Shopkeeper remembered during balloon event

Jesusita Valenzuela remembered Saturday how her uncle, Joe, a man well known for being a prankster, woke her and the rest of her six siblings up one early morning to say they had to get up and get dressed for school — at 1 a.m.
No one at Jesusita’s household realized it was a joke when Joe “Pepe” Valenzuela turned around and said “April Fools.”
“It was just a trick,” Jesusita recalled with a smile. “We just got upset and went back to bed.”
Valenzuela was among a few people who shared their personal memories of the revered T-shirt shop owner and all-round jokester during a commemorative balloon release event that was attended by about 60 people outside Joe Valenzuela’s West 10th Street shop, Pepe’s T-Shirts Etcetera.
The gathering was done to remember the 68-year-old Vietnam War veteran who was found slain at his shop early last week.
A suspect, Joseph Benjamin Madden III, 24, was arrested on a felony warrant charging him with capital murder in connection with Valenzuela’s killing.
Friends, family and loved ones held on to helium-filled balloons, most of which were red, white and blue, and released them to windy skies above Odessa following a brief prayer and a few testimonials about the man known by many for his sense of humor.
Relatives said Joe Valenzuela had no family of own.
Maxine Amador, a neighboring business owner of Valenzuela’s who organized the balloon event, told the crowd that while she was not a relative she still wanted to do something in memory of the man Amador personally knew for his wit and humor.
Valenzuela would often visit Amador’s nutrition store next door and jokingly give her “a hard time.”
When Amador asked if Valenzuela would want a shake made for weight loss, the T-shirt shop owner looked down at his gut and answered no, adding “I worked hard to get this,” Amador recalled with a smile.
“My heart goes out to all of you,” Amador told the crowd.
A former employee of Valenzuela’s, Ricky Munoz, said he worked three years for the man who once told Munoz he could’ve done a better job of designing a sign for his business after Munoz came up with one for him.
Munoz said he plans to open up a T-shirt business of his own in Andrews and wants to use the shop sign in front of Valenzuela’s shop at his business in Valenzuela’s honor.
“He was fun to be around with,” Munoz said before the balloons were released. “He’s going to be missed.”
Another niece of Valenzuela’s, Sara Tarango, she and the group of well-wishers wanted to honor her uncle, his name and what Joe Valenzuela “meant to us.”
Aside from his sense of humor Tarango said Joe Valenzuela was also known for the generosity in the community and for running a business that many in local athletic circles had bought T-shirts from.
While calling her uncle’s death “a terrible loss to our family,” Tarango said a prayer for Joe Valenzuela, and also offered a prayer for the man accused of killing him.
“He was a funny man … he loved to make people laugh,” Tarango said of her uncle who she affectionately called a “comedian.” Asked what she thought her uncle would say, Tarango replied, “keep smiling, go on. Keep your head up.