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Dr. Larry Balli, health care and economic leader, honored for life’s work by Gov. Perry, Legislature

 

Every year, Texas Monthly publishes much-anticipated reviews of some of the state’s best medical, legal, and community leaders, based on a strict and independent research process that identifies Texans who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. Dr. Larry Balli, one of the area’s most influential dentists, has long enjoyed a stellar reputation in Edinburg. Late last year, he was bestowed the coveted honor of "Super Dentist" by Texas Monthly, a major statewide magazine with a national following. Now comes news that his professional and civic contributions to the region have earned him praise from Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature, which have approved a legislative resolution publicly recognizing him for his efforts in the Lone Star State. See lead story later in this posting. 

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As the veto period came to a close on Sunday, June 21, Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured here during a McAllen Chamber of Commerce legislative update on Wednesday, June 17, announced final approval of 59 measures that he authored or sponsored. Hinojosa’s legislative package includes bills on transportation, natural resources, criminal justice, infrastructure, and health care issues, benefitting South Texas and the entire state.  See story later in this posting. 

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SOCIALIFE News Magazine, the five-year-old creation of South Texas entrepreneur Pepe Cabeza de Vaca, featured here with Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, has been honored by the Texas House of Representatives for its vital role of promoting a positive image of the Rio Grande Valley and by helping charitable organizations in the state and nation.  The honor, contained in House Resolution 2283 filed by Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, was unanimously approved by House of Representatives on May 25. See story later in this posting. 

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The laboratories at McAllen Heart Hospital and McAllen Medical Center were accredited by the College of American Pathologists (CAP) after site inspections on April 1 and May 1. Both laboratories received complimentary remarks by CAP inspectors on the quality of patient testing, documentation and organization. The laboratories also received  exemplary marks on their standard of laboratory practices. Featured here are some of the employees of McAllen Medical Center and McAllen Heart Hospital who are instrumental to the quality of care and services the laboratories provide. From left, first row: Dr. Feliberto Cavazos, pathologist; Sobie Treviño, system assistant director; Grace Garza, system lab director; and Robert Tamez, hospital administrator. Second row, from left: Dr. José Luis Valencia, pathologist; Norma Rodríguez; and Lester Alvarado. Third row, from left:  Denisha Niño; Aida Galván; Diana Villarreal; Janice Milford; and Jennifer Ríos. Four row, from left: Elisa Díaz; Mylene Trasmonte; Becky Flores; and Sylvia Aguinaga. Fifth row, from left: Virgil Zuñiga; Robert Hockaday; Alejo Romero; Andy Romero; and Aydee García. See story later in this posting. 

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Hundreds of future South Texas College graduates, such as these featuring during this spring’s commencement exercise, will benefit from a major grant, to be dispersed over the next three years, for expanded development education programs. On Monday, June 22, STC leaders announced that the college has been named as one of 15 national recipients – and only four in Texas – of a new grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and MDC, Inc. Together the groups are giving $16.5 million to community colleges across the nation, $743,000 of which will come directly to South Texas College. “At STC we are so happy to receive the funds because it will help us institute a change to the respective course contents in our developmental programs to create learning connections for students among the three developmental education disciplines through contextualization of the curriculum,” said Dr. Ali Esmaeili, dean of developmental studies for STC. “We plan to implement a robust case management student support framework to ensure a consistent and reliable contact experience for all of our developmental students.” See story later in this posting. 

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Proposed airport designation could elevate Weslaco’s reputation as the Valley’s Homeland Security City

 

South Texas College has honored the commitment to education in Starr County of founding board member Manuel Benavidez Jr., who passed away on Saturday, March 28, by naming the college’s new Starr County Campus Rural Technology Center in his honor. Benavidez, who represented Starr County on the STC Board of Trustees, is a past president of the board and served as secretary until his passing from terminal cancer. "He did a fine job for the college,” said Dr. Alejo Salinas Jr., STC board member from Edinburg. “The entire community owes him so much for his efforts to purse the best education possible for our students. He was elected to do the same job we were, but he took a tremendous lead in getting things accomplished for the college and making STC one of the best community colleges in the nation. He was a dear friend and deserving colleague.” See story later in this posting. 

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South Texans who are working on ways to help autistic children recently took their ideas to the Texas Capitol, including meeting with area legislators, to seek support for the creation of State Autism Resource and research Center.  There are more than 5,000 South Texas children afflicted with autism, according to the Texas Health and Human Services, and that figure is projected to double by the year 2028. Autism is a developmental disability characterized by language impairment, deficits in communication and social interaction, and abnormal behavior, such as repetitive acts and excessive attachment to certain objects. Autism affects at least one in every 166 children nationally, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Diagnostic rates are increasing 10 percent to 17 percent annually. The CDC estimates that every day, 66 children – nearly three per hour – are diagnosed with autism. Members of South Texas’ Autism Council for Educational Support and Scientific Studies (ACES3) and the RGV chapter of the Texas Council on Autism are featured on the steps on the Texas Capitol on February 26 with local senators. Front row, from left: Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville; Gabriela Ortiz; Heather Vitek; Missy Renaud; María "Charo" Mann; Adriana Paz; and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. Center row, from left: Celine Garza; Zacnith Treviño’  Bret Mann; and Dalia De La O Carr. Back row, from left: Dagoberto Garza; Linette Linsangan; Belen Garza; Joel Garza; Claudia Rodríguez; Nancy Alanis; Allan Mercado, M.D.; and Gladys Ajero.

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The RGV Branch of the National Association of Social Workers, more than 200 members strong, on Friday, March 27, named Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III as the Public Elected Official of the Year. “From a social worker’s standpoint, he’s made a difference in the community,” said Rebecca Ramírez, NASW Texas Chapter RGV Branch Chair. “Our criteria are to honor somebody who stands up for the civil rights of those in need.” The group didn’t have a hard time choosing Salinas, Ramírez observed, adding that the judge’s compassion toward the uninsured and granting access to health care, his outcries against the border fence and his vested interest in “the little guy,” are readily apparent. Salinas was honored along with Tim Smith, Media Representative of the Year, for his work with Tim’s Coats; Public Citizen of the Year Amelia Molina; Social Work Student of the Year Eileen Palacios; and Social Worker of the Year Candice Guillen. “When you elected me to be your County Judge, I vowed to be there full time. And I am surprised today, because I am being honored for just doing my job," Salinas said. "But we have a team of professionals that work hard for you every day, so I accept the award for my staff and for the Commissioners’ Court. We serve full time for you." 

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Sergeant 1st Class Jeff Printy last July 22 marshaled in nine light-medium tactical vehicles deployed from San Antonio to the Standing Joint InterAgency Task Force headquarters located at the Army National Guard Armory in Weslaco. Texas military forces came to southern Texas in anticipation of heavy flood relief efforts caused by Hurricane Dolly. A bill introduced by Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, would allow the governor to designate the Mid-Valley Airport, which is located next to the armory, as the Valley headquarters for emergency responses to natural and man-made calamities. See story later in this posting. 

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Monitor publisher Frandsen warns City of McAllen about decision by Mayor Cortéz to pull legal notices

 

Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, featured at the podium during the fall 2005 dedication of the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery in Mission – the first such state facility built by Texas – continues to work on behalf of Texas’ military veterans and their families. On Thursday, January 22, Flores filed a bill that would provide Texas veterans, who are physically- or mentally-disabled, as a result of military service, with as much as a 100 percent exemption on their home property taxes. "We are pleased that Rep. Flores has carried this extremely important initiative for veterans of this state. This bill is long overdue and we know that Kino has always taken a proactive approach to help veterans," said Emilio De Los Santos, the Veterans Services Director for Hidalgo County. "This bill not only will help veterans of the past, but also veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars." Flores is a U.S. Army veteran. An identical measure, Senate Bill 469 by Sen. John Corona, R-Dallas, was filed on Tuesday, January 13. See related story later in this posting. 

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In an effort to recover local funds spent on federal levee rehabilitation, U.S. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, featured left, on Thursday, January 22, introduced legislation that would enable the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) to reimburse Hidalgo County for expenses incurred. Hinojosa and Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III, featured center, also met on January 22 with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, featured right, to discuss the reimbursement initiative and voice their commitment to repairing the Valley’s levees. Cornyn has introduced similar legislation in the Senate that would reimburse Hidalgo County for its work on federal levee projects. See related story later in this posting. 

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Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas, featured left, on Tuesday, January 20, announced she was retiring at the end of the month as a result of health concerns. She was praised by two area legislators as an inspiration to the region. "I am saddened by the unfortunate, but understandable, retirement of President Cárdenas. She has been an inspiration to me and to countless other people, not only in the Valley, but throughout the state," said Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview.  Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, also noted that "Dr. Cárdenas set a standard for academic excellence and continuous pursuit of self-realization and personal enrichment. During her tenure, Dr. Cárdenas led UT-Pan American’s efforts to further establish the university as a model institution of higher education, serving a highly diverse population and increasing the access to advanced degrees in South Texas." She is featured here, with Dr. Marla Guerra, superintendent for the South Texas Independent School District, at the university in one of her final public ceremonies on Thursday, January 22.  The two leaders signed a new partnership between UTPA and STISD to promote college readiness and success. See related stories on her retirement and on the partnership with South Texas Independent School District later in this posting. 

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Dr. Alejo Salinas, Ph.D., of Edinburg, accepts ties, in the college’s school colors of green and purple, on behalf of his colleagues on the South Texas College Board of Trustees from students, staff, and administration for helping steer the two-county higher education system through a successful 2008. “Last year was a wonderful year for the college with big growth in enrollment, launching our second bachelor’s degree, and kicking off our 15th anniversary celebration, but one thing is clear – none of this would have been possible without the support of the hardest working board of trustees anywhere in Texas,” said Dr. Shirley A. Reed, STC president, also featured in this photograph. “Dr. Salinas is one of our biggest advocates and has been true to serving the interests of the constituents he represents. We thank him for the countless hours he spends safeguarding public funds and planning for the future of higher education in the Valley.” Salinas is superintendent emeritus for and a clinical lecturer at The University of Texas–Pan American, and former superintendent of Hidalgo I.S.D. He has served STC since 1996. As the District 5 representative on STC’s Board of Trustees, he represents northwest Hidalgo County, Edinburg, north San Juan, and northeast Pharr. “I sincerely thank the college community for this token of appreciation,” said Salinas. “The biggest and best reward for my work is watching our students cross the stage at graduation each May. I am so proud to be part of this dedicated board and look forward to another outstanding year of academic excellence from our students.” 

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce “Chamber Champions” Committee recently honored BBVA Compass Bank as Feature Business of the Month for January, 2009. BBVA is located on 2314 W. University in Edinburg, and may be reached at 956/926-4400. BBVA has been a member with the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce for many years, and has always supported community endeavors. They contribute to local scholarships and non-profit organizations, as well as support local businesses. The Chamber Champion’s Committee meets every first Wednesday of the month; to serve on the committee please contact the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956-383-4974. http://www.edinburg.com 

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In break from majority, Councilmember García rolled the dice and won big with President Obama

 

When then-Sen. Barack Obama came to the University of Texas-Pan American in late February, you could literally count on one hand the number of elected officials who endorsed the man who would be President – and three of them were from Edinburg. Edinburg Councilmember Gus García, Jr., featured here with his wife, Tonya, publicly supported Obama during his February 22 visit to the University of Texas-Pan American. Also endorsing Obama were Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Edinburg school board trustee Robert Peña, Jr.  The South Texas leaders astonished the Rio Grande Valley Democratic power brokers when they backed Obama against a hugely popular Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Almost a year later, their public support of Obama could help Edinburg and South Texas keep their presence and issues known to the newly-elected President, says the local councilmember. See lead story later in this posting. 

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Key legislators, featured in this file photo during the opening of South Texas College Technology Campus in McAllen in 2006, could soon be joining forces again to bring another higher education crown jewel to the Rio Grande Valley. Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview (third from left), says he is coordinating a public meeting with the City of McAllen, the University of Texas-Pan American, and South Texas College so McAllen officials, led by Mayor Richard Cortéz, may lay out their vision to bring graduate-level university courses to the City of Palms. "For some time now, the leadership of McAllen has been working on ways to continue bringing additional higher education opportunities for the people of South Texas," Flores said. "Under a state law I authored four years ago, the way has been paved for helping do just that." Joining the Palmview Democrat in this shot were, from left: Congressman Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin; Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Flores; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen; Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco; and Cortéz.  Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, carried the Flores legislation in the Senate. See story later in this posting. 

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The University of Texas-Pan American has now made it easier for students to transfer from a two-year college to the University through the help of the newly opened UTPA Transfer Center. A grand opening was held Tuesday, January 13 at the center, which is located at Pecan Boulevard and 29th Street in McAllen. “It is this sort of partnership and teamwork that will pay off ‘en grande’ for the students of STC and most importantly for the economy and prosperity of the Rio Grande Valley,” UTPA President Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas said. “It has become far more urgent that we make sure students have the information they need in order to make efficient decisions in their college pathway.” Featured at the ceremony, from left: Mike Allen, board of trustees, South Texas College;  Dr. Magdalena Hinojosa, UTPA associate vice president and dean of admissions and enrollment services; Dr. Paul Sale, UTPA provost and vice president; Cárdenas; Dr. Shirley Reed, STC president; Alejo Salinas, board of trustees, South Texas College; and Mike Pérez, McAllen city manager. See story later in this posting. 

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Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, featured right, will be in Weslaco on Thursday, January 22, as part of a major legislative tour coordinated by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, according to Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, featured left. Straus will be joined by dozens of other state lawmakers for the only scheduled visit into Hidalgo County, according to the tentative schedule that has been distributed to state senators and representatives by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership. The speaker and the legislators will meet for a reception with mayors of Hidalgo County at 7 p.m. at the home of Patti and Larry Dittburner at 2912 S. International Boulevard, according to Peña. Later in the week, the legislative delegation will primarily visit key points in Cameron County. The Rio Grande Valley Partnership is hosting the tour for dozens of legislators from across the state from Thursday, January 22 through Sunday, January 25. "Joe Straus is a good friend and I congratulate him on his unanimous election as our new speaker," said Peña. "We have been able to succeed in the past because of our willingness to work with members on both sides of the aisle. In these dire economic circumstances and with our state facing a grim budget outlook it becomes so much more important to put aside partisanship and do what is best for the state of Texas. That is why I invited Speaker Straus to join our colleagues in a tour of the Rio Grande Valley." Featured, from left: Peña; Straus; Aaron Peña III; and Aaron Austin Peña. See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, featured third from right, on Tuesday, January 13, was sworn in for another four-year term representing Senate District 21, which includes Starr County.  Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst presided during Opening Day Ceremonies, officially gaveling to order the 81st Texas Legislative Session. "I truly am delighted to renew my unwavering support for all families in our district," Zaffirini said. "I especially look forward to prioritizing education and health and human services and to ensuring the health and welfare of Texans, especially those whom I represent."  She returns as the highest-ranking senator for Bexar County and the border region. including Starr County. Featured, from left: Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte; Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo; Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston; and Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio. See story later in this posting.

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DPS drug incinerator begins operation in South Texas, will destroy about 150,000 pounds of marijuana per year, says Sen. Hinojosa

 

The University of Texas-Pan American Alumni Association Board of Trustees recently held their quarterly meeting in Edinburg, reviewing some of their many achievements and outlining some of their goals for the coming year, said Dr. Roland Arriola, president of the Alumni Association.  The Alumni Association provides scholarships, mentorship, outreach and fundraising to improve the benefits and services for students and graduates and promote the university’s educational and technological excellence. Board officers, trustees, and guests who met during a September 30 board meeting at the Wells Fargo Bank in Edinburg featured in this photograph are, from left, seated: Diane Willis of Edinburg; Carmen Lara, formerly of San Juan and current McAllen resident; Frances Treviño of Edinburg, who serves as Secretary; Norma Rydl of Edinburg, who serves as Treasurer; and María “Charo” Mann, formerly of Lima, Perú and current Edinburg resident, who serves as Vice President. Standing, from left: Héctor Landez, formerly of Brownsville and current McAllen resident; John Taméz of Edcouch, who serves as President of the UTPA Student Alumni Association; John Sigrist, formerly of Helena, Missouri and current Mercedes resident; and Dan Martínez, formerly of San Benito and current Richmond resident. 

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The UTPA Alumni Association is a dynamic organization of proud graduates, ex-students and friends who have joined together to provide continued support and service to UT Pan American. The first Pan American University Alumni Association began in the early 1970s with 600 charter members. Today, the association is still strong and grows with each wave of new graduates. Chapters have been formed in Houston, Dallas and Austin providing long distance links to home and their alma mater for the ever-expanding family of graduates and supporters. The association relies on your support since it is a self-funded, membership-driven organization. The UTPA Alumni Association offers its members a variety of ways to stay connected and explore opportunities for building a place in the world. Tangible benefits help members grow personally and professionally while having fun and enjoying good fellowship. Board officers, trustees, and guests who met during a September 30 board meeting at the Wells Fargo Bank in Edinburg featured in this photograph are, from left, seated: Debby Grant of McAllen, who is UTPA’s Director of Alumni Relations; Linda Ríos of Edinburg, who is UTPA’s Assistant Director of Alumni Relations; Marissa Acevedo of McAllen, who is UTPA’s Clerk of Alumni Relations; and Marisela Leal of McAllen, who is UTPA’s Office Supervisor of Alumni Relations. Standing, from left, are: David Garza, formerly of Elsa and current Pearland resident, who serves as Vice President; Thomas Yznaga of Edinburg; Marco Ramírez, formerly of Monte Alto and current Edinburg resident; José “Joey” González, formerly of Roma and current McAllen resident, who serves as Vice President; and Dale Winter, formerly of Westbrook, Minnesota and current Alamo resident, who is the former President and current Parliamentarian of the UTPA Alumni Association Board of Trustees. The UTPA Alumni Association maintains a website at http://www.utpaalumni.com 

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Carlos Ramos, featured here, is making his first run for elected office, seeking the Place 7 school board seat currently being held by Ciro Treviño. Ramos, a former police officer with the Edinburg school district, and Roger C. Bunch, Jr., a teacher at the Edinburg Alternative Education Academy, are part of the second local school board race that has not drawn the media attention of the battle between Gilbert Enríquez and incumbent Carmen González for the Place 6 spot. But that doesn’t mean the behind-the-scenes competition for the seat by Bunch, Ramos and Treviño is not as important in determining political control of the seven-member school board. See story later in this posting. 

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Irene García, featured third from left, who is the District 2 representative on South Texas College’s Board of Trustees, on Monday, October 13, announced that she will resign her leadership post with STC, as required by state law, when she is sworn in on November 5 as a newly-elected member of the La Joya school board. Elected to STC’s Board of Trustees in May 2000, García has represented the interests of the constituents of La Joya, western Mission, Palmview, Sullivan City, Penitas and western Alton for more than eight years. She served as secretary, vice chair and chair of STC’s board. She also helped steer the goals and actions of the board’s facility, finance and human resources, and education and workforce innovations committees. “I retired from the LJISD administration team after a career spanning four decades of service in the classroom and at many levels of administration with both the La Joya and Hidalgo school districts. So, understandably, I have a real love and passion for this work,” said García. “I am moving my focus back to LJISD because I feel that my skills and knowledge would be a great benefit to the district’s board. I look forward to joining the board in November, working hard to continue LJISD’s tradition of excellence." She is the mother-in-law to Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview.  Her fellow trustees, along with STC President Dr. Shirley A. Reed, honored her on October 13 for her service to the community college system.  From left are: Dr. Alejo Salinas Jr., Jesse Villarreal; García; Dr. Shirley A. Reed, board chair Mike Allen; and board vice chair Gary Gurwitz. The STC board is soliciting nominations from qualified residents of District 2 in order to replace García. See story later in this posting. 

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Area higher education leaders gathered for a Friday, October 9 press conference at the University of Texas-Pan American to discuss with Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, the recently passed Higher Education Opportunity Act, which provides greater accessibility and affordability to higher education for the nation’s students. Featured, from left: Dr. Héctor Ochoa, dean of the UTPA College of Education; Dr. Antonio Zavaleta, vice president for External Affairs, UT-Brownsville/Texas Southmost College; Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas, UTPA president; Hinojosa; Dr. Shirley Reed, South Texas College president; Pat Hobbs, interim president, Texas State Technical College at Harlingen; Dr. Michael Zúñiga, director, South Texas Center, Texas A&M University Health Science Center; and Ben Reyna, special assistant to the provost for Federal Relations, The University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College. See story later in this posting. 

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