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Featured, seated, former baseball coach Al Ogletree, at a ceremony on Friday, February 28, at the Boggus Ford Events Center in Pharr. Featured, standing, from left: UTPA President Ad Interim Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, and Pillars of Success Richard García, Carmen Pagan, Jo Ann Gama, Linda Tovar and David Franz.

Photograph By JOSUE ESPARZA

The University of Texas-Pan American celebrated its last homecoming before it becomes The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley by honoring five of its successful alumni on Friday, February, at the Boggus Ford Events Center in Pharr. The public recognition was in honor of those who  have made countless contributions to their alma mater, the Rio Grande Valley and beyond.

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UT-Pan American honors it final Pillars of Success: Mayor Richard García; former Mayor John David Franz; Milestones Co-Owner Carmen Pagan; H-E-B Senior Manager Linda Tovar; and IDEA Public Schools Co-Founder Jo Ann Gama

By GAIL FAGAN

The 2015 Pillars of Success are IDEA Public Schools Co-Founder and Superintendent Jo Ann Gama (M.Ed. ’03), Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia (BBA-management ’71), Attorney and former Hidalgo Mayor John David Franz (BA-government ’81), Milestones Co-Owner Carmen Pagan (BA-communication disorders ’87; MA-communication disorders ’89), and H-E-B Senior Manager of Public Affairs Linda Tovar (BBA-management ’08).

UTPA also bestowed its Presidential Pillar Award upon the Universityâs former head baseball coach Al Ogletree. Ogletree was also honored in a separate ceremony where it was announced that UTPA is building a plaza area at its baseball field in his name.

UTPA President Ad Interim Dr. Havidán Rodríguez told the alumni and Ogletree at a ceremony held at the UTPA Visitors Center that they should not feel sad about being the last Pillars of Success and Presidential Pillar, but proud.

“Without you we would not be here,” Rodríguez said. “Without your commitment, without your devotion, without your hard work and perseverance, and everything you do for the university and for the community, we would not be here.”

At the ceremony, the alumni each were given a medal and saw the unveiling of plaques bearing their pictures and biographical information about them posted on the pillars in the Visitors Center. The plaques will stay there for a year so that visitors and the university community can read about their accomplishments.

The Pillars said they were humbled by the university’s gesture.

Gama said the award inspired her to continue partnering with the university to ensure students obtain a high quality education.

“It ups the sense of personal responsibility that we feel toward the university,” she said. “Education is the one thing that they can’t take from you, so we always make sure we let our kids know that they’re going to graduate from high school and go to a four-year college or university, and no one is ever going to be able to take that away from you. That degree in and of itself is changing life trajectories all across the Valley.”

García said he is grateful that the foundation he received at Pan American College allowed him to have a successful career in law.

“I’m proud that this university has given me the opportunity to accomplish what I have in my career,” he said. “I thank the Lord every day for this institution of higher learning because it has helped many, many of us to be able to have a decent life and then give back to our community.”

Franz recalled all the faculty members who motivated him throughout his undergraduate studies and prepared him to enter law school.

“Pan American was a stepping stone, a solid foundation to enter law school,” he said. “It was close to home, due to economic circumstances I wasn’t able to go away to school so Pan Am was an excellent foundation and obviously it prepared me, it got me through the University of Texas School of Law and I have been blessed with a great career.”

Pagan said she was grateful to her alma mater for recognizing her for doing the work she loves. She added that she owes her success to her faith in God and family.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for them,” she said. “It’s still so unbelievable, I feel like I’ve come full circle. I’m very proud to be a Bronc, always a Bronc.”

Tovar said she was honored to represent the university in its last year as UT-Pan American. She said she hopes new students to UT-RGV will be motivated by her own story of returning to school to get a degree mid-career and after having a child.

“I want to serve as an individual who can inspire people that there is a wonderful light at the end of your long educational journey to a degree and that continuing your education is an important key to success,” she said.

Following the ceremony, the Pillars and their loved ones continued the festivities at the “Boots and Bling” Alumni Ball at the Boggus Ford Events Center in Pharr. More than 500 attendees donning cowboy boots and formal wear bid on silent auction items and danced to music performed by the Renaissance Rockers. Doctors Hospital at Renaissance and the City of Pharr were the main sponsors.

See more of the Pillar ceremony in this photo gallery.

Previous recipients of the Pillar of Success recognition follow.

The biographical sketches – provided by UTPA – feature some of the key highlights of these honorees’ lives as of the year they were bestowed their respective coveted recognition.

2014 PILLARS OF SUCCESS:

Lynda de La Viña, Ph.D.

Lynda has a distinguished résumé that includes becoming the first Mexican-American woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in economics, being named one of the country’s most influential Hispanics, and being appointed as deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury for economic policy during President Bill Clinton’s administration. She is also an entrepreneur co-founding Operational Technologies Corporation, a company with various subsidiaries and interests. Read More. [ View Video ]

Dan Martínez

Dan, president and CEO Martínez & Associates, L.P., a successful sales tax consulting group in Houston, is also the president of the UTPA Houston Alumni Chapter, which is one of the largest Bronc chapters. Dan takes great pride in the thousands of dollars in scholarships raised by the Houston group each year for UTPA students from their area and for the group’s service to the community. Read More. [ View Video ]

Daniel P. King, Ph.D.

Called a “Valley treasure”, Daniel has twice been named the most outstanding school superintendent in Texas and is known nationwide as a visionary and an innovator in college readiness and dual-language education. As superintendent of PSJA Independent School District he has transformed a troubled district with low graduation rates and low college-going rates into one that is hailed as a model for dropout prevention and college readiness. Read More[ View Video ]

Jose Daniel “Danny” Sáenz 

With a highly successful 26-year career with the Texas Department of Insurance, Danny has risen from examiner trainee to deputy commissioner and is an in-demand international consultant and presenter on issues related to the insurance industry and its regulation. In 2011, Danny received the prestigious Robert Dineen Award, NAIC’s highest individual honor in recognition of outstanding achievement as a career regulator. Read More. [ View Video ]

Pablo Vela Jr.

After building an outstanding accounting career, Pablo is enjoying a transition into retirement after more than four decades with the prestigious Rio Grande Valley accounting firm of Long Chilton, LLP. In his 41st year with the firm, he has been a partner, has been in charge of the McAllen office and in charge of the entire firm, and is now in an advisory “of counsel” role. Read More. [ View Video ]

Presidential Pillar

For their immense dedication to the people of South Texas and the dreams of the region’s young children, UT-Pan American was proud to honor the Rio Grande Valley Legislative Delegation: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville; and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville; along with Rep. Ryan  Guillén, D-Rio Grande City; Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco; Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-San Benito; Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission; Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Rep. Robert “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; and Rep. Óscar Longoria, D-La Joya for their continued support and active involvement in the creation of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Read More. [ View Video ]

2013 PILLARS OF SUCCESS

René L. Wallace (AA ’51)
Business Trailblazer and Community Champion

René L. Wallace considers herself a lifelong learner and others consider her a savvy businesswoman who gets things done. Now a Silver Life member in the American Contract Bridge League, she once defeated Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in a tournament. Rene has served in many community leadership rolls, including being the first female vice president for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce and received Texas Businesswoman of the Year in 2006 by the National Republican Congressional Business Advisory Council for victorious service to her community.Read More. [ View Video ]

Lydia Rendón (BA ’60)
Lifelong Educator and Dream Builder

Lydia Rendón has changed the lives of more than 1,000 students at Brewster School in the tiny town of Linn-San Manuel, Texas in her half-a-century career as an educator for Edinburg CISD. An inspiration and pillar of her community, graduating high school seniors have consistently named the retired educator as the most influential teacher who impacted their lives. Read More. [ View Video ]

Robert W. Feldtman, M.D. (BS ’68)
Cardiovascular/Thoracic Surgeon and Medical Pioneer

Dr. Robert W. Feldtman is one of the top cardiovascular/thoracic surgeons in the state of Texas and is an inventor of numerous first-time medical procedures involving the heart. He currently sees patients at the Dallas Methodist Medical Center, a large 500-bed trauma hospital that serves an indigent community in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Read More.  [ View Video

Ramón García, J.D. (BA ’70)
Honorable Hidalgo County Judge and Pan American University Regent

Ramón García practiced for years as one of the leading criminal defense lawyers in South Texas before dedicating his practice to civil matters. For decades, Ramon has also faithfully served his community. He was a member of the Board of Regents for Pan Am from 1983 to 1987. In January 2011, Ramón began his second term as Hidalgo County Judge. Read More. [ View Video ]

Norma V. Cantú, J.D. (BA ’73)
Civil Rights Activist and Professor of Law and Education

Norma V. Cantú graduated summa cum laude at age 19 from Pan American University and then went on to Harvard University Law School, where she was among its earliest female students and graduated with a law degree at age 22. In 1993, President Clinton nominated her and the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed her as the first Hispanic female Assistant Secretary of the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and she became a professor of education and law in 2001 at The University of Texas at Austin. Read More. [ View Video ]

2012 PILLARS OF SUCCESS:

Alonzo R. Peña (BS ’78)
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Deputy Director in the Department of Homeland Security (retired)

Before he retired in December 2010, Alonzo R. Peña oversaw 20,000 employees, a $5.7 billion budget, and on several occasions, he briefed White House staff and delivered congressional testimony as the deputy director for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Read more.

Jesús “Chuy” Ramírez (BA ’80)
Partner, Ramírez & Guerrero, LLP. Author, “Strawberry Fields”

With a passion for writing and the law, Jesús “Chuy” Ramírez is a practicing attorney in San Juan, Texas, who published his first fictional book of short stories in 2010. In “Strawberry Fields, a Book of Short Stories”, shares the culture of South Texas with his readers while telling the tale of a young adolescent farmworker. Read more.

Elcira Bermúdez (BSMF ’04)
Manufacturing Engineer Raytheon Company

Elcira Bermúdez came from humble beginnings and said when she was growing up her dreams were simply to become a U.S. citizen. Today, her perseverance and ambition have led her on a successful path as an engineer with the Raytheon Company in McKinney, Texas. Read more.

Macaria de la Garza Gorena (AA ’39, M.Ed. ’77)
Educator & Guidance Counselor (retired)

When Macaria de la Garza Gorena was a little girl she knew her calling was to become an educator. For more than 40 years, Gorena, now retired, molded the minds of hundreds of students at Edinburg CISD. To honor her legacy, the school district named one of their elementary schools in her honor. Read more.

Rubén A. Pérez (BBA ’77)
Entrepreneur

A trailblazer in the medical industry and one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the state, Rubén A. Pérez has developed an impressive résumé over his 35 years in the field of health care. He is currently the president and CEO of the CIMA Healthcare Corporation, which owns and operates four hospice agencies in Texas. Read more.

2010 PILLARS OF SUCCESS

Gustavo De La Viña (BS ’63)
Chief Patrol Agent, United States Border Patrol, Retired

Gustavo De La Viña , a native of Edinburg, Texas, graduated from what is now The University of Texas-Pan American in 1963. Upon graduating from college, he was an educator in Edinburg until joining the U.S. Border Patrol in 1970 as a member of class 96. During his distinguished 34-year career with the Border Patrol Chief De La Viña held numerous positions including Chief of the Border Patrol Academy, Deputy Chief of El Paso Sector, Director of INS Western Region and Chief of San Diego Sector.

Dr. Dana M. González (BS ’98)
Obstetrics and Gynecology, Victoria Women’s Clinic

Raised in Alamo, Texas by parents who were hardworking, first-generation, Mexican-American migrant farm workers, Dr. Dana M. González attended South Texas High School for Health Professions. During her senior year of high school, she became a single mother. With the guidance and support of her high school counselor and teachers, she was encouraged to continue to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.

Dr. Anil Menon (MBA ’84)
President, Globalization and Smart+Connected Communities – Cisco Systems Inc.

Earning an MBA from then Pan American University in 1984, Dr. Anil Menon has gone on to become a global corporate leader. Dr. Menon joined Cisco Systems inc., in 2009 as President, Globalization and Smart+Connected Communities. In this role, Dr. Menon co-leads Cisco’s globalization efforts around Smart+Connected Communities (S+CC).

Javier Palomarez (MBA ’86)
President & CEO, United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Washshington, D.C

Javier Palomarez is the President and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., and one of the nation’s pre-eminent multicultural sales and marketing executives. He is a sought-after spokesperson, thought-leader and strategist on the issues affecting America’s consumers, particularly those in the Hispanic community

Tim Tully (BS ’71)
President & founder, Southwest Precision Printers, L.P.

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Tim Tully attended Pan American University in 1968. With the help of a baseball scholarship, he played under the leadership of Coach Al Ogletree. He graduated in 1971 with a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education.

2008 PILLARS OF SUCCESS

William F. Garrison (BBA ’66)
Major General, U.S. Army, Retired

William F. Garrison, who earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Pan American University, entered the U.S. Army in 1966 as a private. He served in Southeast Asia, Europe and the Middle East in parachute infantry, intelligence and special forces assignments. Garrison was promoted through the ranks as Colonel, Brigadier General and Major General as the youngest officer to hold those ranks. He has commanded at all levels including our nation’s premier Counter-Terrorism Units.

He served two tours of Vietnam, taking part in the Phoenix Program. Garrison was also the commanding officer of Operation Gothic Serpent, the military operation launched in 1993 to capture Mohamed Farrah Aidid, which ended in the first Battle of Mogadishu on October 3, 1993. He retired August 3, 1996, the day after Aidid died.

Garrison was portrayed by actor Sam Shepard in the 2001 film “Black Hawk Down”, which chronicles the events of the Battle of Mogadishu.

Arturo E. Guerra (BA ’65)
Attorney at Law/District Judge, Retired

Former State Judge Arturo Guerra practiced law for a number of years prior to assuming the position of county court-at-law judge. After four years he was appointed judge of the 275th District Court where he presided through 1987. Thereafter he served as corporate counsel for the Council for South Texas Economic Progress (COSTEP) until 2006. Retired from the legal profession, he enjoys his ranching operation and serves on numerous boards as a director including The South Texas Higher Education Foundation, Hidalgo County Appraisal District, T.P.W.D. Operation Game Thief, Lone Star National Bank, Easter Seals RGV, and the McAllen Country Club.

A native of McAllen Texas, Guerra holds a Bachelor of Arts in social studies and government from UTPA and a Juris Doctor degree from St. Mary’s University School of Law.

Guerra and his wife Barbara reside in Edinburg, Texas. They have three children, Gloriana, and twins Arturo III and Aubry.

María (Marla) Guerra (MED ’76)
Superintendent, South Texas Independent School District

Dr. Marla M. Guerra is the superintendent of South Texas Independent School District. Before joining STISD in October 2001, she was an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at The University of Texas-Pan American. Guerra spent 23 years of her professional career at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, where she served as a teacher, principal, district planning coordinator and district administrator.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Guerra went on to complete her masterâs degree at Pan American University in Edinburg and her Doctor of Education degree at the University of Houston.

Guerra has been active in civic and community affairs, having served on the Board of Directors of the Pharr Chamber of Commerce and of the United Way of South Texas. She lives in Edinburg with her husband Joe.

Lucious Jackson (BS ’73)
Olympic Gold Medalist, Forward, Philadelphia 76ers

Originally from San Marcos, Texas, Lucious (Luke) Jackson Jr. attended high school in Louisiana. After completing high school he attended the University of Houston on a basketball scholarship. Following his freshman year he transferred to Pan American College where he received a Bachelor of Science in physical education.

In 1964 Jackson was chosen to play on the U.S. Olympic basketball team where he earned a gold medal beating the Russian basketball team in the finals held in Tokyo, Japan. Later that same year he was drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia 76ers where he played for nine years winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1965 and winning a national championship in 1967 with a record of 68 wins and 13 losses.

Jackson moved to Beaumont, Texas after retiring from his career in the NBA in 1973. In 1975 he was employed by the City of Beaumont in the Parks and Recreation Department as a recreation supervisor/special activities coordinator. Jackson was promoted to recreation manager in 1987, and then to director of the Parks and Recreation Department in 1989, a position he held until retiring in April 2001. Jackson is married and has three children. He was not just a great athlete, Jackson is also an asset to his community and a faithful member of his church.

José Roberto Pulido (BBA ’77)
Tejano Music, Recording Artist

José Roberto “El Primo” Pulido has been at the forefront of Tejano music for more than a quarter of a century. As a senior at Edinburg High School, Pulido won several music scholarships and attended Pan American University where he earned a bachelorâs degree in music in 1973.

In 1974 Pulido left his teaching position and launched his musical career with the creation of Roberto Pulido y Los Clasicos. The group produced hits like “Copa Tras Copa”, “Simplemente” and “La Flecha”.

He won his first Tejano Music Award for male vocalist in 1980 and has captured countless others since. He has entertained thousands of people over the years and has become a legend, leaving his mark on the world of Tejano music.

2006 PILLARS OF SUCCESS

Noé Hinojosa (BBA ’84)
Vice Chairman Public Finance Manager, Estrada Hinojosa & Company Inc, Business

Noé Hinojosa was nominated by President George W. Bush and subsequently confirmed by the United States Senate for a seat on the Board of Directors of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation. Owns Banking Investment Co. in partnership with University of Texas System Regent Robert Estrada. Hinojosa was the first Hispanic ever elected to the Municipal Advisory Council Board. The company currently has offices in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, Texas; Miami, Florida; and San Diego, California. The company prides itself on being 100% employee-owned, and is positioned to be the preeminent Hispanic-owned investment banking firm in the nation.

José Betancourt, Jr. (BA ’70)
Rear Admiral US Navy, Retired, Arts & Humanities

U.S. Navy Admiral; Commander Navy Region Southwest; headquartered at San Diego, California; Served aboard USS Frederick, USS John S. McCain; USS William H. Standley; and USS Fox. While in command of Merril he was deployed to the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm. Rear Admiral Betancourt’s military decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, The Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal ,the Navy Commendation Medal, the Humanitarian Service Medal, and various service and campaign awards.

Humbert “H.R.” Peña (BA ’71)
Attorney at Law, Partner Hunton and Williams LLP, Arts & Sciences

Mr. Peña brings 27 years of Washington legal experience to Hunton & Williams, including twice having served as a senior staff member to one of the major standing committees of the U.S. House of Representatives, first as subcommittee counsel (1997-1980) and later as Chief of Staff to the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture (1988-1990), with overall responsibility for all of the legislative and administrative issues before the 49-member Committee. Humbert also served as legislative counsel for a major pharmaceutical and consumer products company for eight years, where he coordinated the company’s legislative efforts in the areas of tax (I.R.S. code Section 936), health, international trade, intellectual property rights, state government affairs, and company-wide grassroots lobbying efforts. His client representations require him to work closely with members of Congress who serve in the leadership and on major committees of the House of Representatives and Senate.

Minerva Carcaño (BA ’74)
Bishop, Arts & Humanities

In 2014, Minerva Carcaño became the First Hispanic woman elected Bishop by the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist church. She was active in student government and was named to Who’s Who at UTPA.

Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (BA ’70)
Texas State Senator, Arts & Humanities

Sen. Hinojosa has been in the Texas Legislature since 1981, first in the Texas House of Representatives and currently in the Texas Senate.

Norma Ester Borrego (BA ’02)
Outstanding Graduate

At 18 years old, Norma Ester Borrego became one of the youngest students to earn a baccalaureate degree.

Rubén Hinojosa (MBA ’80)
Congressman

Serves as Congressmen U.S. House of Representatives Texas 15th District since 1997.

Velma Menchaca, Ph.D. (BS ’79)
Chair Dept. of School Administration
B.S. Pan American University; 1977 Bronco Queen

Valente Rodríguez (BA ’86)
Actor

Star of the George López Show featured on the ABC network, Valente plays George López’ sidekick “Ernie”.

Daniel Butler (BS ’70)
Cattleman

BS 1970 from Pan American College; currently raises commercial Santa Gertrudis cattle in the counties of Kenedy, Willacy and Hidalgo; runs and operates the H. Yturria Cattle co. with his brother Richard E. Butler II.

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