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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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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 retail economy in December 2008 up more than 21 percent over same month in 2007

Mayor Joe Ochoa, who earlier this year announced he would not be seeking reelection in May, on Tuesday, February 10, was honored by the Texas House of Representatives for leading Edinburg through an unprecedented period of economic development and improvements in the quality-of-life during his 13 years as one of South Texas’ most effective political leaders. The high praise was contained in House Concurrent Resolution 39, authored by Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, whose House District 41 includes southwest Edinburg. The measure, which was approved unanimously by the 150-member House of Representatives, was publicly endorsed by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, whose House District 40 includes most of the three-time All-America City. Ochoa was credited for heavily influencing the city’s "dramatic growth and prosperity," noting that during his tenure as mayor, Edinburg has seen the number of all properties in Edinburg increase dramatically, from $500 million in assessed valuations when he first took office in 1993, to $3 billion today. See story later in this posting. 

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Roland Arriola, Ph.D., president of the Texas Valley Communities Foundation, was one of 15 members appointed on Monday, February 16, by the University of Texas System Board of Regents to serve on a presidential search committee to advise regents on the selection of a president for UT-Pan American. Arriola, a former member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, was selected because of his role as president of the UT-Pan American Alumni Association. The UT System appointed Charles A. Sorber as interim president last month. Sorber assumed the interim presidency on Monday, February 16. The advisory committee will be asked to present the names of no more than 10 candidates – unranked – to the board, which will make the final decision. Featured, from left, during a major conference in Harlingen last fall, are Kelli Rod, Vice President of Community Relations with TXU Energy; Arriola; and Courtney P. Suhr, Senior Strategic Communications Specialist with the OneStar Foundation.  See story on the presidential advisory panel later in this posting. 

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Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, featured left, and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured right, on Tuesday, February 10, presented a Senate Resolution to members of Amigos Del Valle celebrating Senior Day at the State Capitol. Lucio paid tribute to the organization’s 2008-2009 King Luis Barrientos and Queen Eva Martínez, featured center, both representing Casa Del Mar in Brownsville. The 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 Royal Courts were also honored and included members from senior centers throughout the Rio Grande Valley. Amigos Del Valle is a consortium of county and city governmental entities working to provide nutrition, transportation and housing services to senior citizens of Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties.  Helping senior citizens live healthy, productive and self-sufficient lives is the group’s primary goal. The Executive Director of Amigos Del Valle, Inc., located in Mission, is José Garza.  

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Former Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez, D-McAllen, is back in action at the Texas Capitol, working on key measures designed to help millions of Texans. But he is not a registered lobbyist nor a state lawmaker. Instead of providing public service in either of those two influential roles, he is serving the state as a member of the nation’s most powerful political entity – the American citizen. In that role, Gutiérrez and his wife, Cecilia, along with Delia Oropez of Weslaco and Estella Lane Treviño of Edinburg, are members of the Texas Silver-Haired Legislature, a powerful coalition of influential Texans who work on measures to help older residents. Featured in this portrait taken in the chamber of the House of Representatives are, from left: Delia Oropez; former Rep. Gutiérrez; and Cecilia Gutiérrez. See story later in this posting. 

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Congratulations to Maureen F. McClain, associate director of Disability Services at The University of Texas-Pan American, who was recently appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. McClain was one of five individuals in the state, whose terms will expire February 1, 2010, to be chosen for the committee that works to ensure Texans with disabilities may live their lives with integrity, independence and productivity. Pictured is McClain being sworn in by U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa in late January in McAllen to the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. McClain, who has been employed with UTPA for more three years, earned her bachelor’s degree in rehabilitative services and a master’s in rehabilitative counseling from UTPA. She is a member of the Association of Higher Education and Disabilities, and was appointed to the Academic Advisement Council. To learn more about UTPA’s Disability Services department and the services offered, visit http://www.utpa.edu/disability or for more information on the committee, visit http://www.governor.state.tx.us/disabilities/. 

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Criminals don’t take a day off and they are always on at the top of their games. So why shouldn’t the rest of society be just as prepared to trump their aces, especially when it comes to cyber security? That’s why South Texas College is hosting a Cyber Security Workshop on Thursday, February 19 and Friday, February 20 at its Pecan Campus in McAllen. Offered in conjunction with Texas A&M University, the National Science Foundation and TEEX, the free workshop offers business owners and technology professionals the latest information about cyber terrorism and cyber security issues. “We are very excited to host this workshop because the developments in technology occurring every day mean that we must be extremely vigilant in learning about the lat est innovations and how criminals are using them to try and damage our identities,” said Raquel Peña, assistant professor of computer science for STC, featured in this photograph. “But we don’t have to be victims, as long as we stay ahead of the curve and use the tools available to keep the cyber world safe.” Space for the workshop is limited to 80 participants and is filling up quickly. For more information or to reserve a spot, call 956/872-2056. 

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Several South Texas College students had the unique opportunity to meet recently with Texas lawmakers in Austin to share their views about higher education, as well as their hopes for current and future generations of Hidalgo and Starr county students. Karina Cerda, Darien Fernández, Miguel García, Lizette Muñoz, Cassandra Orozco, Ronald Tanamachi and Esther Ybarra, who are members of STC’s Student Government Association, represented the student body at Community College Day at the Texas State Capitol on Wednesday, February 4. Community College Day was sponsored and organized by the Texas Junior College Student Government Association. The students toured the capitol building, attended a rally and had the opportunity to network with students from across the state. The STC students, who were chaperoned by a delegation of STC administrators, met with: Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles; Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Roma; Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas; and Rep. Fred Brown, R-Bryan.  The meetings allowed students to share their experiences and expectations with lawmakers to help them understand the continually growing role community colleges play in the economic growth and vitality of the districts they serve.  In a related matter, STC leaders have announced that enrollment at the two-county higher education institution approached 22,000 for the spring 2009 semester. See story on enrollment later in this posting. 

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce is going on a “SAFARI” from Thursday, February 26 through Sunday, March 1, at the Edinburg Municipal Park. The Heart of America Carnival will be featured during that week; with a $5 "All-You-Can-Ride" special on February 26. Musical headliners “Little Rob” will perform Friday evening and “DUELO” will perform on Saturday at 7 p.m. Fiesta Edinburg will also feature food, carnival, various music and entertainment. Also, check out the  free “SAFARI” Kidz Zone on Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. ($5 parking fee required). Edinburg residents also will be treated to the IBC Bank Fiesta Edinburg “SAFARI” Parade, scheduled for Saturday, February 28, beginning at 10 a.m.  The parade will start at the Hidalgo County Court House. Dedicated IBC Bank employees, as part of the IBC Employee Advisory Board, have contributed to making Fiesta Edinburg a great success for the community, noted Dina Araguz, Edinburg 107 IBC Bank branch manager. For more information on Fiesta Edinburg, please call 956/383-4974. Featured, from left: Enrique García, Salvador Martínez, Josue Ramírez, Aaron Ramírez, Judith Cantú, Dina Araguz, Lizette Cano, Ashley Herrera, Griselda Zambrano, Aaron Galván , and Robert Alaniz. 

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Dozens of area leaders receive education on how to apply for $45 million in grants

State and local leaders met in Edinburg on Wednesday, August 27, as part of a two-hour session sponsored by the Texas Valley Communities Foundation to help area nonprofit groups apply for $45 million in AmeriCorps grants that will be awarded in Texas during the next three years. Featured, from left: Dr. Roland S. Arriola, Ph.D., president of Texas Valley Communities Foundation; Rosa Moreno-Mahoney, Associate Director of Service and Volunteerism for the One Star Foundation; Dr. Beverly Ashley-Fridie, Ph.D., a gubernatorial appointee from Edinburg who serves on the board of directors for the One Star Foundation; and Courtney Suhrs, Senior Strategic Communications Specialist for the One Star Foundation. “One Star Foundation is looking for partners to invest an anticipated $45 million in grant funding to support programs for the educational success of Texas’ youth over a three year period through AmeriCorps funding,” said Arriola. “One Star will partner with organizations that focus on quality early childhood education, school-readiness programs, improving literacy rates, increasing the obtainment of high school equivalencies, increasing grade level achievement, and increasing post-secondary attendance and completion.”  See story later in this posting.

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Congressman Rubén Hinojosa was the special speaker on Thursday, August 21 for the legislative luncheon hosted by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce’s Public Affairs Committee, led by Ramiro Garza, executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. Hinojosa talked about recent legislative issues, including education priorities, that will emphasize financial literacy, encourage financial partners in student loan programs, increasing need-based grant aid through Pell grants, and other measures. Sponsors for the event were Rio Valley Realty, and Edwards Abstract and Title Co.  Featured, back row, from left: Johnny Rodríguez; Hayden Prater; Flo Prater; Jared Prater; Elva Jackson Garza; Marty Martin, and Imelda.  Front row, from left: Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; Mayor Joe Ochoa;Hinojosa; Byron J. Lewis; and Maggie Kent.

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The Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department will collaborate with the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, and the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library in celebrating Edinburg’s Centennial on Monday, October 6, at the Edinburg Municipal Park. As part of its participating, the fire department will host National Fire Department Week, and provide – for free – live entertainment, music, dancers, a karate show and demo, fire safety, cokes and hot dogs, as well  ice cream, courtesy of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce,  and Edinburg’s biggest birthday cake, courtesy of the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library.  The event will be from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., with a Fire Prevention/Caravan/Parade to kick off the celebration at 5:30 p.m.  The fire department will also work in partnership with the Museum of South Texas History, on Sunday, October 5, and kick off the week with “Museum Day”.  Residents will be welcomed to visit the Museum of South Texas History on McIntyre and Closner, and then walk one block west to the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department Museum located on McIntyre and 10th street.  Both museums will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with free admission. Featured, from left, are: Fire Marshal Richard Drewery; Centennial Chair Evana Vleck; Library Director Letty Leija; Lucy Robinson; Fire Chief Shawn M. Snyder; Fire Inspector John R. Ovalle; and Assistant Fire Marshal Omar Garza.

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Dust off those boots and sharpen your casino skills as the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has scheduled their 2nd annual “Back to School Casino and Dance Scholarship Fundraiser” for Saturday, September 6, at The Tower Club, located in the Chase Tower, 200 South 10th Street in McAllen. The event is from 7 p.m. to midnight, with Country Western band Crossfire performing, food and refreshments, and a Casino with Black Jack tables, Craps, Roulette and Poker.  Local merchants are also providing gifts and certificates for the silent auction. MHCC’s Education Committee schedules several fundraisers during the year to help raise funds for scholarships.  Sponsorships for the Back to School Casino and Dance are: Title $5,000, High Roller $3,000, Dealer $2,000, Bookie $1,000 and Casino Table $300.  Reserved Tables are $750 for a table of 10 with individual tickets $50. For more information, to inquire on sponsorships and tickets call the McAllen Hispanic Chamber at 928-0060. Featured, sitting: Diana Gonzáles, Vice Chair of Education. Standing, from left: Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC President/CEO; Hari Namboodiri, Chair-elect, and Verónica Vela, Vice Chair of Women’s Issues.

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Trustee Carmen González praises passage of $112M bond issue, ethical reforms, high academic honors

Edinburg school board trustee Carmen González, who is finishing up her first term on the seven-member school board, greets Saúl Ortega of Edinburg, one of several hundred supporters who showed up on Thursday, August 21, for her campaign reelection bid kick-off, held at the ECHO in Edinburg. A retired educator whose career saw her rise from the classroom to the top leadership position as interim superintendent of ECISD, González is being challenged by a former and longtime ECISD trustee, Gilbert Enríquez, a renowned leader in business construction projects in the region. The election is on Tuesday, November 4. In gearing up for her race against Enríquez, González pledged to focus on her continuing vision for the school district, not personal attacks. “For my part, and in my campaign, there will be no mud thrown from my direction, from my camp,” she promised. “I will not throw mud, and I know I will be blessed because I will not be interrupted by negativism that may be circulating. I hope this will be a clean race, like it was when I ran (in 2005) against Obie Salinas, who was a gentleman with me all the way. We ran a good, clean campaign. I am going to ask the public to keep it clean.” See lead story later in this posting.

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After a final round of interviews, the Hidalgo County Elections Commission on Wednesday, August 20, unanimously selected Yvonne Ramón to lead the Hidalgo County Elections Department. “Ms. Ramón was chosen today to uphold core values of trust, responsibility and commitment to public service,” said Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III, who is Chairman of the Hidalgo County Elections Commission. “Out of 66 applicants, she is what we consider the best of the best.” The other members of the commission are Hidalgo County Clerk Arturo Guajardo Jr., Hidalgo County Tax Assessor-Collector Armando Barrera, Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair Dolly Elizondo and Hidalgo County Republican Party Chair Hollis Rutledge. See story later in this posting.

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For the second year, new faculty at The University of Texas-Pan American were welcomed to campus on Tuesday, August 19 as part of the New Faculty Support Program, which helps incoming faculty members adjust to their new environment. Fifty-five full-time, tenure and tenure-track faculty who are new this fall to UTPA attended the program’s opening reception and a two-day academic orientation. The year-long initiative was designed to help incoming faculty adjust to their new academic and community surroundings at UTPA. Featured here, from left during the first day of the academic orientation are: Dr. Paul Sale, UTPA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs; UTPA student Tony Matamoros; Keith Patridge, the president of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation; and Dr. Ala Qubbaj, director of the New Faculty Support Program Director Qubbaj. See story later in this posting.

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The City of Edinburg was founded in 1908, where it was first named Chapin, Texas. In 1911, the town of Chapin was newly named Edinburg, and will officially reach its centennial of its founding on October 10, 2008. During the week of October 5 – 11, Edinburg will reflect on the establishment and growth of the community with a series of historic events, which are being organized the Centennial Committee. Local institutions which will spearhead the celebrations include The Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library, the Museum of South Texas History, the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the City of Edinburg, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District, Daughters of the American Revolution, the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department, and other various businesses, and organizations The event will feature Edinburg’s largest birthday cake, free ice cream, a city proclamation, poetry readings, an essay contest, a historic exhibition, Fireman’s Parade plus more. Some of the members of the Centennial Committee are, from left: Flo Prater; Joel A. Garza; Migdalie Rodríguez; Lynne Beeching; Miguel Gamboa; Elva Jackson Garza; Frank Lara; Letty González; Letty Reyes; Evana Vleck; Frank Garza; Viviana Ozuna; Rubén J. López; and Marco Cordova. Not shown are Valerie M. Haesly-Parson, Imelda Rodríguez, Lucy Robinson and Valerie Ramírez. Log on to http://www.edinburg.com for a complete calendar of events, or call 956-383-4974 for more information.

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Gilberto Garza, superintendent of the Edinburg school district, on Tuesday, August 19, addressed the elementary teachers and paraprofessionals at the General Assembly. “It isn’t by accident that the district had 12 Exemplary and 15 Recognized campuses last year, or that we had six schools named in Texas Monthly’s Best Public Schools in Texas list, or that 33 schools received Gold Performance Acknowledgments for high academic accomplishments, or that we have two high schools who have been awarded the College Board Inspiration Award, or two high schools named in Newsweek magazine among the Top Five Percent of Schools in the nation,” said Garza. See story later in this posting.

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