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Featured, from left: Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodríguez; Congressman Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio; and Mayor Richard H. García, during the Thursday, January 1, 2015 swearing-in for Rodríguez, held at the Pharr Events Center.

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

Honoring his family’s legacy is important to Richard H. García, who can trace his roots in South Texas back to the late 1700s. “When they were colonizing all of the cities here on the river, 38 families were brought to Mier, which was the original colony here,” he said, “My family was part of that group.” Today, as a successful attorney and mayor of the City of Edinburg, the UTPA alumnus and 2015 Pillar of Success continues to build on what his ancestors helped establish in the Rio Grande Valley. The Pillars of Success are the university’s official annual “Alumni” awards, which honor UTPA’s most distinguished alumni. The Pillars of Success celebrate a select group of Broncs for their inspirational stories and outstanding achievements. The event, which raises funds for scholarships, will be held on Friday, February 27, at Boggus Ford Events Center (formerly the Pharr Events Center) at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $100 each and can be purchased online or at the UTPA Alumni Center in Edinburg (2402 S. Closner Blvd.). García talks with pride about a new pedestrian corridor that will connect Edinburg’s City Hall to the UTPA campus and include a Valley Metro station and a new residential complex for students that will feature apartments above retail space, a project that had the enthusiastic blessing of UT-Pan American’s administration. “I was a little nervous with the transition (to The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley), but Guy Bailey (president of the new university) tells me he buys into the whole plan,” García said. Also on the horizon for the City of Edinburg is a new $60 million, 8,500-seat events arena that will be home to the NBA Development League Champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers, beginning in 2017, and will host other sporting events as well as provide a prime location for concerts, graduations and meetings. The 115,799-square-foot arena will be built on 40-acres of land located on the east side of I-69C (US 281) on Alberta Road. The entire property includes nine additional pad sites for the development of a future hotels and restaurants. When the project was announced in November 2013, García said not only will it enhance the economy by millions of dollars, but it will also improve the quality of life for Edinburg residents and visitors. “People want to visit and live in cities where they can get educated, where they can work and where they can play. We’ve created more than 3,500 jobs in the last three years; we have UTPA, which is about to become an even larger UT System campus complete with a medical school; and now we will also have a place for entertainment,” he noted. The mayor also boasts of another project, La Sienna, a 726-acre master planned community along I-69C (US 281) at Monte Cristo Road that is “going gangbusters.” In addition to several moderate to exclusive residential areas, renowned Dallas developer Henry Miller will develop 45 acres along the freeway into what García describes as “a cross between The Quarry and La Cantera (two high-end shopping areas in San Antonio)” that will include water features, restaurants, shops, a hotel and an IMAX theatre. The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council, also has 100 additional acres that it will soon put on the market. “With those two things – the arena and La Sienna – along with the medical school, the sky’s the limit for the city,” said García, the president of the EEDC Board of Directors. He said he is excited about the transition of his alma mater, UTPA, into The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley next year. “When San Antonio got its medical school 25 years ago, the demographics and population were similar to Hidalgo County’s today. Now, San Antonio is the second largest city in Texas and number seven in the nation. That’s because of the medical investment. That’s what I see happening to us down here, and the impacts will be the medical school and UT-RGV. The fact that it’s going to be the second largest in the UT System speaks volumes, and Dr. Bailey said we may end up being even larger than UT Austin in numbers. Wow, what can you say about that?”

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Edinburg Mayor García, who also leads EEDC, four other “Pillars of Success”, to be honored by University of Texas-Pan American on Friday, February 27, for achievements as alumni

By JANICE ODOM

Honoring his family’s legacy is important to Richard H. García, who can trace his roots in South Texas back to the late 1700s.

“When they were colonizing all of the cities here on the river, 38 families were brought to Mier, which was the original colony here,” he said, “and my family was part of that group.”

Today, as a successful attorney and mayor of the City of Edinburg, the UTPA alumnus and 2015 Pillar of Success continues to build on what his ancestors helped establish in the Rio Grande Valley.

The Pillars of Success are the university’s official annual “Alumni” awards, which honor UTPA’s most distinguished alumni. The Pillars of Success celebrate a select group of Broncs for their inspirational stories and outstanding achievements. The event, which raises funds for scholarships, will be held on Friday, February 27, at Boggus Ford Events Center (formerly the Pharr Events Center) at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets are $100 each and can be purchased at the UTPA Alumni Center in Edinburg (2402 S. Closner Blvd.). For additional ticket information and accommodations, call the Office of Alumni Relations at (956) 665-2500.

Honoring UTPA’s most distinguished alumni, the Pillars of Success celebrate a select group of Broncs for their inspirational stories and outstanding achievements. The Pillars of Success truly exemplify what being a Bronc is all about – excellence in profession and service to community and alma mater. Every Pillar of Success honoree will serve as a shining example for current and future Broncs.

With a theme of “Boots and Bling,” rhinestones and ropers are welcome at The University of Texas-Pan American’s last Alumni Ball before it starts a new chapter in Fall 2015 as The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

“All alumni are welcome on what is sure to be one of the most celebrated nights of the year,” Clara Dina Hinojosa, interim director, UTPA Office of Alumni Relations, said. “With this last Alumni Ball we are set to honor the legacy that this University will forever hold. We also hope that through the presentation of our Pillars, we will mark the promise to continue providing a top quality education for our students.”

Also joining the Edinburg mayor as distinguished honorees are:

John David Franz

John David Franz, who served as mayor of Hidalgo, Texas, from 1990 to 2012, received his B.A. degree in Government from UTPA in 1981. While in college, he became the youngest judge in the state when, at the age of 18, he was appointed municipal court judge in his hometown. He later earned a juris doctorate from the UT Law School and in 1990 opened the Law Offices of John David Franz in McAllen.

Jo Ann Gonzáles Gama

Houston native Jo Ann Gonzále Gama, co-founder, president and superintendent of IDEA Public Schools, came to South Texas to teach in the Donna Independent School District through Teach for America and stayed to help create a charter school system that educates more than 19,000 students in 36 schools throughout the Rio Grande Valley, Austin and San Antonio. She earned an M.Ed. degree in Educational Administration from UTPA in 2003.

Carmen Pagan

Carmen Pagan, who earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in Communication Disorders from UTPA in 1987 and 1989, respectively, is co-owner of Milestones Therapeutic Associates in McAllen. The bilingual speech-language pathologist has more than 20 years of clinical experience and specializes in the assessment and treatment of children with neuromuscular disorders. Currently, she is chair of the Governor’s Commission for Women, to which she was first appointed by Governor Rick Perry in 2005.

Linda A. Tovar

Linda A. Tovar, a Rio Grande Valley native, earned her B.B.A. degree in Management from UT Pan American in 2008. As senior manager of public affairs for H-E-B, she is responsible for providing leadership in the development and direction of H-E-B’s public affairs and community relations activities for the Border Region. Additionally, as community liaison, she serves as a company spokesperson and oversees H-E-B’s philanthropic activities in communities throughout the region.

This year’s Presidential Pillar is Alfred H. Ogletree.

Considered the “father of Bronc baseball”, Ogletree served as head coach at UTPA from 1969 to 1997. He led the Broncs to their only College World Series appearance in 1971, ending his Bronc coaching career with 1,217 wins.

MAYOR’S FATHER, CANUTO GARCÍA, JR., SERVED AS ROLE MODEL

Born and raised in Edinburg, García is the son of the late Canuto García, Jr. and Elida García, both alumni of Edinburg High School. His dad, who served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, flew 13 bombing missions over Germany and was captured after bailing out of a burning B-17 Flying Fortress.

“He was lucky enough to be in the same prison camp as Gen. (George S.) Patton’s son-in-law,” said García, who related the story of how, in May 1945, Patton sent a battalion of tanks 40 miles behind enemy lines to liberate the camp. That part of history has been memorialized in a book entitled “Raid.”

When Canuto García returned home after the war, he attended Edinburg Junior College and embarked upon a successful career as a banker in Edinburg then as owner of Pan American Transport, which operated some 100 tractor-trailer rigs nationwide.

With his father as a role model, Richard García graduated from Edinburg High School, attended his dad’s alma mater, which by this time had become Pan American University, spent two years in the U.S. Army, then enrolled in law school at Texas Southern University in Houston.

LAW OVER MEDICINE

“My grandfather always wanted me to be a lawyer because the family needed an advocate to recover lands that he and other family members felt were taken from them unjustly. We’ve heard that story so many times from so many different families in this neck of the woods and, of course, it goes nowhere,” García said. “My dad wanted me to be a doctor. He had me set up to go to Mexico City to medical school because he had a friend there who was a doctor. But I couldn’t stand the sight of blood, so I said ‘no.’”

After graduating from law school, the Pan American graduate (Bachelor of Business Administration in Management, 1971) returned to Edinburg and went into partnership with fellow alumnus Ramon García, who is now serving as Hidalgo County judge, a position García himself held for a year in the mid-1990s.

“When I graduated from law school, I ran for municipal judge (a position he held from 1975 to 1978). Then a new county court-at-law came open with the state, and I ran for that. I sat on the bench at the courthouse for I guess 16 years,” García said. During that time, he was appointed by Governor Ann Richards to serve on the Texas Adult Probation Commission. “I was the only Hispanic and the only person from south of San Antonio on the commission at that time.”

A licensed federal criminal law attorney and a senior partner in the law firm of García, Quintanilla & Palacios, García moved his practice to McAllen in 1989 after selling his office building in downtown Edinburg and purchasing a prime piece of real estate at the corner of 10th Street and Dove Avenue that included a beautiful old Spanish-style home that would become his office.

“I always loved this place as a kid. We would drive by, and I would think ‘one day…’,” García recalled. “After I had been here a few years, Walgreens came along and wanted to buy it. I said ‘no, but I’ll sell you the property next to it.’ They wanted the corner, however, and I gave them a price so they would go away. They brought me a contract the next day and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

That is how the large white 1920s mansion – the offices of García, Quintanilla & Palacios – came to be where it is today.

“Walgreens was just going to level the building, but I couldn’t bear to see it torn down,” García said. “We tried to see about moving it but, because it was on pier and beam and was stucco, we were afraid it would break apart. So what we did was completely take it apart and rebuild it (on the lot just south of its original location).”

Even the tile in the courtyard is original.

“The cantera in the courtyard was originally nicely cut 12×12 tiles, but when we took the building apart, some of them broke. So I took a page out of the San Antonio Riverwalk and had the tiles broken up and installed that way (as a mosaic).”

DEDICATED TO COMMUNITY

While García went to great lengths to preserve this important part of the region’s history, his real focus and greatest rewards over the years have come from his dedication to improving his community.

“I think that every job I have had in public service has had a paycheck with it, and serving as mayor probably costs me $500 a month,” he laughed. “But it has been the most rewarding by far. I feel that the community has been good to me, and I have made a good living doing what I do. I have grandchildren now, and I figure that it’s my time to pay back. If I can make things better for them, I’m making it better for everyone in the community. I’ve seen a lot of change in our city in the time that I’ve been there (in the mayor’s office), so I feel good about that.”

“When I became mayor, everything was from the ‘50s,” he recalled, noting that his campaign was based on improving the city’s basic services.

“That was my platform…the basics. We built a new city hall. We built a new water plant. We built a new police department, a new library. Everybody was just crammed up. We had grown tremendously and had just outgrown everything,” he continued. “We built new buildings, and we were able to do it without raising taxes simply by shifting priorities.”

He also has devoted much time and effort to his role as president of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (EEDC), which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

“Being a business grad from UTPA, economic development has always been an interest. I started getting involved in that when I was with the county judge’s office, so it was a natural fit, and I already had a little history with it,” García said.

“We’ve been very aggressive about seeking out businesses that would bring good paying jobs to our city – jobs of all types,” he said of the EEDC board. “I think we’ve done well, and I feel accomplished in that way.”

BRIGHT FUTURE FOR THE CITY

García talks with pride about a new pedestrian corridor that will connect Edinburg’s City Hall to the UTPA campus and include a Valley Metro station and a new residential complex for students that will feature apartments above retail space, a project that had the enthusiastic blessing of UT-Pan American’s administration.

“I was a little nervous with the transition (to The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley), but Guy Bailey (president of the new university) tells me he buys into the whole plan,” García said.

Also on the horizon for the City of Edinburg is a new $60 million, 8,500-seat events arena that will be home to the NBA Development League Champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers, beginning in 2017, and will host other sporting events as well as provide a prime location for concerts, graduations and meetings. The 115,799-square-foot arena will be built on 40 acres of land located on the east side of I-69C (US 281) on Alberta Road. The entire property includes nine additional pad sites for the development of a future hotels and restaurants.

When the project was announced in November 2013, García said not only will it enhance the economy by millions of dollars, but it will also improve the quality of life for Edinburg residents and visitors.

“People want to visit and live in cities where they can get educated, where they can work and where they can play. We’ve created more than 3,500 jobs in the last three years; we have UTPA, which is about to become an even larger UT System campus complete with a medical school; and now we will also have a place for entertainment,” he noted.

The mayor also boasts of another project, La Sienna, a 726-acre master planned community along I-69C (US 281) at Monte Cristo Road that is “going gangbusters.”

In addition to several moderate to exclusive residential areas, renowned Dallas developer Henry Miller will develop 45 acres along the freeway into what García describes as “a cross between The Quarry and La Cantera (two high-end shopping areas in San Antonio)” that will include water features, restaurants, shops, a hotel and an IMAX theatre.

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation also has 100 additional acres that it will soon put on the market.

“With those two things – the arena and La Sienna – along with the medical school, the sky’s the limit for the city,” said García, who is excited about the transition of his alma mater, UTPA, into The University of Texas -Rio Grande Valley in the Fall of 2015.

“When San Antonio got its medical school 25 years ago, the demographics and population were similar to Hidalgo County’s today. Now, San Antonio is the second largest city in Texas and number seven in the nation. That’s because of the medical investment. That’s what I see happening to us down here, and the impacts will be the medical school and UT-RGV. The fact that it’s going to be the second largest in the UT System speaks volumes, and Dr. Bailey said we may end up being even larger than UT-Austin in numbers. Wow, what can you say about that?”

García said he and the entire region owe much to The University of Texas-Pan American, which along with The University of Texas at Brownsville will form the foundation of the new UT-RGV.

“I don’t even know how to say thank you to UTPA. Not only for me, but because that was the way up and the way out for so many of us who were born and raised here,” he said. “I think that the best thing that ever happened to this Valley is Pan Am.”

García is married to Myra C. García, and they have five children, Gina, Katherine, Chelsea, Daniel and Carlos, a son-in-law Daniel and two grandsons, Richard Xavier Pérez and William Alexander Pérez.

García also has two siblings – Dr. Dahlia Guerra, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at UTPA, and Bobby García, a retired executive of Wornick Foods, a leading supplier of convenience foods to the military.

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