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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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Texas veterans denounce Texas Monthly’s attack on Rep. Flores for fighting for disabled war heroes 

Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, flanked by leaders of local veterans’ groups, on Thursday, June 11, explained why he took on powerful legislative enemies in order to get his bill passed that will provide up to a 100 percent home property tax break for thousands of disabled veterans. "We veterans, we don’t leave anyone behind, and I wasn’t about to leave these veterans behind," Flores said during a press conference organized by the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley. The group chose the Rio  Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery in Mission as the site for the news event, noting that Flores had also been the principal architect in bringing the state veterans cemetery to the Valley. Despite behind-the-scenes legislative opposition to his measure, Flores, a U.S. Army veteran, outmaneuvered his  political rivals and passed the veterans’ home tax break. Flores praised Texas veterans groups for playing a key role in the measure’s hard-fought success.  See lead story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured first on right, was rated as one of the best state lawmakers in Texas by Capitol Inside, a non-partisan web site news service has been a big hit with Republicans, Democrats and diehard independents as well since making its debut online in January 2003. At the conclusion of each legislative session, several political publications and websites name best and worst performers based on their service to their districts and the state. This year, Capitol Inside and political strategists Ted Delisi and Harold Cook compiled top ten lists, each naming Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as one of Texas’ top ten legislators. Capitol Inside referred to Hinojosa as a veteran legislator that "just keeps getting better."  The Delisi/Cook list noted Hinojosa’s ability to secure funding for District 20 projects, including highway infrastructure, and millions of dollars for health care delivery services. From left, during a recent visit to the Capitol, are Hidalgo County Treasurer Norma G. García, Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa (no relation to the senator), Hidalgo County County Clerk Arturo Guajardo, Jr., and Hinojosa. See story on the Capitol Inside ranking later in this posting. 

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South Texas firefighters were among the dozens of area groups which visited state lawmakers at the Capitol during the recently-concluded five month regular session. On Wednesday, April 1, a Valley delegation brought their issues to Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville. Featured with Lucio, in his office, are, from left: Manuel Vargas, McAllen; Raul R. Zúñiga, Jr., San Benito; Javier Gutiérrez, McAllen; Lucio; Ramón Martínez, San Benito; Jesús Tijerina, San Benito; and Ernest Abrego, Harlingen. Later in this posting, Lucio writes about several key measures approved by the Legislature that will benefit another key constituency – military veterans.  

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The Convention Committee of the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is finalizing plans for the 34th annual Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC) Convention, which this year will be held at the McAllen Convention Center from July 29 through August 1.  The theme to the convention is “Growing Hispanic Business, for a Stronger Texas Economy”. Featured, front row, from left:  Sam Guzmán, TAMACC president;  Froy Garza with Congressman Henry Cuellar’s office; and Salomon Torres with Congressman Ruben Hinojosa’s office. Back row, from left: Rick Carrera, University of Texas-Pan American Small Business Development Center; Dr. John Thomas, MHCC board of directors; Mark Winchester, UTPA’s Director of the Rio South Texas Regional Procurement Technical Assistance Center; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC Pres/CEO; Letty Flores with Gov. Rick Perry’s office; Margie Treviño, Southern Minority Supplier Development Council; and María Juárez, UTPA Director of the Small Business Development Center. See story later in this posting. 

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce will host a Power Punch @ Lunch on Wednesday, June 24 at the Depot, located at 602 W. University Drive, sponsored by Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (DHR). The business community of Edinburg and the Rio Grande Valley are invited to attend the free networking luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.  Persons who attend are being asked to bring their business cards to distribute during the chamber’s most notable social-networking luncheon, which includes food, door prizes and fun. Area residents interested in attending should RSVP by calling 956/383-4974. Featured, from left: Joanna Álvarez, DHR Assistant Director for Marketing; McAllen City Commissioner Jim Darling, who serves as DHR’s legal counsel; Mario Lizcano, DHR Director for Marketing; Marissa Castañeda, DHR’s Chief Operations Officer; and Frank Lara, Membership Director, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.  

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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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Edinburg’s unemployment rate for December remains at 5.5 percent, again best in the Valley, better than Texas and U.S. unemployment levels

With Bucky the Bronco, the mascot for the University of Texas-Pan American, helping lead the cheers in June 2004, Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas was welcomed during a public ceremony on her first day as president by Rodolfo Arévalo, Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs. Citing health reasons, Cárdenas retired as president of one of the largest public universities in Texas effective Friday, January 30. Under her leadership, UT-Pan American continued its successful transformation into a research-oriented institution of higher education, with a top faculty and state-of-the-art facilities and resources. On Tuesday, January 27, Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, said he would work closely with new UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to inform and involve South Texans on the appointment, deliberations, and actions of a presidential search advisory committee which will undertake a national search for a successor to Cárdenas. "We will make sure the public is fully informed on how these major steps are taken, and how people from all walks of life from South Texas can participate in selecting the new leadership of our great university," Flores said. Charles A. Sorber, former president of UT-Permian Basin and former interim president of UT-Arlington, will serve as interim president effective February 23. See story later in this posting.

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Charles A. Sorber, former president of UT-Permian Basin and former interim president of UT- Arlington, will serve as interim president of the University of Texas-Pan American effective February 23 while a national search begins for a permanent successor to former president Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas, the UT System announced on Tuesday, January 27. “Dr. Sorber’s expertise and vast background have earned him a rock-solid reputation of service in a variety of administrative positions, and we are extremely fortunate to have him help guide UT-Pan American in this important time of transition," said David B. Prior, the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. "UT-Pan American is tremendously important to the region and to the UT System. We believe that the students, faculty and staff will enjoy getting to know Dr. Sorber as your combined efforts continue to move the institution to even greater distinction. The quick action by UT System administrators is crucial to maintaining stability at the university, said Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. "I am happy to see that the UT System is moving quickly to search for the best candidate to lead UT-Pan American," said Hinojosa. "Dr. Cárdenas set a high standard and I expect the presidential search advisory committee to seek out an outstanding academic and administrator to guide UT-Pan American." See story later in this posting.

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In an effort to rouse up funding and support for local projects in the upcoming transportation reauthorization bill, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, featured left, on Monday, January 26, met with Congressman James Oberstar, D-MN, featured right, who is the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Hinojosa, along with Congressman Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi (center), highlighted South Texas’ many infrastructure projects that are “shovel-ready” and needed for long-term growth. These projects include the Hidalgo County Loop, the Donna Bridge access road, North Rail Relocation project, and U.S. Highway 281 at Falfurrias and Ben Bolt. See story later in this posting.

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Former McAllen Mayor Othal E. Brand Sr., featured left, was recognized on Monday, January 26, for his years of service to the community, and he was presented a proclamation from Mayor Richard Cortéz, on behalf of the city commission. In 1973, Brand was elected city commissioner and in 1977 was elected mayor, where he served continuously for 20 years until 1997. Through his leadership and vision, he was instrumental in establishing the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of McAllen and planned for McAllen’s future by acquiring land for future growth. Brand served on numerous boards and committees both on the local and state levels. See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg High School graduate Aurora Casas was already a member of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) when she started her college career at South Texas College. At the age of 58, she didn’t let a simple number keep her from her achieving her goals. “It was always my dream to be an office worker,” she said. “I would go to renew my driver’s license or to the bank and I would see the young ladies and gentlemen behind their desks; I always dreamt that I could be in their shoes one day. I wanted it to be me as the professional helping others.” But it took a pink slip to put her back on the college path. Prior to STC, she spent 30 of her years as a seamstress with Haggar Clothing Co. She took the job to help her family make ends meet, but ultimately wasn’t doing what she really hoped with her life. And in the end, the Haggar plant closed and her long-term commitment to her employer only earned her a pink slip. Now, the South Texas College alum Aurora Casas of Edinburg uses her college knowledge to help mature adults find work in a high-tech, fast-paced, global marketplace. See story later in this posting.

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The Hidalgo County District Clerk’s Office on Thursday, January 22, presented a check totaling $2,500 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation as part of their Blues for Bucks Workplace Fundraising Campaign to benefit local charitable organizations. The program allows department staff to wear jeans every Friday in exchange for a $5 donation. “I am extremely proud of our staff for their support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and their willingness to give back to their community. They are extremely elated to see their efforts going towards a cause that helps grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions,” said Hinojosa. Featured, first row, from left: María Barrera; Mary Alonzo; Prescilla López; Ava Sandlin, area Executive Director for the Make-A-Wish Foundation; María Elva Garza; Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa; and Nilda Van Hook. Back row, from left: Aída Ríos; Ángela García; Lonnie De León; Eric Rodríguez; Irene Casares; Ireneo Razo; Pedro Navarro; Josue Palomo, and Lorena De La Garza. See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg economy expected to grow, predicts Standard & Poor’s, one of nation’s top rating firms

Thousands of Edinburg residents, including political, business, and community leaders featured in the background, showed up at the University of Texas-Pan American on Friday, February 22, to rally support for the presidential bid by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, featured center, shown greeting inspired UTPA students. Only a handful of Rio Grande Valley elected leaders showed up to support Obama, who was dueling with Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, a South Texas favorite, for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Mayor Joe Ochoa and Councilmember Gus García, Jr., along with Edinburg school board trustee Robert Peña, Jr., bucked conventional political wisdom and threw their public support behind Obama, who will be sworn into office on the front steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, January 20. 

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Dr. Beverly Fridie, Ph.D., and her husband, Dr. David Fridie, II, DPM, from Edinburg shared their joy and pride with a Chicago Tribune newspaper distributor in the Windy City on Wednesday, November 5, following the historic election of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, and the first black president in the nation’s history. The Fridie family traveled to Illinois to be part of what they hoped would be a monumental transformation in U.S. politics. Mrs. Fridie, who along with her husband are longtime community and business leaders in Edinburg, recently reflected on their visit to Chicago to help rally support for Obama. "Weeks after David and I visited Grant Park in Chicago to see and hear Barack Obama’s victory speech, I still feel a since of elation, pride and joy to be present at the historical presidential announcement of the first African American president. Standing amongst millions of enthusiastic people of all ethnic backgrounds who were holding hangs, crying and chanting, "Yes we can” and “Change has come” was an experience, I will cherish for a lifetime. Not a day has passed since that night, November 4, that I have not reflected on that event. As grand as Barack Obama’s victory rally was portrayed in the media, it was certainly an ‘out of body’ experience in person. As we share our history with our future generations, I can say, “I was there” when the first African American was elected as our president of the United States." 

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Texas Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, featured center in this file photo last year with Hollis Rutledge (left), the chairman of the  Hidalgo County Republican Party, and Pharr Mayor Polo Palacios, announced on Sunday, January 4, that he will not seek a fourth two-year term as leader of the 150-member legislative chamber.  Instead, a relative newcomer, Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, on Monday, January 5, said he has more than enough votes to be elected Speaker when the Texas Legislature returns to Austin on January 13 for its five-month regular session. The Speaker of the House, who has the power of life and death over all legislation, is elected every two years if he or she can secure 76 votes from fellow lawmakers. If Straus is able to hold on to his support until the official vote is taken, he will owe his election to House Democrats, including all the Valley state representatives, who represented the majority of the votes needed to become Speaker. See story later in this posting. 

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Mayor Joe Ochoa, center, flanked by Gov. Rick Perry, right, and former Mayor Richard García left, addressed a July 2 gathering at the University of Texas-Pan American to announce that a South American textile company will build a $180 million denim-manufacturing plant in Edinburg, which, when completed, will create 800 new jobs and pump millions of dollars into the local economy. In December, the city continued to receive some more good news, according to the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, when Standard and Poor’s, one of the nation’s top three credit rating firms, gave a positive report about the health of the city’s economy, predicting it will continue to grow. See lead story in this posting. 

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