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Obituary for James ‘Jimmy’ Placencia Castañeda

November 27, 1928 – July 12, 2023

James “Jimmy” Placencia Castañeda of Racine, Wis., passed away suddenly on July 12, 2023, at his residence. He was 94 years old. Known to most as Jim or Jimmy, he was born to parents Pablo and Francisca Castañeda on Nov. 27, 1928, in Pearsall, Texas, the firstborn of ten children.

James “Jimmy” Placencia Castañeda
James “Jimmy” Placencia Castañeda

In the 1940s, the Castañeda family worked during the spring to fall seasons migrating north, harvesting the many crops from Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, and ending in Minnesota. At age 17, Jimmy made the decision to remain in Racine to seek regular employment. As he was the eldest, his mother decided that their whole family would stay in Racine.

During the late 1940s, there was a sizable Mexican and Tejano (Texans of Mexican descent) population between Chicago and Milwaukee. On weekends there were many dancing halls featuring bands and orchestras. Jimmy loved to dance. Often, he and his friends would go to the dance halls. His friends would drink at the bar and he would dance. One night he met his future wife at a dance. She was with her musician brother and their aunt as chaperones.

In 1950, Jimmy was drafted into the army to serve in the Korean War, and after training, he married his favorite dancing partner, Helen Juarez of Racine at Holy Name (now St. Richards) in 1951. He was shipped out to the front later that year. Ultimately, he served as Staff Sergeant and Tank Commander with the 179th Tank Company, 45th Infantry Division of the Oklahoma National Guard. In July of 1952, his tank came under heavy artillery and he was wounded. By October 1952, he had recovered from his injuries and received an honorable discharge. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until 2005 that the U.S. Military finally agreed to award him a Purple Heart.

After Korea, Jimmy pursued and apprenticed as a machinist, studied some college courses related to the trade, and eventually became a Tool and Die maker. He went on to work at American Motors/Chrysler in Kenosha, Wis.While at American Motors, during the 1960s, he noticed he was the only person of color in all of the skilled trades. He and another man compiled a list of qualified Hispanic and African Americans who had submitted applications but were never accepted.

Jimmy told a reporter about the situation and asked him to join him at the next union meeting. When the reporter asked the union officer why there were so few people of color in the trades, the reply was, “No one has applied!” Jimmy stood up and gave the list of qualified candidates to the union officer. Of course, the incident appeared in the newspaper, and American Motors was not pleased! Years later, Jim was awarded the AMC Ambassador of the Year Award, along with a few other recipients, for his community service. He and Helen were flown to Detroit to accept the award.

Many years later, American Motors asked Jim to assist in developing bilingual plans to help non-English speakers learn trade skills. He was given a leave of absence to help associate degree students learn about machine trades and how to use the tools.

Jimmy was active in many community activities. In the 1950s and 1960s, he and Helen spent many years working with recently arriving Hispanic immigrants for the Catholic Missions at St. Lucy’s Church. Jim was a member of Racine’s Southside Revitalization Committee, an advisor to Congressman Les Aspin, and a member of the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights (Racine).

He was also a board member of the Racine Spanish Center, a member of Mexican American Political and Educational Committee, the Latin Business Group of Racine, a board member of the Urban League, and various other organizations. In the mid-1970s, Jim was the manager of ARCO Manufacturing. On Nov. 7, 2013, Jimmy and Helen were awarded Hispanic Family of the Year from United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS). After Jimmy and Helen retired, they traveled the world together, visiting many countries over the years.

Jimmy played baseball when his children were young and he was instrumental in informing a Hispanic youth baseball team in Racine. He had also been an active member in senior bowling leagues for many years (including this past season), and his recent bowling average of 125 was amazing considering his age and sight challenges. He loved golfing. He was an expert dart ball player, even with limited eyesight. On July 4 of this year, Jimmy beat one of his many grandsons in a cornhole competition.

Jim loved spending time with family and friends and loved to share his passion for music. He would break out his guitar (ukulele, accordion, or keyboard) and sing whenever he had the chance. He loved playing with family members and friends. Jim also loved to dance! Jimmy and Helen were winning dance competitions on cruises when they were in their eighties! They taught their friends and their children to dance Mexican folk dances on stages throughout Racine County.

In his later years, Jimmy would tell everyone, “Whatever you do, don’t get old.” He certainly didn’t pay attention to his own words, living a long and fulfilling life! James P Castañeda is survived by his loving wife, Helen, of Racine, and his nine children: Marie Christina Castañeda (Greg Padgett) of Wind Point, Wis., Bob Castañeda (Nancy Forbes Castañeda) of Racine, David Castañeda (Kathy Floch-Castañeda) of Racine, Tony Castañeda of Madison, Wis., Lucy Castañeda Esterson (Scott Esterson) of Agoura Hills, Calif., Patricia Castañeda Tucker (Michael J Tucker) of Madison, Tim Castañeda of Ocala, Fla., Mark Castañeda (Priti Misra-Castañeda) of Dania Beach, Fla., and Laura Castañeda of Oak Creek, Wis.

Jim’s surviving siblings are: Margie Ramirez, Paul Castañeda (Lupe), Jesse Castañeda (Marta), Mary Malacara (Castañeda), Louisa Adsit (Castañeda), Rudy Castañeda (Rosa), and Yolanda Castañeda.

There are over 25 beloved grandchildren: Emily Ross (Tony), Christian Castañeda (Leni), Sarah Castañeda (Jim Wiggs), Katie Castañeda (Jaime Garcia) and Amber Parker; Anna Castañeda (Kurt Weiss), James Castañeda (Kayla Johnson Castañeda), Alissa Castañeda, Joseph Castañeda; Justice Castañeda, Sonja Castañeda-Norman (Daniel), Airto Castañeda-Cudney, Jonah Castañeda-Barry, Feliz Castañeda and Christina Will and Scarlet Verdico; Carina Meyer (Bret), Michelle Poss (Jeff), Maya Tucker and Michael Tucker; Timothy Castañeda, Arisel Castañeda, Nino Castañeda, and Chris Lugo; Francisco Castañeda, Khushboo Castañeda; Gabriela Martin (Gabe), Madeline Hutchinson, Hannah Hutchinson, and 25 adorable great-grandchildren.

He is further survived by a special family friend, Ron Salinas of Madison. Jimmy was preceded in death by his parents; Pablo and Francisca Castañeda, and siblings, Victoria (Vicky) Barela and Micaela (Micky) Jimenez.


A Mass of Christian Burial for James will be held at St. Richard Catholic Church, 1503 Grand Ave., Racine, on Monday, July 24, 2023, at 10:30 a.m. Visitation will be at the church on Sunday, July 23, from 4 to 6 p.m., and also Monday from 9 a.m. until the time of Mass. Interment with Military Honors will take place at Holy Cross Cemetery, Highway 32, following Mass.

In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin, 1624 Yout Street, Racine, WI 53404.

Obituary and photo courtesy of Draeger-Langendorf Funeral Home.

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