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Tuesday, Apr. 28, 1998

Eloy Bernal's love of music recalled

Crowd of 1,000 gathers to say goodbye to musician

By MARY LEE GRANT
Staff Writer

   KINGSVILLE -- At the funeral of Tejano star Eloy Bernal on Monday, flowers in the shape of the instrument he played, the bajo sexto, stood by his casket while his family played the music he loved for a crowd of more than 1,000 mourners.
   Bernal, 61, was killed after his band's bus left Farm-to Market Road 665 less than a mile east of Petronila late Wednesday.
   His daughter, Rita Bernal, 23, and his son Edward Bernal, 27, were injured in the crash. Both were members of his band, Conjunto Bernal.
   Rita Bernal sat quietly in the pew, her arm in a sling, and vowed to carry on her father's mission.
   ``Dad set a wonderful example for me,'' Rita Bernal said. ``To serve Jesus and to use the talent he had to praise the Lord. I will carry on his work. This makes it even stronger for me. He was a great musician and he gave his life to serve Jesus.''
   Bernal's wife, Esther, sat beside her daughter, remembering Bernal.
   ``I'm going to miss him so much,'' she said.``He used his life to give to everybody and to work for the Lord and the salvation of others.''
   Bernal, who made his name playing conjunto music in the dance halls of South Texas, turned to religion 20 years ago and switched from Tejano music to gospel.
   Rita Bernal sang a song she said would appear on the group's next compact disc, ``Verdadero Amor,'' for the crowd gathered at the First Assembly of God Church. It was standing room only, with the overflow crowd filling an auditorium next door, and watching the funeral on a large screen.
   The funeral was part concert, part revival.
   Paulino Bernal, Eloy's brother, preached to the crowd
   ``Satan brings us sickness and death and drugs and gangs, but God can set you free,'' he said in Spanish, as the crowed stood up and applauded.
   He described Conjunto Bernal's trip to Vietnam, the first Hispanic group to entertain Hispanic troops in wartime. He told how a U.S. Army captain guided him and his brother through a field riddled with land mines, and said how Jesus can guide people through their lives in the same way.
   ``Raise your hand if you want Jesus to come into your heart,'' he said as hands went up throughout the crowd.
   Paulino Bernal was one of the original members of Conjunto Bernal. He and Eloy walked from bar to bar in Kingsville as children, with Paulino playing the accordion and Eloy playing his 12-string guitar, the bajo sexto, to help make money for their family.
   Paulino Bernal picked up his accordion again at the funeral and McAllen musician Ricardo Mejia played Eloy Bernal's bajo sexto as they sang ``Espera on Jehovah.''
   After the service, mourners remembered the man and his music.
   ``There never will be anyone like him,'' said Pio Trevino, a Kingsville Tejano musician. ``No one played the bajo sexto like he did. We have all tried to imitate him, but no one has succeeded.''
   Bernal is survived by his wife, Esther B. Bernal of Kingsville; two daughters, Rita Bernal and Martha De La Rosa, both of Kingsville; and three sons, Xavier Bernal and Eddie Bernal, both of Kingsville, and Mark Bernal of Phoenix, Ariz.; his mother, Guadalupe Bernal of Beeville; three sisters, Elvira Urquizo of Beeville, Julia De Russe of Beeville and Lupe Benson of Ricardo; two brothers, Paulino Bernal of McAllen and Luis Bernal of Kingsville; and 12 grandchildren.

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