By Melissa Cantu Trevino [email protected]
FREER – At the age of 82, Leonel R. Garza passed away peacefully at his home on Saturday, July 16. Garza’s death struck the hearts of the people of Freer. Garza was the owner of Freer’s Muy Grande Store and the founder of the Muy Grande Deer Contest.
“He will be greatly missed. (Leonel) puts Freer on the map with his Muy Grande contest,” Freer Mayor Arnoldo Cantu said. “No matter which part of the country you went to, people knew Leonel Garza and his Muy Grande Contest… He was a great man. I had known him for many years. He started (his business) small and the has developed into what it is today.
Cantu remembers going to Las Vegas for a car show. When someone asked him where he was from, he proudly said he was from Freer. The person knew exactly where Freer was thanks to the store and Garza’s contest.
Freer is a hunting town and the Garza contest has attracted many celebrities throughout the year like Earl Campbell, Cantu said.
Garza was born in Benavides on July 4, 1940 to his parents, Lazaro H. and Olivia R. Garza. The third child at 13, Leonel’s upbringing included migrant labor in the fields of Texas, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, and Ohio, to name a few. Despite these interruptions in his schooling, he excelled as an athlete in basketball and track and field. Leonel was a two-time Regional Mile Runner Champion for the Benavides Eagles, competing at the state level two years in a row. Leonel graduated in 1959 from Benavides High School.
Upon graduation, Leonel enlisted in the US Marine Corps where he was selected to serve in the “Remington Raiders” as part of Co C (Rein), 4th Recon Bn in the H&S Section. Leonel was honorably discharged in September 1968 as a corporal after serving active duty, as well as in the reserves.
Back in Benavides, he married Elda Garcia on April 27, 1961. Together, they welcomed five daughters. After a short job in Benavides, Leonel, Elda and their family moved to Freer, Tx, where he was promoted to manager of the Center Circle Texaco gas station.
After observing the large groups of hunters that flocked to South Texas during hunting season, Leonel, an avid outdoorsman, founded the Muy Grande Deer Contest in 1965.
Leonel always said, “The deer of southern Texas were as wide as the Rio Grande and as big as the state of Texas,” hence the name Muy Grande.
Today, the Muy Grande is the oldest and largest deer competition in the world. It is estimated that Leonel marked more than 20,000 white-tailed deer heads in his lifetime. Because he was always reaching out, Leonel was often called “the hunter’s friend”.
In 1976 Leonel obtained his real estate license and worked with Broker, Tommy Molina and Duval Real Estate. Leonel sold South Texas ranches for over 40 years and was a breeding consultant for over 50 years. His passion for visiting and exploring the naturally thick habitats of brush and white-tailed deer never waned as it was instilled in him as a child by his father who repaired windmills and horseshoes. on the many ranches in South Texas. One sunny day, Leonel noticed a steer eating beans on a mesquite tree and came up with the perfect South Texas camouflage pattern. Leonel took many pictures of mesquite tree branches shaking their mesquite beans on the ground in the wind. He knew the importance of these mesquite beans for the diet and energy source of white-tailed deer. His creativity allowed the birth of the Muy Grande Camo, a camouflaged pattern he designed in 2015.
Leonel’s love for the outdoors was only surpassed by the love he had for his family and his community. He was selfless and always put others first. He is committed to serving his community through many civic organizations in Freer, including the Freer School Board, Freer Sportsman’s Club, Freer Lions Club, and Freer Chamber of Commerce. Leonel was a founding member of the Duval County Groundwater Conservation District. He was also honored as Freer’s Citizen of the Year in 1973. In 1975 he was recognized for his contribution and support as an active outdoor sportsman by the Tejas Rod and Gun Club of San Antonio.
Leonel published books with collections of hunting stories and photos of his hunting friends and deer contest winners. In 1983, he published his first book, the “Légende du Muy Grande”. In 1991, Leonel published a follow-up book, the “Legend of the Muy Grande – The search continues 1984-1990”. Leonel was a mastermind in creating outdoor videos and in 1987 he produced his first hunting video, the “Légende du Muy Grande”. In 1989, a second video was created, “In Search of the Muy Grande”. Then, in 1999, Leonel picked up a video camera and began his quest to capture his own images of white-tailed deer in their bush environment. He would then go on to create and produce three more hunting videos, the “Legend of the Muy Grande, Part II”, the “Legend of the Muy Grande Part III – The Battle for Love and Life” and the “Legend of the Muy Big Part IV – Bigger, Badder and More Points.
As his passion for the outdoors continued, he began to receive many accolades. In 1985 and 1995, the town of Freer signed a proclamation honoring Leonel MUY Garza and the Muy Grande Deer Contest for its 25th and 35th anniversaries as well as for the contributions the contest had made to the town. Leonel and Elda have been recognized twice at the Texas State Capitol by the House of Representatives and once in the Texas Senate for the impact the Muy Grande has had on white-tailed deer hunting in Texas. On June 11, 2011, “Muy Grande Day” was declared and proclaimed at the annual deer competition awards ceremony on behalf of the town of Freer. On July 22, 2017, a proclamation was announced as “Leonel R. (MUY) Garza Day” by the Rio Grande Valley. That year, Leonel also received the Gene Riser Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Texas Deer Association. At the 45th Annual Muy Grande Awards Ceremony, Leonel received a bronze deer head bust from Bill Carter and all South Texas Hunters for his dedication and success in the hunting industry. stag. On the 50th anniversary, Leonel was again recognized by the city of Freer and presented with a Texas flag which flew over the state capitol as a commemorative gift from the Texas House of Representatives. On June 25, 2022, Leonel was inducted into the Muy Grande Hall of Fame as the 50th inductee.
Leonel is survived by his dearest wife of 61 years, Elda G. Garza, five beloved daughters, eight sisters, three brothers, 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Benefits are pending.