Perhaps it was his destiny as a middle child, but Carlo Castillejos was a natural peacemaker.
“He was a humble, quiet, very observant soul, who always had the pulse of the room,” said his wife, Megan Castillejos. “He understood what was needed, whether it was a little humor or conversation.”
Raised in Fridley after his parents moved from their native Philippines, Castillejos had a winning smile that could disarm neighbors and classmates in the mostly white suburb or cool the mood of a heated family disagreement.
“He was able to build bridges with everyone,” said his younger brother, Cesar. “Within friends, within the family, protecting me from my older sister or buffering my sister from our dad, he was the balance.”
Castillejos, of Minneapolis, died Aug. 8 of still-unknown causes after collapsing during a game of pickleball. He was 44.
Castillejos had been married just about five years, having met his wife on a dating site through Facebook. Castillejos took his future wife to a Timberwolves game on their first date, and nearly two years later married her under a full moon in October 2016.
Soon Castillejos was immersed in fatherhood, with two sons, Quincy, now nearly 3, and Wilder, 1 ½.
He was a playful and patient parent, said Megan, a nurse whose schedule didn’t allow the work-from-home flexibility of her husband’s two bookkeeping jobs.
He knew how to tickle the exact spot to get the biggest giggle, Megan said. And he could read the boys’ moods just like he could read a room.
“Everyone’s melting down,” she said, “and he knew how to switch gears and make them laugh.”
His parents, Fe and Cesar Castillejos, arrived from Manila in 1974 to join his father’s sister, who was attending medical school at the University of Minnesota.
All three siblings attended Fridley High School, with Carlo graduating from St. Olaf College with a degree in economics.
Growing up, Castillejos could often be found hitting a tennis ball against the garage door, said his brother, whom many people called “JR” but Carlo called, “J.”
Castillejos later picked up racquetball, challenging co-workers in his downtown office to competitive games.
After fitness centers were shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, Castillejos became an instant devotee of pickleball, a sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and pingpong. He spent hours studying online videos and mastering certain moves, his wife said. Sometimes the whole family went to the courts so the boys could chase the ball around.
Older sister Tina Rexing, founder of T-Rex Cookies, said her brother had faith in her even when she didn’t have it herself.
While she was wrestling with leaving her corporate job at Target Corp., he printed up “Tina’s Cookie Company” magnets before she even had a company. He helped her stay grounded when demand for her giant cookies soared after an appearance on “The Today Show.”
“He was the first one to push me forward to get press,” she said. “It was never about him. He always reflected back to you. We’re finding out now how important he was as the one who brought us all together.”
While the cause of Castillejos’ death has not been determined, his family is urging the public to learn CPR or to brush up on the technique every few years.
“Even if you think you know,” said his wife, “it’s good to refresh.”
Services have been held.