Martin Morales

November 11, 1928 - August 8, 2016
Grand Rapids, MI



Saturday, August 13, 2016
10:00 AM to 11:00 AM EDT
St. James Catholic Church
733 Bridge St
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
(616) 458-3065


Saturday, August 13, 2016
11:00 AM EDT
St. James Catholic Church
733 Bridge St. NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
(616) 458-3065


At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.

GRCC Foundation: Cesar E. Chavez Hispanic Scholarship Fund
143 Bostwick Ave NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
(616) 234-3939
Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


A hardworking, honest, and courageous man, Martin Morales made a significant impact in the world around him in numerous ways. He was well-known in his community and highly respected among all who knew him. Although he accomplished so much of which to be proud, Martin was a humble man who lived to serve others in ways both great and small. A loving husband and father, he was filled with unspeakable joy to witness his family tree blossom to include the grandchildren and great-grandchildren who were his greatest source of pride and joy. Life will never be the same without Martin here, but he leaves behind a timeless legacy that his family will proudly carry on in his footsteps.

It seems only fitting that Martin’s journey began during a time that was as vibrant as he was. It was the Roaring Twenties when innovation was transforming the way we lived our everyday lives. Radios, washing machines, and refrigerators became part of our homes while cars that were mass produced on assembly lines became more affordable for the average American. It was as this decade was coming to a close that Benito and Josefina (Morales) Rivera were eagerly awaiting the birth of their new baby as November dawned in Rio Grande City, Texas. Their wait was over when the baby boy they named Martin Rivera was born on November 11, 1928. He was one of six children as he was joined in his family by his siblings, Caralanpi, Rogelio, Elvia, Jaime, and Lydia. For the most part Martin experienced an upbringing that was fairly typical for the youth of his generation.

Even from a young age Martin was a person of integrity. He joined the military as a teen and honorably served on a bomb squad during WWII. An agent of change, Martin began working as an advocate within the Latino community during the civil rights era, and he never slowed down. Much of his efforts were focused on the hiring of Latino police officers, firefighters, city and administrators. He led protests about the unequal distribution of government funds, and his voice was instrumental in creating and leading the Latin American Council. Also in his community, Martin was an integral part of changes in the education system as he fought for bilingual education and supporting Latino students within the public school system. He was also instrumental in the process that resulted in hiring the first two bilingual teachers into Grand Rapids Public Schools in 1971 when Juan Olivarez and Rosanna Rodriguez came on board. In addition, Martin worked with the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids to foster relationships with local farm workers. With a desire to serve his community on a different level, he ran for city mayor in 1991.

Most people may know Martin best as a longtime business owner in the Grand Rapids area. Little Mexico has been a staple in the Grand Rapids for more nearly 38 years, and the restaurant has flourished under his leadership. Although Martin was successful, it was his commitment to truly serve his patrons that made Little Mexico a cut above.

A blessing in the lives of everyone he met, Martin Morales was the sort of man who made the world a better place. He was a humble person who worked tirelessly within the Grand Rapids area, not for his own gain, rather, his work was always focused on helping others in great ways. A man of faith, Martin was the rock in his family and a devoted husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather whose love for his family was easy to see. Deeply loved, he will be forever missed.

MORALES- Mr. Martin Morales aged 87, of Grand Rapids, went to be with his Lord on August 8, 2016. He was preceded in death by his parents, Martin and Josefina “Chepa” Morales and two brothers, Caralanpio and Rogelio. Martin is survived by his loving wife of 30 years, Dawn Berenyi; children, Sarita (Ralph) Shinn, Joseph Morales, Pamela (Mark, deceased) Miller, Carmen Morales, Kimberly Martinzez and Martina Morales; 11 grandchildren; and many great-grandchildren. Also surviving are his siblings, Elvia Olivarez, Jaime Rivera, and Lydia (Richard) Cortez; special niece, Nina Lee; many other nieces, nephews and special friends. Martin was a US Army veteran who served during WWII. He was the founder and owner of Little Mexico CafĂ©, a Civil Rights and Political Activist, Humanitarian and Philanthropist. A Memorial Service will be held at 11 AM, with visitation from 10-11, on Saturday, August 13, 2016 at St. James Catholic Church, 733 Bridge St. NW. In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory may be made to the Martin Morales Scholarship Fund C/O Grand Rapids Community College. Please visit to read his lifestory, archive a memory, photo, or sign the guestbook online.