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House approves plan by Rep. Flores to use state agencies, other resources to build Valley VA Hospital

Al Ramírez, Edinburg’s first Mexican American mayor who served from 1963 to 1967, passed away on Wednesday, April 22. The groundbreaking mayor, shown here last August 21 during a campaign kick-off for Edinburg school board trustee Carmen González, was credited for helping desegregate public swimming pools, among many other achievements. "We lost one of the great men of the Valley," said former Rep. Alejandro Moreno, D-Edinburg. "He was a descendant of pioneer families. He was a former mayor of Edinburg who welcomed the striking Rio Grande City Farm workers from a hospital bed on their 1966 march to Austin. He was a life long educator who helped develop bilingual curricula in the 1970’s. He also published history and genealogy books and had a great sense of humor. May he Rest in Peace." See obituary later in this posting. 

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Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, a guest of Mayor Joe Ochoa during Kennedy’s visit to the University of Texas-Pan American in February 2008, accepted a replica of the community’s All-America City Award, a symbol of some of many achievements generated during the leadership of Ochoa, who is not seeking reelection. Ochoa, who a few days after Kennedy’s visit welcomed then-presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, to the three-time All-America City, will be making one of his final official appearances as mayor on Thursday, May 7, as part of the National Day of Prayer. The prayer breakfast, which will take place from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., will be held at The Social Steak House and Club, 205 Conquest Boulevard in Edinburg.  There is a $15 fee, which includes breakfast along with a special gift to the first 150 people, courtesy of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.  For more information or to RSVP call the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956/383-4974.  

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United States Army Major General (Retired) William F. Garrison, featured second from left, a 1966 alumnus of the University of Texas-Pan American, came back to his alma mater recently to address military cadets in Edinburg.  Garrison became most famous for his role as the commanding officer of Operation Gothic Serpent, the military operation launched in 1993 to capture Somalian warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, which ended with the Battle of Mogadishu on October 3, 1993. Actor Sam Shepherd later portrayed Garrison in the film Black Hawk Down, which chronicles the events of the Battle of Mogadishu, regarded at the time as as the biggest single firefight involving American soldiers since the Vietnam War. Featured, from left, at at the Dining-In ceremony for UTPA and UT-Brownsville/Texas Southmost College ROTC cadets are: Colonel (USAR) Christopher B. Rivers, UTPA assistant director of military science; United States Army Major General (Retired) William F. Garrison; UTPA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Paul Sale; Cadet Bronc Battalion Commander Vanessa Randolph; and Lieutenant Colonel André Dean, professor of military science and commanding officer of the UTPA battalion.  See story later in this posting. 

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Saturday, April 25, was declared Texas Meningitis Awareness Day under a measure by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, which was approved by the Senate on Friday, April 24. Bacterial meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cords. The disease strikes 2,000 to 3,000 Americans each year, and 10 to 12 percent of those infected die. There is also a viral type of meningitis. Lucio also named a bill by Sen. Wendy Davis, R-Fort Worth, requiring bacterial meningitis vaccinations for first-time college students living on campus in this state, the Jamie Schanbaum Act, after the 20-year-old University of Texas student has been hospitalized for the past six months with the less common and more violent version of the bacteria Meningococcemia. Jamie Schanbaum’s mother, Patsy Silva Schanbaum, is originally from Brownsville. Featured on the Senate floor on April 24, from left: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; Maureen Moore, of the Houston Area Immunization Partnership and Confederation of Meningitis Organization; Nancy Day, representing her son, Kyle Hendrix (Meningitis survivor); Patsy Silva Schanbaum, representing her daughter, Jamie Schanbaum (Meningitis survivor); Jamie’s brother, Nicholas Schanbaum; Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Sen. Wendy Davis, R-Ft. Worth, and Sen. Lucio. See story later in this posting. 

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House panel preserves option to upgrade Edinburg RAHC into UT medical school, says Rep. Martínez

A second Edinburg war hero – the late Pedro Cano – could soon join an elite group of Texas veterans who have been bestowed the state’s highest medal for valor – the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor – under a bill introduced on Friday, April 17, by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg.

Family members for Cano – who is featured here during ceremonies honoring him in downtown Edinburg more than 60 years ago – are among the special guests invited to participate in a special presentation on Saturday, April 25, while Peña’s measure continues through the legislative process. The April 25 gathering,  which is free and open to the public, is also being organized by the Edinburg lawmaker. It will begin at 10 a.m. on the western plaza of Edinburg City Hall. More than half a century ago, the city of Edinburg dedicated April 26, 1946 as Pedro Cano Day. On that day, businesses closed, schools were dismissed, a parade was held and more than 4,000 people witnessed the award of the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military honor, to the 25-year-old South Texan. Only six Texans have been bestowed the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor, including its most recent recipient, the late U.S. Marine Sgt. Alfredo "Freddy" González of Edinburg, who was posthumously awarded the honor in February 2008, during a public ceremony in Edinburg which featured his mother, Dolia González, and Gov. Rick Perry. See story on Pedro Cano later in this posting. 

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Amanda Lira, who attends Economedes High School, hugs her mother, Delma Lira Sánchez, during a ceremony earlier this month at the University of Texas at Austin, where Amanda was one of two South Texas high school students honored as Migrant Students of the Year. Texas has the second-largest migrant education program and the largest interstate migrant student population in the nation. Students and their families migrate annually from Texas to 48 other states to work in agricultural and other seasonal jobs. The Liras were joined in this portrait by Dr. Judy C. Ashcroft, UT’s Dean of Continuing and Innovative Education, and Dr. Felipe Alanis, UT’s Associate Dean of Continuing and Innovative Education and Director of the K-16 Education Center. See story later in this posting. 

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Deyanira Castillo of Weslaco celebrates with her mother, María Castillo, after Deyania was one of two Texas high school students honored by the University of Texas at Austin as Migrant Student of the Year. Since it was begun more than two decades ago, the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program has enrolled more than 22,000 students in its mission to increase the graduation rate of high school migrant students in Texas. With funding from the Texas Education Agency and gifts from the Beaumont Foundation of America, the Exxon Mobil Foundation, the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation and the Microsoft Corporation, the program helps Texas migrant students earn high school credits through distance learning courses that meet Texas curriculum requirements. See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, honored members of the Zonta Club of Brownsville on Tuesday, April 14, at the Texas Capitol with a Senate Resolution commending them for their contributions to the Brownsville community and congratulating them on their 50th anniversary. Zonta is a worldwide service organization of executives and professionals working together to advance the status of women worldwide through service and advocacy. There are over 32,000 members in 1,255 clubs in 67 countries. Featured, from left: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; Danita Utsman, Zonta District Governor; Rosalie Gutiérrez, Brownsville Zonta President; Lee Ann Greer, Zonta Vice President; Brenda Pérez, Public Relations Chairwoman; Brunilda Villarreal and Minnie Lucio (wife of Sen. Lucio), Conference Co-Chairs, and Sen. Lucio. 

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Weslaco strengthens bid for airport designation despite Edinburg’s opposition and rival proposal

Dr. Bin Fu, assistant professor in Department of Computer Science at The University of Texas-Pan American, has become the second faculty member on the Edinburg campus to receive the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious honor, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award. The NSF accolade is presented to junior faculty members at CAREER-eligible organizations who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. Dr. Karen Lozano, mechanical engineering associate professor who holds the Julia Beecherl Professorship in Engineering at UTPA, won the honor in 2001. “The CAREER Award is a dream for many tenure track faculty members. Before receiving the confirmation from NSF, I did not even believe it would be true for me,” Fu said. “I hope this will encourage more junior faculty members at UTPA to join this national competition.” See story later in this posting. 

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The South Texas Transplant Center at McAllen Medical Center on Tuesday, April 7, held a public flag raising ceremony as part of “Flags Across America", a Donate Life America initiative which honors and celebrates the hundreds of thousands of donors and recipients whose lives have been affected by organ, eye and tissue donation. The Donate Life flag was officially raised by Micaela Ledezma, who after six years on dialysis, received a kidney from a cadaver and underwent a transplant procedure at the South Texas Transplant Center at McAllen Medical Center. With a healthy kidney, Ledezma has been able to live her life without dialysis. Featured with Ledezma is  Joel Peña, System Director of Volunteer Services. Partially obscured by the flagpole to her right is Fidel Ozuna from the hospital’s Engineering Department. See story later in this posting. 

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Community leaders and residents of the Mid Valley communities, including  Alamo, Donna, Mercedes, Progreso, Progreso Lakes, San Juan, and Weslaco, are featured in this portrait with Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco (first row, third from left) and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville (first row, third from right), during a visit last month to the Texas Capitol by a delegation from those cities. Late last week, House Bill 848 by Martínez, which would allow the governor to designate the Mid Valley Airport in Weslaco as the disaster relief headquarters for the Valley, was heard by a major House committee. Lucio also represents Weslaco in his senatorial district, and will be pressed into action by his constituents to rally support for the Weslaco airport measure, and get it passed out of the Senate as well. Weslaco Mayor Buddy de la Rosa, featured to Lucio’s left, has publicly endorsed the Weslaco airport legislation. See lead story on the Mid Valley Airport and a related story on Mid Valley Day later in this posting. 

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Weslaco airport legislation by Rep. Martínez set for House committee hearing on Wednesday, April 8

Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner Sylvia Handy, shown here in early December 2008 successfully championing the extension of the proposed Hidalgo County Loop through her district, on Thursday, April 2, was named in a six-county indictment charging her, her spouse, Juan Gabriel Espronceda, 35, María De Los Ángeles Landa de Hernández, 27, and Eloisa Andrade Uriegas, 58, with harboring aliens for financial gain. An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law. Handy has said she is innocent. Following news of her indictment, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III released the following statement: “Today, we became aware that Pct. 1 Commissioner Sylvia S. Handy and three others were arrested on the allegation of defrauding taxpayers for personal gain. We will withhold our own judgment, as this is an ongoing investigation and is in the hands of the court system. However, my office has been in contact with Commissioner Handy’s chief of staff to offer our help. My office pledges to the public that all vital public services for the families of Pct. 1 will continue.” Featured in this file photo, to her right, is Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, and to her left, is Salinas. See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who serves as the vice-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, led the workgroup on that panel that developed state funding for general government, the judiciary, natural resources, and regulatory services.  The Senate Finance Committee, which writes the Senate’s version of the two-year state budget, on Wednesday, April 1, approved a $182 billion budget, which would cover the period between September 1, 2009 and August 30, 2011. This biennial budget is a seven percent increase over 2008-2009, but nearly half that growth is attributable to federal stimulus money. Actual state spending grows only about two percent per year over the next biennium. See story later in this posting. 

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On September 8, 1993, Gov. Ann Richards appointed the founding South Texas Community College (now South Texas College) Board of Trustees, which included Manuel Benavidez, Jr., of La Grulla in Starr County, who passed away on Saturday, March 28. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, whose district includes Starr County, expressed her condolences to his family and friends. "I am profoundly saddened by our loss of Manuel Benavidez, a champion of higher education, economic development and housing, and am among the countless South Texans who will miss him greatly," she said. "His legacy as a regent for South Texas College and the Starr County Housing Authority reflects his lifelong commitment to creating a brighter future for our families." Highlights of his life are featured in an article composed by one of his daughters, which is featured later in this posting. In this 1993 file photo, the founding board of trustees posed for their portrait, including, seated, from left: Rosalinda González and Pearl Mathis; and standing, from left: Glen Roney (vice chair); Manuel Benavidez, Jr.; Dr. Amparo Cárdenas; Gary Gurwitz (secretary); and Rubén Hinojosa (chair). 

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Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, recently welcomed the 2008-09 Leadership Mid Valley class, which visited the Capitol to gain further insight into the workings of state government. Leadership Mid Valley provides opportunities for developing leadership skills and increasing knowledge of vital public issues. Members of this year’s class, from left to right, are: Annette Turner, Nels Anderson, Allison Summersett, Martínez, Priscilla Castañeda, Jesse Colin, Yvonne Chamblin, Vicky De La Garza, Lucio, Mari Avilés, Nancy Peña and Rolando Pedraza. On Wednesday, April 8, a bill by Martínez which would designate the Mid Valley Airport in Weslaco as the emergency headquarters for the Valley during times of natural and man-made disasters will be heard by the House Defense and Veterans’ Committee. See lead story in this posting. 

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Southwest Workers Union plans 5:45 p.m. Tuesday rally in Edinburg to help organize ECISD workers

Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III (with Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured left) will present the 2009 State of the County Address on Tuesday, February 24, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Knapp Medical Center Conference Center, located at 1401 E. 8th Street, one block west of the hospital. "This event is for us to come together to publicly evaluate where we’ve been as a community and where we are going," said Salinas. “No Boundaries” is the theme of this event, and Salinas will focus on efforts working together to improve the quality of life for all residents. Dinner will be served, and the event also includes a live auction to benefit the Hidalgo County Scholarship Program. This program was unveiled at last year’s State the County Address, and since, Hidalgo County has awarded four scholarships for up to six hours of tuition and fees to four employees and their dependents. The event is free and open to the public. However, seating is limited, so organizers are asking residents to arrive early to allow ample time for auction registration. For those who cannot attend, this event will be webcasted live on http://www.krgv.com and broadcast on digital channel 5.4.

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On Saturday, February 7, 2009, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, presented the Most Reverend Raymundo J. Peña, Bishop of the Diocese of Brownsville, a Senate Resolution in celebration of his 75th birthday. Featured, from left: Sister Norma Pimentel; Ms. Linda McKamie, CEO, Catholic Charities of Corpus Christi Diocese; Mr. Steve Saldaña, CEO, Catholic Charities of San Antonio; Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Bishop Peña; and Sen. Lucio. See story later in this posting.

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Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, on Thursday, February 19, welcomed the members of the Association of Public Administrators from the Master of Public Administration program at The University of Texas-Pan American on the House floor commending the members for their dedication to the field of public administration. "UTPA has made great strides since the inception of the Master of Public Administration Program and I am honored to have welcomed their visit to our State Capitol," said Peña. "I look forward to working with these outstanding individuals in the near future in shaping our government." Some of those delegation members are featured here, in the Speakers Committee Room at the Capitol, from left: Víctor M. de León, Dr. Aziza Zemrani, APA Advisor; Rep. Peña; Maricela De León, APA President; Adán Nieto, APA Vice President; and Edgar Cantú. Not shown are: Dr. Tom Lynch, Executive Director, UTPA at San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; Dr. Cynthia Lynch MPA Professor; Sylvia Quiñones; and Esteban Sánchez. See story later in this posting.

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