Family, friends remember man's kindness, devotion to others

The church was packed. More than 700 people gathered in the pews as Bobby Cantu's family walked down the aisle to take their seats before a photo of Cantu surrounded by flowers.

Cantu died at 34 years old Monday morning after his truck veered across state Highway 185, striking a tractor-trailer.

He left a devoted family and many friends stunned by his sudden death, but Saturday morning, the people who knew him gathered at Parkway Baptist Church to remember his life.

As the family settled into their pew at the front of the church, a musician stepped forward, and the sweet sounds of acoustic guitar filled the room.

"We're not even going to ask the 'why' question on the timing of Bobby's life," Senior Pastor Mike Hurt told the congregation, going on to describe a man who was full of life and devoted to his family and friends.

"It's sad that Nick will have to live his life without his dad, but it's not sad to have Bobby Cantu as a role model for him to look up to," he said.

Cantu had a close-knit group of friends, the men he had grown up with, going hunting and fishing and drinking beer and enjoying life. With this group, he grew from a boy with a wide, ready smile into a man who still flashed a smile that seemed to take in the whole world when he threw his arms around his friends and took a photo. They stood at the front of the church Saturday morning, sharing stories about their friend.

"He was unselfish, giving, compassionate, a good-hearted person," friend Shane Higdon said. "He was one of those people that could make a friend anytime, anywhere. And he had so many."

Growing up, Jason Swoap remembered Cantu as the guy who always had his back. If Swoap got into a fight, Cantu was right there, ready to leap in and help him.

Even as the two got older and life took them different places, Cantu always made a point of calling and visiting. He took his friendships seriously, so he never let them simply fade into a memory, Swoap said. His whole family was like that, making him the kind of person who could meet a person and make them feel like they'd been friends their whole lives, he said.

"One thing I take away from this - even though I'm still having a hard time understanding why - is that you never know how long you've got," he said. "I'll never stop looking down the driveway, waiting for him to drive up."

Standing at the microphone, friend David George told how Cantu loved jokes. In high school, he and his older brother, Charlie Cantu, would turn George's Volkswagen Beetle sideways in its parking spot, cackling with laughter after they'd done it. Once, at the Riverside Park duck pond, George opened his car door to find a duck standing there, looking back at him from the front seat. He knew who'd done it immediately and turned to find Cantu doubled over with laughter.

They'd grown up together, he said, moving from being the practical-joke-loving, rough-and-tumble guys they'd been into another part of life, George said. Cantu's life changed at the birth of his son, Nicholas Cantu, 9, and he was devoted to his son. Cantu was engaged to Cortney Davis and entering a different part of his life when the accident ended it.

"I don't know why this happened to Bobby. He was just starting the best times of his life. Guess he was a wanted man in heaven," George said.

"I've never seen someone who could love so much and give so much and be the person he was and never get anything out of it," Cody Copenhaver said.

Cantu and his brother teased and taught their stepbrother Blake Mead the way older brothers are supposed to, Mead remembered.

Cantu loved fishing and hunting, and he lived for NASCAR, his friends agreed, and he was devoted to his family.

As a goalie for the soccer team, Cantu always longed to actually make a goal. Once, he ran from the goal box all the way across the field and scored a goal, one of his proudest moments, friend Ricky Cruz said.

But his proudest moment was the birth of his son, Nicholas Cantu, Cruz said. His friends echoed this when they took their turn at the podium.

"You can tell what type of person he was because everybody's here. He did something right. He touched a lot of people," Cruz said.

Charlie Cantu, Cantu's older brother agreed. He was two years older than Cantu, and the two fought and roughhoused, but there was never any doubt they loved each other, he said.

He acknowledged he's still reeling from his brother's death, and he told the audience to keep in mind how unpredictable life is and how important it is not to go to bed angry, since you never know when something like this will happen.

"If five people in this audience leave here and change their lives or call someone they haven't talked to in three or four years and say they're sorry, he'll already have started his work," he said.