Biography of John R. Cervantes

John R. Cervantes was born in Mexico on October 17, 1915. His family risked the uncertainties of illegal immigration to come to the United States when he was a young child. They worked in the fields of Texas and Montana before establishing a home in Moline, Illinois in 1925. Here John found a warm, nurturing environment that made him feel like a real, proud and happy American.

Jack, as he was called, participated in many activities while a student at Moline HS including drama club, oratory and glee club, the football team, and intramural basketball. He became a cheerleader following a football injury. He dreamed of acquiring a college education but those dreams were dimmed when during his senior year he lost his father to pneumonia. Jack was the oldest of seven children and the death of his father left the family with little means of financial support.

With an excellent academic record and the help of scholarships from several Moliners and from the Mary Little Deere Chapter of the DAR, Jack attended Augustana College in Rock Island for two years before transferring to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1938 and a master’s degree in romance languages in 1939.

In 1943 Jack became an American citizen, joined the United States Army Air Force and served in the Pacific Ocean theater during World War II. He married, started a family, and moved to Los Angeles where he enjoyed a distinguished 35-year career in education as a master teacher, counselor and coordinator. He and his wife Mildred encouraged their children to appreciate the value of education, and all eight of their children attended college.

Jack loved Moline and returned often to visit family and friends. He wrote three books, including My Moline, a Young Illegal Immigrant Dreams* in which he recounted his memories of growing up in that city. John died in his home at the age of 93 on January 1, 2009 just months after he and his wife Mildred celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. His wife preceded him in death in October. This wonderful man, who was once a struggling, illegal immigrant, truly lived the American dream! The John R. “Jack” Cervantes Memorial Scholarship Fund fulfills another dream of John Cervantes to repay those who helped him.

* Available in the Moline High School Library