Muñoz came to the U.S. for the first time at the age of 97, after the death of his wife of 77 years, braving a colder climate to be with the rest of his loved ones. Unable to speak much English, his granddaughter, Myriam Diaz Colón, shared his story and his appreciation for family, hard work and living a fulfilling life.
According to Myriam, it was Feb. 28, 1911, when the mountains of Trujillo Alto welcomed Muñoz, son of Pedro Colón and Eustebia Muñoz Sanjurjo.
“The island was overwhelmed by extreme poverty and ‘Cuchi’s’ home — my grandfather’s nickname — was no exception,” Myriam said.
“He lost his father at a very young age. He was then taken care of by his older brother, Faustino, along with his mother and other siblings until his grandmother, Cheva, remarried and returned home.”
According to Myriam, Muñoz would spend much of his childhood waiting for food, which was not easy to obtain, and playing with a car made from two bottles tied together with a strip made from “maguey” or two lids, which served as wheels and a can of sardines which served as the load.???
“Days went by fast and Juan started developing vocational skills,” she said. “His first job was in the sugarcane industry as a waterman. With a cup made out of gourd and with the water from a well, the young ‘pinche’ (as the waterboy was known by the farmers), distributed water to the tired farmers to settle down the island heat.”
Muñoz was a very hard worker even at a young age and went on to become what his granddaughter refers to as a “cowboy.”
“He would take two oxen, Mamey and Santa Elena, around the fence and to the creek to drink water,” she said. “He would then tie them together so they would carry the cart full of sugarcanes.”
Once the six months of the harvest were done, the sugarcane workers had to search for other ways of making money. That’s when Muñoz, who was now an adolescent, became a milker at the Vaquería Tres Monjitas. He worked tirelessly for $5 a week and often had to do double shifts.
Since he didn’t have a chance to go to school, Muñoz would pay the son of the foreman 50 cents a week to teach him how to read, according to Myriam.
Then he met Leonor, described by Myriam as “his only love, whom he was married to for 77 years and with whom he had eight daughters and seven sons.”
“Juan would get milk in exchange for the coffee Leonor made. Even though she too was young, she showed her culinary skills,” Myriam said.
“Through Leonor’s testimony, Juan knew Christ as his savior. As the family grew and with new challenges, Juan started working for the Urban Renewal and Housing Corporation in Puerto Rico (Corporación de Renovación Urbana y Vivienda) also known as CRUV.”
After working there as a carpenter’s assistant, taking construction materials throughout the island in preparation for the building of public housing, Muñoz retired in 1974.
According to his family, he never missed a day of work, was never even late and spent his time after working hours pushing a cart for miles in search of glass bottles to resell to earn extra money.
“With pride, he can say that he brought up his family through hard work and with eternal values,” Myriam said. “We celebrated his 100th birthday with enormous pride for having such a special father.”
Muñoz also survived seven hurricanes and the devastating earthquake of 1918 which triggered a tsunami and is remembered as one of the worst natural disasters to strike the island. Today, he is surrounded by his family who celebrate his longevity, his life and lighthearted personality.
“We celebrate his love for his family, his sense of humor and his peculiar phrases — some of which are made up — that have no meaning in English,” Myriam said. “He is the center of attraction when the whole family is together and an excellent father figure for us all. We all love him!”
In addition to having 15 children, Muñoz has 30 grandchildren, 44 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.
Three weeks after his birthday, Muñoz passed away on March 20, 2011 with family by his side. He will be buried in Puerto Rico, according to family.