Atwater Councilman Joe Rivero dies at age 75

Joe Rivero, a member of Atwater's City Council and former Merced County supervisor, died just after 3 Thursday afternoon, according to the Stanislaus County Coroner's Office.

The cause of death is unknown. He was taken to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto. He was 75.

"We just got confirmation that Joe has passed," said Greg Wellman, Atwater city manager and long-time colleague of Rivero. "We are just all very much in shock right now."

Ed Abercrombie, a former member of the Atwater City Council now living in Oklahoma, said Rivero was always working for Atwater and Merced. For 20 years they have been friends, said Abercrombie. The last time they spoke was on election night just after Rivero learned that his son had been elected.

"Joe was my best friend," said Abercrombie. "Joe was a guy that had the biggest heart of anybody you had ever seen."

Congressman Dennis Cardoza, who worked with and knew Rivero for years, said Rivero loved his community as passionately as anyone he ever knew. "He was always trying to do the right thing for his community," said Cardoza.

Rivero lived in Atwater since 1960 and taught elementary school for more than three decades.

Rivero was elected to the Merced County Board of Supervisors in 1995, a position he held until 2002. He was elected to the Atwater City Council in 2006.

Even early Thursday morning he was at the Merced County Administration Building, perhaps on city business.

Rivero is survived by three sons, Jeff, Joe and John Rivero.

Estell Rivero, his wife, passed shortly after Rivero left the supervisor's office in 2002.

Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or