Rogers Park’s beloved elotero Felipe Vallarta, 60, has died of COVID-19.
Mr. Vallarta had been in a medically-induced coma at NorthShore Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview since April 25. He was taken off his ventilator around 10 a.m. Friday.
Mr. Vallarta was born and raised north of Mexico City, moving to the United States in 1995.
Since 2015, Mr. Vallarta and his wife Zenaida Castillo, 73, had run an elote stand at Rogers Avenue and Clark Street that became a neighborhood favorite.
When not at the stand or working at 90 Mile Cuban Cafe, Mr. Vallarta enjoyed cookouts and spending time with family and friends, Castillo said.
“The day I knew I loved him was April 10, 1986, my birthday,” said Castillo. “He surprised me with a dozen roses at my doorstep.”
Mr. Vallarta was last able to speak on April 25, the day he was put into a medically-induced coma.
“The last thing he told me was that he was never going to leave me alone. The promise was that he was going to come back,” said Vallarta’s granddaughter Jany Andrade, 21.
Despite morning hours at the restaurant and a 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. shift at the elote stand, Vallarta found time to be a father figure for three generations of his family.
“I never had a father figure in my life,” said Andrade. “My biological father was never in my life, so he (Vallarta) took that role since I was born. So I’ve always called him my dad. He’s always called me his daughter.”
Andrade said Mr. Vallarta taught her to ride a bike and drive a car, bought her her first iPod and phone and reminded her to eat her vegetables.
In a Zoom call before her grandfather died, Andrade played him the song “Hermoso Cariño” by his favorite artist, Vincente Fernández.
One of Mr. Vallarta’s final wishes was for his body to return to Mexico. Andrade said her grandmother is in the process of making arrangements.
“When I was about 13, he told me: “If ever were to pass away, I’m not going to leave you anything. I need you to learn to start from the bottom and build yourself up. Be independent. Do not depend on a man.”
Another granddaughter, Angeles Andrade, 26, lived with Castillo and Mr. Vallarta for four years. Mr. Vallarta helped raise his five-year-old great-granddaughter while her mother worked double shifts.
“When I would come home, they would be pretending to have their own little rock band. They would always like to sing together,” said Angeles Andrade. “I’d find her on his belly playing ‘horsey.’”
Jany Andrade hopes people remember her grandfather’s ability to spread joy.
“It’s just the joy in people’s faces, having happiness when they eat the elote. ... And even in the saddest or worse moments, he would always find a way to make a joke. He taught me how to love.”
Mr. Vallarta is survived by his wife, one daughter, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.