LOGAN SQUARE — Whether teaching fitness classes at local gyms or hanging out with loved ones, Ron Mendoza was the life of the party. He had a knack for making the people around him laugh, his family and friends said.
“If you were sad, he’d make you happy. If you were crying, he’d make you full of joy. Every room he walked in, he brought this shine. A big old shine around him — that was Ronny,” his mother, Mary A. Hernandez, said.
Despite the rain and humidity, some 75 mourners gathered Friday evening at Pulaski Road and Wrightwood Avenue to remember Mendoza, a 43-year-old fitness instructor killed while riding his bike in the Logan Square intersection last month.
Mendoza was riding around 11:30 p.m. June 5 in the 2600 block of North Pulaski Road when a driver heading south hit him, police said.
The 43-year-old was taken to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in critical condition. He died from his injuries two days later, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Mendoza is at least the second bicyclist killed by a driver in Chicago this year. Rick Lomas, a 31-year-old handyman who was reportedly working on getting his U.S. citizenship, died May 7 after a driver hit him in Humboldt Park near the California Clipper.
A GoFundMe launched by Jacqueline Hines had raised more than $20,000 for Mendoza’s family as of Wednesday morning.
“We will miss his light, and incredible energy every day. Ron brought joy to everyone and helped so many people during his lifetime. His death is a tremendous loss to all of his communities,” Hines wrote.
Mendoza had a passion for fitness and taught classes at various gyms in the area, including Movement and We, The Collective Fitness, his cousin, Crystal Mondane, said.
The Chicago native rode his bike just about every day to and from work and to meet up with friends and family in his free time, his cousin and mother said.
“He had a car, but rarely rode in a car. His thing was riding on a bike because he was free, he was free from pain,” his mother said.
Mendoza was full of energy at work and in his personal life. He was known for throwing big parties at his longtime Humboldt Park apartment — nicknamed The Pink Palace for its notoriety — and finding goofy ways to make people laugh, his loved ones said.
His former roommate, Angie, said after making his bed every day he’d put his stuffed animal in a funny position, as if the toy were dancing or relaxing, to get a laugh out of her.
At parties and family gatherings, he’d “dance his butt off,” but he was also kind and caring whenever someone in his life needed sound advice, which gained him many friends over the years, Mondane said.
At least 100 people came to the hospital to see Mendoza after he was critically injured in the crash, she said.
“They tried to kick us out of the hospital. I don’t think they ever saw so many people at a hospital before,” Mondane said.
Mondane said Mendoza was on the way home from Monday night dinner, a tradition with their cousin, Edgar, when he was struck by the driver.
The driver told responding officers Mendoza ran a red light leading up to the crash, but there is no evidence for that claim in initial police reports, according to Streetsblog.
“He was everything, everything,” Mondane said of her cousin, her voice beginning to crack. “He was so loving. He never judged anybody, no matter what. It didn’t matter if you were rich, you were poor, you were homeless. He had a heart of gold, and we’re going to miss him so much.”
Wearing commemorative T-shirts and clutching balloons, Mondane and dozens of other grief-stricken family members and friends on Friday filled the sidewalk near where Mendoza was struck as cycling advocates installed a white-painted “ghost bike” honoring the avid cyclist.
As skies darkened overhead, the group recited a prayer, then took turns adding red flowers to the bike.
The clouds parted briefly and Hernandez and others smiled and waved at the sky, a moment of hope in an otherwise heart-wrenching scene.
“Right now, he’s riding up there to heaven. … He’s going to take care of his little brother,” Hernandez told the group.
Mendoza’s younger brother, Jesus, was killed in a shooting in Chicago a couple of years ago, Hernandez said.
After short remarks and adding flowers to the ghost bike, Hernandez and the group went to a parking lot across the street to release white and red balloons into the sky in further tribute to Mendoza.
Heavy rain began to fall, but the group stayed put and let go of their dampened balloons, their eyes fixed on the red and white orbs drifting into the darkening sky.
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