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Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Michelle Maloney, left, comforts Georgia Maloney during a wake Monday for John Manuel Renteria at Centro Civico Mexicano. The wake also served as a voter registration drive.

In a gymnasium at the Centro Civico Mexicano, a room filled with people from across the racial spectrum paid tribute to community activist John Manuel Renteria.

He was remembered by the group as a prankster, a free spirit, an activist for the voiceless and an advocate for voting.

Mike Romero knew Renteria from their undergraduate days at the University of Utah. He said Renteria did things in a unique way — how he wanted. Romero said he felt pressured to finish college in four years but Renteria had a different approach.

"He did college on his own time," Romero said. "He was his own man."

Romero also admired Renteria because he had a "zest for life" and made all people feel welcome, the popular and unpopular alike.

Another admirer was Bob Flores another U. graduate. Flores said Renteria was a tireless worker for what he believed in.

"He never stopped working for the community," Flores said.

As photos of Renteria passed on a screen to music that he composed and sang, people continued to give tribute.

Longtime friend Archie Archuleta said Renteria was a legendary dancer with a lot of fight and life in him.

"He was always pulling practical jokes," Archuleta said.

Renteria's sister, Teresa Lyman, recalled when she was living in Idaho and Renteria was supposed to visit her but never showed up.

When she finally got in touch with him he said he was at a party with Bruce Willis and Demi Moore. She told him not to leave the party with such stars present. She found out later he pulled a fast one.

"I was the gullible one," Lyman said. "He was a good brother. I'm going to miss him."

Renteria's aunt, Paula Perri, tearfully recalled how he was always there to pick her up from the airport when she visited from Alabama, but lamented he will no longer be there to retrieve her and take around the Salt City.

"I still cannot believe he is gone," Perri said

Though he is gone, Renteria's sister Gloria said he is looking down at the fuss made for him and is playfully scoffing. She said she learned from her brother how important it is to give back to the community and is certain he would be "proud of me" because of her work at the Fourth Street Clinic.

His brother Jose Luis said Renteria was the same with family as he was with politics, but if there was bad blood, he would never hold a grudge.

The wake served not just as a memorial service, but also as a voter registration drive. Community leaders said Renteria was constantly trying to get people to register to vote and then compelling them to vote.


E-mail: lwilde@desnews.com