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'I'm going to miss him': Brothers of drowning victim remember him as constant source of joy

Tacos el Cuñado Bridge Street, where Mendez used to work, will donate sales on Friday to cover funeral costs.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids' westside community is coming together to support a grieving family after their brother drowned in Lake Michigan on Sunday.

Jonathan Mendez, 21, is described by many who knew him as a fun-loving, hard-working young man. His brothers say their family is missing a bright spot in their daily lives.

Noe Islas knew his younger brother for, quite literally, Mendez's entire life.

"I was fortunate to drive his mother to the hospital when she was giving birth," recalls Islas.

He felt joy throughout each of those 21 years.

"He brings a smile, man," says Islas. "He just was my guy."

Mendez worked at Tacos el Cuñado on Bridge Street for a few years. Owner Mary Martinez watched him walk by every day on his way home from Union High School.

"One of those days he came here, inside, and he asked for a job," Martinez remembers.

She gave it to him, saying it was the best decision she could have made.

"Always smiling, always happy, always dancing, always listening to loud music," she says.

Working was a passion of his. Mendez's brothers, Islas and Omar de los Santos, say he was driven to accomplish anything he set his mind to.

"He worked to live, you know, he wanted to travel," says Islas. "He wanted to see new heights." 

Mendez did, traveling to Colorado this year to fulfill a goal of seeing the mountains, fueling his adventurous spirit.

Islas says watching him earn that trip through hard work was exciting.

"He knows how proud I am of him," says Islas. "I made sure to tell him that every single chance I could."

It's an excitement Mendez's family will never take for granted.

"I love him very much," says de los Santos. "I'm going to miss him."

Tacos el Cuñado will host a fundraiser on Friday at the Bridge Street location.

It lasts from noon to 6 p.m. and 100% of proceeds will go to Mendez's family to help with funeral expenses.


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