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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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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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Sen. Hinojosa pre-files legislation to freeze tuition rates; Rep. Peña, Sen. Lucio, Jr., Rep. Lucio, III, introduce measures to create UT medical school, UT law school in the Rio Grande Valley

On Monday, November 10 – the first day of pre-filing for the 81st Legislative Session – Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, filed Senate Bill 105, a tuition moratorium bill. Hinojosa’s proposal would establish a two-year moratorium on tuition rate hikes and limit future increases to key economic indices. Hinojosa believes the current tuition rate-setting scheme fails Texas’ college hopefuls. "There is something fundamentally wrong with the current system. We tell high school students that hard work earns them passage to a public university in Texas," he said. "Once these graduates meet that standard, they are priced out of the very opportunity that motivated them in the first place. The ‘work hard and get ahead’ story has become a false promise for Texas high school seniors."  Also on Monday, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville, introduced measures to create a University of Texas medical school, UT law school, in the Valley.  See top four stories later in this posting.

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With the Texas Legislature set to convene in January for its five-month regular session, the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has scheduled a legislative dinner for Tuesday, November 11, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Club at Cimarron in Mission. Area state lawmakers will get to discuss issues that remained unresolved from the 2007 regular session, as well as address new legislation that they will be presenting. Attendees will get to ask questions and/or inform them of their concerns as well. Individual tickets for the event are available for purchase at $25 each. Major sponsors will get a legislator sitting at their table during dinner. Sponsorships levels are $5,000, $2,000, $1,000 and $500. So far sponsoring the event are CP&L, the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, TXU, McAllen–Hidalgo Bridge, and Coca-Cola. For sponsorship information and/or to buy tickets, call the MHCC office at 928-0060. Featured, from left: McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen  Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview; and Carlos J. Gutiérrez, legislative aide representing Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. Not present, but scheduled to attend the legislative affair are: Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Rep. Armando Martínez, D-Weslaco; and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg.

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Two Edinburg physicians – Dr. Ben Garza, a family practice doctor and Dr. Carlos Manrique, an ophthalmologist – are the winners to 2008 Medical Awards bestowed by the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The two men, along with other area health professionals, will be honored by the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce during the 2nd Annual Medical Awards Banquet on Saturday, November 15, at The Embassy Suites in McAllen.  “We recognize that the medical community plays a very important part in our lives, thus the McAllen Hispanic Chamber wanted to recognize the leaders in the certain categories as per the community.” noted Rose Ramírez, MHC Vice Chair of Health Issues. “The purpose of the award is to identify and honor the professional or organization who exemplifies the dedication and continued growth of the professional and/or organization in a specialized field and the contributions of that person/organization to the continued good health of the people of the Rio Grande Valley. Seated, from left, are Manrique, named best Specialty Physician of 2008, and Garza, recognized as this year’s top General Physician. Back row, from left, are other winners in their respective categories: José Galaviz, Heart Hospital Director of CV Surgery; Gilda Romero, Heart Hospital Marketing Director; Elmer Esguerra, Heart Hospital, Director of PCCU; Orlando Vázquez, Physician Assistant with Dr. Enrique Griego; Hari Namboodiri, Las Palmas Administrator; Letty López Hernández, Las Palmas Marketing Director; and Cynthia Tucker Wilcox, Las Palmas DON.  Not shown are: Alejandra Ritchie, Las Palmas Assistant Director of Nursing; Leticia Chávez, Las Palmas Rehabilitation Program Manager; and Jean Calvert, Nurse of the Year.

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Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who represents Senate District 21, which includes the western portion of the Valley, on Wednesday, November 5, celebrated her re-election with many of her supporters. The senator carried her home county, Webb, with 78 percent, and reached totals as high as 90 percent in Starr and Zavala counties. Featured, from left, are: Sergio Mora, Webb County Democratic Party chair; her son, Carlos Zaffirini, Jr.; and Zaffirini.  See story later in this posting.

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Flo Prater, featured fourth from left, was named Chamber Champion of the Year at the 2008 Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet held on Thursday, October 30, at the the Echo Hotel and Conference Center. Prater is a co-owner of Rio Valley Realty and has been involved with the Chamber of Commerce for several years. Prater served on the Edinburg Centennial Committee, Chamber Champion Committee, Texas Cook’Em Committee, Fiesta Edinburg Committee, Tourism Committee, and also volunteers her time with other various chamber events. Sharing in the big day for her were, from left: Elva Jackson Garza; Letty González; Cris Torres (outgoing chamber chairman); Flo Prater; Keith Prater; Hayden Prater; and Brandon Prater.  See story later in this posting.

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Where the Ox Does Not Plow, an autobiographical ethnography, consists of twenty-six life episodes that chronicle Manuel Peña’s transformative journey from an impoverished migrant worker to a career in academia. An ethnograpy is the branch of anthropology that deals with the scientific description of specific human cultures. Inspired by his experiences and those of the people around him in Texas and California, Peña, a Weslaco native, reflects on a wide range of issues arising from the historically marginalized condition of Mexicans and other Latinos in the United States. The narrative will engage readers with a broad range of human experiences, from race relations and economic exploitation to the intimacy of familial and romantic love. See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg hoping northern section of planned Hidalgo County Loop goes near city-owned South Texas International Airport

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday that is observed on the last Monday of May (observed in 2008 on May 26). It was formerly known as Decoration Day. This holiday commemorates U.S. men and women who have died in military service to their country. It began first to honor Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War. After World War I, it was expanded to include those who died in any war or military action. Stories relating to Memorial Day are featured later in this posting, including President Bush’s proclamation and prayer for peace, and updates on a major reform to the G.I. Bill that has passed the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

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Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, featured second from left, brought key House legislators for a recent tour of the newly-opened Rapid Response Manufacturing Center at the University of Texas-Pan American. “It’s not every day that representatives from other regions of the state have the opportunity to see the burgeoning economic development of the Rio Grande Valley,” said Gonzáles. “The Rapid Response Manufacturing Center is a perfect example of how the Valley is continually striving to create and sustain jobs and opportunities for local residents.” Featured on the first row,, from left, are: Rep. Solomon Ortiz, Jr., D-Corpus Christi; Gonzáles; Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, Chair of the Select Committee on Higher and Public Education Finance; Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; Dr. Shirley Reed, president of South Texas College; and Dr. Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas, president of UTPA. See story later in this posting.

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A billboard off the U.S. Expressway 281 northbound frontage road near Canton Road heralds the planned construction of a 14-story, $150 million complex that will feature luxury condominiums, a hotel, restaurant, and other amenities known as the Sky View Las Palmas. Work is already underway at the site, which is located near the 1.2 million square-foot Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, where construction there also is moving forward. Sky View Las Palmas, which proposes to create about 200,00-square-feet of retail space, would be the latest major boost to construction activities in the city. It is tentatively scheduled to be built in four phases, according to the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, and be wrapped up in about two years.

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Robert Gandy, III, President/CEO of First National Bank, the largest privately held bank in Texas, will be the keynote speaker for the Wednesday, May 28 Leadership Edinburg Banquet at the Echo Hotel honoring the 19th graduating class. Tickets are available at $25 per person. Applications for Leadership Edinburg Class XX are currently available by contacting the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 383-4974. See story later in this posting.

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El Dorado Tejas Kooks of Houston, shown here last summer participating in the annual Texas Cook ‘Em in Edinburg, are expected to be among dozens of teams competing for awards and $15,000 in cash prizes again this July 4, when the major event gets underway again at Edinburg Municipal Park. A new category has been added to the competition – T-Bone Steak. The event is free and open to the public, but there will be a $5 parking fee per family. For more information on the cook-off, including how to enter a team, please log on to http://www.Edinburg.com. See story later in this posting. (More information on photojournalist Kirsten Luce, who took this shot, is available at http://www.KirstenLuce.com).

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Homer Gutiérrez, an engineer with J.E. Sáenz and Associates, points out one of the dozen high-resolution maps to Mayor Joe Ochoa, left, that were part of an open house held Wednesday, May 14, at Edinburg North High School, that depict a possible route for the planned $650 million Hidalgo County Loop that could wind up near the city-owned South Texas International Airport in Edinburg. Ochoa, former Mayor Richard Garcia, and Gerry Pate, the leader of Hidalgo County Road Builders, the private coalition developing the loop system, agree it will have a major economic impact on the three-time All-America City. Also featured in this shot is Robert Fina, also an engineer with J.E. Sáenz and Associates, which is one of numerous area firms which make up the Hidalgo County Road Builders. See story later in this posting.

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Gov. Perry orders flags at half-staff in memory of Lena Guerrero of Mission, who was first woman and first minority to serve on Texas Railroad Commission

Texas Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, will be honored on Wednesday, April 30 by South Texas College at its Pecan Campus in McAllen. The event, which is free and open to the public, represents a major coup for the community college because as speaker, Craddick is one of the three most powerful men in the Texas Legislature, along with Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, also both Republicans. Craddick’s visit also represents his first public venture into South Texas after he helped significantly fund the successful reelection bids in March by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview. Both South Texas Democrats were roundly criticized for being loyal to Craddick and some of his policies, including a controversial plan which was blamed for costing the Rio Grande Valley an additional congressional seat, and with it, hundreds of millions of dollars annually in federal funds. However, Peña and Flores opposed Craddick’s congressional redistricting efforts, and countered that by being loyal to Craddick, South Texas has picked up large increases in state funding and programs at higher levels than many other regions of the state.

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In a spirited ceremony “a la Bobcat-style,” Edinburg High School was honored on Wednesday, April 22, by the College Board with a 2008 College Board Inspiration Award and a check for $25,000 at a special assembly. EHS is one of three schools in the nation to receive the coveted 2008 award. Featured accepting the 2008 College Board Inspiration Award at the event, from left, are: ECISD Trustee Robert Peña; Gabriel Luna, Jarrod Salaiz, and Cassandra Sáenz, EHS student leaders; Peter Negroni, College Board Senior Vice president; ECISD Trustee David Torres; and ECISD Trustee and Vice President Omar Palacios. See story later in this posting.

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Small business owners from not only South Texas but from as far away as Georgia joined faculty and staff members at The University of Texas-Pan American April 16-17 to learn how to successfully identify and pursue government contract opportunities with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Participating in the workshop hosted by UT-Pan American, and co-sponsored by the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which contracted with RGF Consulting Corporation (RGFCC) to conduct the workshop were, from left: Cassandra Ford, presenter, RGFCC; Clarence Randall Jr., OSDBU; Teneshia G. Alston, HSS; Deborah Walker-Sewell, RGFCC; Dr. Wendy Lawrence-Fowler, UTPA vice president for Research and Sponsored Projects; Felicia Gaston, presenter, F.M. Gaston Associates; Theresa Bailey, UTPA director of Sponsored Projects; and Robert Flowers Jr., presenter and RGFCC president/CEO. See story later in this posting.

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Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, recently addressed the membership of Us Too – McAllen Chapter, a prostrate cancer support group, as a guest speaker to deliver her message of hope for advancing cancer research in Texas at the Edinburg Regional Medical Center. “Statistics are well known, but they are no less shocking,” said Gonzáles. “These men and their families are the lucky ones.” Among the most shocking statistics state that in Texas; one in four deaths is caused by cancer. A new case of prostate cancer occurs ever 2.5 minutes and a man dies from prostrate cancer every 19 minutes. The estimated total cost of cancer in Texas is $30 billion a year. Gonzáles shared with the audience of cancer survivors her hope with the success of Texans’ efforts to approve the landmark creation of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. See story later in this posting.

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