Joe R. Nevarez dies at 97; former L.A. Times reporter

Joe R. Nevarez, a copy boy turned reporter for the Los Angeles Times who broke barriers as one of the newspaper’s first Mexican American staff writers, died of natural causes Tuesday at his Monterey Park home, according to his daughter Margaret Nevarez. He was 97.

A founding member of the California Chicano News Media Assn., Nevarez joined The Times as a copy boy in 1930 and began earning bylines in the early 1950s as a reporter in the business section. He specialized in coverage of the oil industry and corporate earnings over the next 26 years, until his retirement in 1977.

“Joe Nevarez was a trailblazer for Latino journalists, joining The Times’ staff during a time when Mexican Americans were politically powerless in L.A. and the victims of overt racism and exclusion,” said Frank Sotomayor, a former Times editor who is now a senior fellow at the Institute for Justice and Journalism in Los Angeles.

“In the 1930s and ‘40s, many Mexican Americans referred to themselves as ‘Spanish’ to avoid being stigmatized as an undesirable minority,” Sotomayor said. “But Joe was always proud of his Mexican heritage.”

Nevarez was born in Tepejuanes, Mexico, on Jan. 6, 1912, and moved with his mother to El Paso and later Los Angeles when he was an infant.

Growing up in the Boyle Heights area, he attended Lincoln High School, where he covered sports for the campus newspaper. After graduating in 1930, he entered Frank Wiggins Trade School, now Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, to train as a linotypist. He was an excellent typist but his teacher told him, “Don’t bother, you won’t be hired because you’re Mexican,” his daughter said.

His break came when a high school friend working in The Times’ sports section told him of an opening for a copy boy. Nevarez, then 18, was hired and given the job of assembling the New York Stock Exchange quotations. With the Great Depression underway, he was grateful for the job, which was paid in silver dollars -- $12 for a six-day week.

In 1942, Nevarez was drafted and served in the Army Air Forces at Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, Texas, where he worked as a clerk-typist and wrote for the base newspaper. He later served as a chaplain assistant in the Azores, the Portuguese archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean.

After completing his military duty in 1945, he returned to The Times, where he helped oversee business section layouts as a makeup editor. He also began writing stories. In 1964, he was recognized as a member of The Times’ business staff that earned the Loeb Newspaper Award for distinguished business reporting.

Early in his reporting career, he wrote frequently about new products, including pre-Internet-era computers that could exchange information, vending machines that served hot meals in seconds and an early dishwasher called the Electro-Sink-Center.

Nevarez maintained a fascination with technology until well into his 90s. A few Christmases ago, he requested and received an iPod, which he used to store his favorite music -- everything from Benny Goodman to Donna Summer. But, his daughter said, he never gave up reading the newspaper the old-fashioned way, newsprint in hand.

In addition to his daughter Margaret, Nevarez is survived by his wife of 55 years, Theresa; another daughter, Cecilia Nevarez-Goodman; a son, Daniel; and five grandchildren.

A funeral mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday -- which would have been his 98th birthday -- at St. Stephen Catholic Church, 122 S. Ramona Ave., Monterey Park.

Memorial donations may be sent to the American Legion, Monterey Park Post No. 397, 338 S. Ramona Ave., Monterey Park, CA 91754.