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Published: Friday, 8/13/2010

Erasmo 'Eddie' Cruz, 1940-2010: Eatery, radio station owner helped many

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Erasmo "Eddie" Cruz, 70, a migrant farm worker in his youth who was an advocate for the Hispanic community even as he owned a restaurant in Fremont and a radio station in Clyde, Ohio, died Tuesday in Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, Toledo.

He had a heart attack about a day after an aortic aneurysm was discovered, his wife, Jane, said. The couple moved to Lebanon, Tenn., in about 1996, but were in Fremont for their yearly vacation north.

Work in truck-stop kitchens and the tutelage of a wise owner sparked Mr. Cruz's interest in opening a restaurant.

"When he had the means to do so, he opened up La Hacienda," his brother Bobby said.

"He was very strongly committed to the Hispanic community. He thought there was a need for it. He was one of the first in the area to have a Mexican-American restaurant," his brother said.

Mr. Cruz operated La Hacienda for 17 years, until the early 1990s, his brother said.

He had a long record of advocacy. He was a member of a local group, La Raza Unida, and a supporter of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. He was an alcohol rehabilitation counselor in a three-year pilot project aimed at the Hispanic community, his wife said.

"Being in the migrant stream, you saw the problems and needs of the people," his brother said. "He saw what was occurring back then. Restaurants, other businesses, they were very cautious in who they catered to. In some form, you were discriminated against. He saw this. He felt it was wrong."

Mr. Cruz told The Blade in 1970 that he began broadcasting a weekly Spanish-language radio program - for which he sold the advertising - over WFRO, Fremont, in the early 1960s.

By the late 1970s, he was hard at work to begin an FM station in Clyde.

"That was started from the ground up," his brother said.

It took several years to navigate government permits and regulations.

"By God, he didn't give up," his brother said. "There was a lot of red tape involved, but that's the kind of person he was. Whatever he set his mind on, he would achieve it."

The station went on the air in the early 1980s as WMEX, call letters that a longtime Boston radio station let lapse several years earlier. When another Boston station asked for the call letters, Mr. Cruz agreed - for a fee, said his brother, who was station vice president.

The station was WLCO when Mr. Cruz sold it in the early 1990s.

His format was 75 percent country music, and 25 percent tejano, norteno, mariachi, and other types of music popular among Mexican-American listeners who'd come from Texas.

"He was one of the pioneers as far as broadcasting and introducing the kind of music that was a very big part of our culture," his brother said.

He also owned Cruz Civic Center, a dance hall, and he played accordion in a group that included his brother Bobby on drums.

After he sold the radio station, Mr. Cruz installed satellite dishes. He'd enjoyed attending country radio conventions in Nashville and persuaded his wife that they should move to Tennessee.

"He said, 'Why do we have to stay here, where it's colder outside than it is in the freezer?'" his wife said. He was a self-employed contractor for satellite television services for several years, retiring about six years ago.

Mr. Cruz was born July 10, 1940, in Texas. He came north with his parents annually for the tomato, cucumber, and sugar beet harvests. He was about 9 when the family decided to stay. Mr. Cruz went to school in Old Fort and Bettsville, Ohio, through eighth grade. He later took college courses in electronics.

As a young man, he also was a farm worker in Michigan and Florida, his brother said.

He was formerly married to Filomena Esquival.

Surviving are his wife, Jane, whom he married Feb. 28, 1992; sons, Erasmo, Jr., Donnie, and Ricardo; daughter, Maria Elena Roberts; stepdaughter, Heather Wollenberg; stepson, Chad Bruns; brother, Roberto Cruz, Jr.; sister, Juanita Vasquez; eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 6 tonight in the Keller-Ochs-Koch-Mason Funeral Home, Fremont, where visitation begins at 4 p.m.

Contact Mark Zaborney at:

mzaborney@theblade.com

or 419-724-6182.



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