Private Family Services
L. Joe Arenas, 94, from Galveston, passed away on June 30, 2020 in Needville, Texas. He was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on December 12, 1925.
Joe graduated from Lincoln High School in Nebraska and then joined the Marines in 1944. He participated in the invasion of Iwo Jima where he was wounded in 1945, spent 20 months in VA hospitals and later was awarded the purple heart. It was one of the worst battles in Marine Corp History.
He started college at the University of Nebraska where he played basketball for the Cornhuskers. He transferred to Omaha University to play college football from 1947 to 1950 where he was chosen MVP in 1948. During the 1949 season he led Omaha in both rushing and passing yards. He opened the 1950 football season by throwing three touchdown passes in a 33-7 win over Nebraska Wesleyan. He also played basketball and was the team’s leading scorer in 1950. He graduated with a B.S. Degree in Education from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO).
Joe was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the 8th round of the 1951 NFL Draft as a kick returner and running back. He played seven seasons in San Francisco from 1951 to 1957 with such players as Bob St. Clair; Quarterback Y.A. Tittle; and Rice star Dicky Maegle. On December 16, 1951 he knocked the Detroit Lions out of the NFL division championship with 51-yard punt return. He led the NFL with 814 kick and punt return yards in 1951, and also led the NFL in yards per touch in both 1951 (13.1 yards per touch) and 1955 (11.1 yards per touch). In December 1956 two long returns by Joe helped the 49ers beat the Baltimore Colts 30-17. The Associated Press coverage of the game opened by noting, “Little Joe Arenas, who earlier returned a kickoff 96 yards, returned a punt 68 for San Francisco’s winning touchdown.” After the game, 49ers coach Frank Albert said of Arenas, “He’s the greatest clutch artist I’ve ever seen.”
In seven years in the NFL, Joe accumulated 987 rushing yards, 675 passing yards, 774 punt return yards, 3,798 kick return yards, 17 touchdowns, and six interceptions. Over the course of his career, he averaged 27.3 yards per kick return, a figure that remains ninth best in NFL history. His 4,572 career kick and punt return yards was the best in NFL history at the time of his retirement. In 1970 he was inducted into the UNO Athletic Hall of Fame. In 1977 he was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame. In 2000 he was inducted into Laredo Latin American International Sports Hall of Fame. He was also Awarded the Helms Hall Hall of Fame award for noteworthy achievement of Inner Collegiate Athletics in Football.
After retiring from the 49ers, he covered the team for the San Francisco Call-Bulletin during the 1958 season. He also worked as a salesman and public relations man for Schilling & Co., a coffee company.
For 23 years, from 1963 to 1986, Arenas was an assistant football coach for the University of Houston Cougars football team under College Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Yeoman. He worked with the special teams and receivers at the University of Houston and developed such NFL receiving talents as Riley Odom and Carl Hilton.
He met physical therapist, Maxine Brynston, while receiving treatment at the VA Hospital in Houston. The two fell in love and in 1967 they were married. Joe worked as a volunteer coach at Rice University from 1987 to 1988. From 1991 until at least 2002, he served as an unpaid volunteer coach with the Ball High School football team in Galveston.
Joe worked in property management in both Houston and Galveston while volunteering at Rice University and Ball High School.
Joe and his family spent many summer vacations in Mexico; either in Laredo or San Miguel. Later he and Maxine traveled to Kerville, Texas on vacation and even owned property there at one time.
Joe is proceeded in death by his wife, Maxine Arenas; father, Leonard Arenas Sr.; mother, Catalina Arenas; brothers, Leonard Jr., Augustine, Mike, and John Arenas; sister, Eulalia (Nellie) Ortiz and grandson, Charles R. Ritter, Jr.
Joe is survived by brother, Kenneth Arenas and sister, Lena Martinez of Nebraska; his daughters, Tracey Arenas of California, Vicki Ritter of Texas; grandsons, Jacob Mio of California, John Rubio of Texas; great-grandsons, Jason Ritter, Charles R. Ritter III, Maxx Sosa, Michael Sosa of Texas; great-granddaughter, Alysha Ritter of Texas and numerous nieces and nephews in the Arenas family.
He will be laid to rest next to his wife, Maxine, in Old Catholic Cemetery in Galveston, Texas.