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Jose de Jesus Cortes Ibanez dies; helped fix Little Village clock

Jose de Jesus Cortes Ibanez, Little Village business leader | supplied photo

Jose de Jesus Cortes Ibanez helped get the massive Mexican-made clock that overlooks Little Village working again after it had been stalled for 23 years.

Twenty-five years ago, the clock, installed in the Little Village arch on 26th Street, was presented to Chicago’s Mexican community as a gift from President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. It was made by Mexico’s famed Relojes Centenario company, which turns out large “monumental” timepieces typically housed in churches and clock towers.

Then, “It didn’t run for 23 years. It was the butt of jokes” and there was talk of removing it, said August Sallas, president of the Little Village Community Council.

But taking it down would be “like asking Marshall Field to remove their clock,” said the council’s vice president, Baltazar Enriquez. “We’re one of the few cities in the U.S. to have a Centenario clock.”

Jose de Jesus Cortes Ibanez, who started out as a peddler and rose to be a successful Little Village merchant and real estate investor, was among several business leaders who donated funds to help bring a technician from Mexico to fix the clock in 2014, Sallas said. It took two days of tinkering, but the clock started working again. It’s running a few minutes slow, but still operating, Enriquez said.

He died on April 4, at 71, after a struggle with cancer, Sallas said.

“He didn’t even finish grammar school,” said a friend, Mario Martinez. But through shrewd investing he rose to own commercial properties in Little Village and strip malls in his native Jalisco, Mexico, said Mario Martinez, owner of Violetas Permits and Business Licenses, 3052 W. Cermak Rd.

Jose de Jesus Cortes Ibanez (left) and August Sallas, president of the Little Village Community Council. | supplied photo

Jose de Jesus Cortes Ibanez (left) and August Sallas, president of the Little Village Community Council. | Provided photo

The merchant operated Cortes Ibanez Furniture at 3705 W. 26th St., which sells everything from furniture to CDs and rodeo and Western wear, Enriquez said. “This is the guy you would go to, fresh coming from Mexico, and he would help you get your refrigerator, stove, your essentials,” he said.

“He had dressers, beds, mattresses; he had the whole works,” Sallas said. “He was very enterprising, one of the pioneers, entrepreneuers of Little Village.”

In the 1950s, he arrived in the U.S. from Mexico, Martinez said.

“He started as a steelworker and as a peddler” going door-to-door, Sallas said.

“He sold clothes, he sold CDS, those eight-tracks and cassettes,” Martinez said. “He tried a lot of businesses, but he stuck to the furniture and apparel.

“He also would go to the flea market and sell” on Maxwell Street, Martinez said. “That’s how he got the money to buy his commercial property.”

The business owner dressed down in plaid shirts or “guayabera” shirts, Sallas said. And though he could afford a spiffy car, he drove around in an old green van, friends said.

“He knew if you drive around in a fancy car,” Martinez said, “they charge you more.”

Services have been held.