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Southwest Side Dad, Brother Feared Nothing And Used Humor To Encourage Family: ‘It’s A Huge Void That He Left’

Jose Cornejo, who died from COVID-19 at 71, was known for random, simple acts of kindness. He'd chase after a mailwoman so he could give her water on hot summer days — and was always there for his family. “His life mattered."

Jose de Jesus Cornejo, 71, died from COVID-19 on Nov. 21, 2020. His wife, Maria Luisa Cornejo, held their wedding photo at his family's West Elsdon home on Jan. 20, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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Jose Cornejo was a light for his family, using his humor to help them during challenging times.

Cornejo, of West Elsdon, was always optimistic. A problem-solver and a leader, he could find a way to get his relatives out of any situation they were in.

“No obstacle was too big for him. He would find a way around it,” said his sister, Blanca Cornejo. “He was not afraid to push forward. Sometimes we would push back, but he would say, ‘Why are you afraid? Nothing is going to happen.’”

Cornejo was the oldest of eight siblings — and he was there for all of them, his sister said. When their father died two years ago, Cornejo comforted his youngest sister, supporting her and counseling her during one of the hardest times of her life.

The family is now mourning the loss of Cornejo, too. He died from coronavirus Nov. 21. He was 71.

“He was a constant presence in my life, and he was always checking up with me because he knew I was the most emotional one as the youngest,” Blanca Cornejo said. “Even without me asking, he would just go ahead and take care of personal things for me.”


Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Jose de Jesus Cornejo, 71, died from COVID-19 on Nov. 21, 2020. Portraits of Cornejo sit next to his ashes at his family’s West Elsdon home on Jan. 20, 2021.

Even during serious conversations and events, Cornejo brought out the light and made everyone feel better with his personality and comedy.

“He has this sense of humor,” Blanca Cornejo said. “Like you were talking about something serious, and then he would say a phrase or a funny comment. He would just try to pull me out of it with a joke.”

For his relatives, Cornejo was a helping hand in times of need. Blanca Cornejo remembers her big brother aiding their parents as they became older and needed a bit more help.

“He was there every day, just either to keep company or to help,” she said. When you’re an older person, company means more than somebody helping you get up, and he was always there.”

He would walk back and pat the back of my head. It was our sense of humor and how we showed love to each other.”

Lila Cornejo, Jose’s daughter

That spirit extended past Cornejo’s family. He was generous and selfless, his family said, offering his help even to strangers.

“On hot summer days, he would tell me, ‘If you see the mailwoman, let me know,’ and I wasn’t sure what he meant,” said Cornejo’s daughter, Lila Cornejo. “But no, I saw that he was going to get water bottles from the fridge and he would give them to her so she can have it.

“One day she had already passed our house and we missed her. But he ran to the kitchen, he got a bottle of water and he ran across the street to give her a bottle of water.”

Cornejo’s simple and random acts of kindness inspired his daughter, who now tries to pay forward her good fortune, too.

“He was an example because I know I did that this past summer on some hot summer days — I would put Gatorade … and leave it out for” the mailwoman, she said.


Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Jose de Jesus Cornejo, 71, died COVID-19 on Nov. 21, 2020. His wife, Maria Luisa Cornejo, pointed to a photo of the two of them in Mexico at his family’s West Elsdon home on Jan. 20, 2021.

Although Cornejo wasn’t expressive with his emotions and words, he showed how he felt in other ways, Lila Cornejo said.

“We were very playful with each other. That was just the way we got along and how we express our affections,” she said. “He would walk back and pat the back of my head. It was our sense of humor and how we showed love to each other.”

A retired truck driver, Cornejo often kept to himself and found ways to keep his hands and mind busy. He’d learn how to play songs on his keyboard, travel back home to Mexico or do yard work. He enjoyed staying active around his house.

And Cornejo — who was born in Jalisco, Mexico — loved Vicente “Chente” Fernández, old Spanish rock and roll, classical music and Western movies.

“Whenever I hear Vicente Fernandez when I’m driving, I have to put it up because it reminds me of my dad,” Lila Cornejo said. “Sometimes I do little things where I’ll put Western movies on and just close my eyes so I can try to pretend like it’s before he died.”

Cornejo, a father of three, had been married to his wife for nearly 50 years when he died.

His family is keeping alive his spirit with stories, telling people about how generous he was, how he loved music and how he had a playful personality.

“He was a great brother to me and to my siblings. … I don’t know what I would have done without him these past years,” Blanca Cornejo said. “It’s a huge void that he left. It’s not a minor thing. He left and he will always be remembered.

“But I just want people to know that he was here and his life mattered to his family and to his friends.”


Coronavirus was first found in Chicago on Jan. 24, 2020. In the year since, the virus has killed more than 4,500 Chicagoans. Block Club is remembering victims from across the city with our series, A Year of Loss.

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