure that Tejano music had its place in Texas and in the Live Music Capital of the World. It is a true Texas-originated music.”

Johnny Limón served on the Tejano Music Commission. He was involved with PODER Austin, a grassroots social justice group, to remove tank farms and a recycling plant that were placed close to East Austin residents.

For decades, he volunteered for Meals on Wheels and More. Also a volunteer for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Johnny Limón was named National Big Brother of the Year, his nephew said.

All along, he was an effective advocate for affordable housing.

Each Christmas, he decorated half of Limón Street for the holidays and encouraged his neighbors to decorate the other half, according to his nephew. Families from all over East Austin visited what Lonnie Limón called a “Mini-Trail of Lights.”

Johnny Limón also played Santa at Santa’s Casa, a little house that he had built of old political signs. Spanish-speaking children were especially delighted to be greeted by a bilingual Santa who handed out candy canes and hot chocolate.

One of 11 children, Johnny was a member of the vast Limón clan in Austin, which the family estimates to be made up of more than 3,000 people, including Austin’s first Mexican American City Council member, John Treviño Jr.

Speaking to the American-Statesman in 2013, Limón said 98% of his family lives in Austin. Because of the family’s size and activism, politicians sought them out, especially during the big annual Limón family reunion.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler tweeted out his support for the Limón family Sunday.

“I'm heartbroken like I lost part of my family,” he tweeted. “Today our city mourns the passing of one of our civic champions & heroes, my friend, Johnny Limón. Prayers to Martha, Paul, Canica & the entire & large Limón family. He made so many of us feel like we were part of the family, too.”

Johnny Limón, who served on the Southwest Key Community Advisor Council, helped anyone who asked for help.