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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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Disabled veterans’ home property tax breaks, Valley VA Hospital plan, posting big victories in Legislature

Paul Cowen, longtime chief-of-staff for Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and an alumni of then Pan American University, on Monday, June 1, was honored by the Senate for his legislative work on behalf of the Valley and Texas. Cowen will be leaving his Senate post on August 31. “Paul has been the most loyal employee and friend. His enormous contributions to state government and to the people of District 27 will never be forgotten,” said Lucio. “His work has been exemplary and of the highest quality, and as one of the Texas Senate’s most valuable employees, he will be greatly missed by all of us.” See story later in this posting.

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“Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott once said, “helping one another is part of the religion of sisterhood.” No need to tell that to the “Trigo sisters” of Edinburg, as they have come to be known in the College of Education at The University of Texas-Pan American. The three siblings – featured from left, Elda Trigo, Armidia Trigo Ríos, and Iliana Trigo – all celebrated earning their master’s degrees at the same time in the same field – bilingual education – at one of three UTPA commencement ceremonies held May 9 at the McAllen Convention Center. See story later in this posting.

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Julissa Barrera, shown second from left, learned over her years as a student at The University of Texas-Pan American that leadership requires creativity, determination and perseverance. For her final project as a member of the four-year Student Leadership Program at the university, Barrera created, researched and implemented a drive in which she successfully collected nearly 8,000 diapers to give to clients of AVANCE Rio Grande Valley, a local nonprofit agency providing services to lower income Valley families. Featured at a recent ceremony to present diapers to AVANCE RGV collected as a part of a UTPA Student Leadership Program senior project are, from left: Noelia Telles, family service coordinator for the Parent/Child Education Program, AVANCE RGV; Julissa Barrera, who graduated this spring; Cecilia Quiroga, parent educator for the Parent/Child Education Program, AVANCE RGV; and Teresa González, supervisor of family programs, AVANCE RGV. See story later in this posting.

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Top leaders with South Texas College and Texas A&M-Kingsville recently signed an agreement to ease the transfer of students studying education. Featured, seated from left, are: Steven Tallant, TAMUK president; Juan E. Mejia, STC vice president for academic affairs; and Ali Emaeili, STC dean for bachelor programs and university relations. Standing, from left, are: Marilyn J Bartlett, TAMUK dean of the College of Education; Art Montiel, chair of STC’s Education Department; and Mike F. Desiderio, TAMUK chair for education. See story later in this posting.

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U.S. Senate hopeful Sharp, a Democrat, backs VA Hospital plan for the Valley filed by Rep. Flores

The Texas Legislative Medal of Honor Committee has met and approved Private Pedro Cano of Edinburg as the posthumous recipient of the state’s highest military decoration. "I am pleased to report that the committee has made the formal selection of Pedro Cano to be the Legislative Medal of Honor recipient for the 81st legislative session," said Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg. "Pedro Cano’s heroism will always speak for him but the testimony given by our local veterans and the Cano family was instrumental in moving the committee’s formal nomination." Peña is the author of HCR 5 which would posthumously confer the Legislative Medal of Honor to the World War II hero. Members of the nominating committee are: Texas Adjutant General José Mayorga; Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; Speaker of the House Joe Straus; Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, who is chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Military Installations Committee; and Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, who is chair of the House Defense & Veterans’ Affairs Committee. After review of testimony and evidence, Mayorga made the motion for the nomination of Pedro Cano. Cano was not the only candidate up for consideration at the hearing held on Friday, May 15. HCR 5 is a step away from being approved, with the Senate scheduled to hold a public hearing on the matter on Wednesday, May 20, with Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, serving as the Senate sponsor. Cano received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military honor, for his heroism in WWII. Cano would be the second recipient from Edinburg to receive Texas’ highest military decoration. In 2007, Peña passed legislation posthumously conferring the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor to Freddy González, also of Edinburg. González was a Marine sergeant, killed in Vietnam, who was posthumously bestowed the Congressional Medal of Honor.  

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Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, recently greeted a Rio Grande Valley delegation of veterans visiting the Austin Capitol to voice support for their issues, including a Veterans Hospital in the area. "The federal government received a clear message from the Texas Legislature that the Rio Grande Valley needs a hospital for veterans of South Texas," said Peña. "I offer my sincere appreciation to those veterans who traveled to Austin to testify on this legislation and to Sen. Lucio for his work on this issue. Together we are going to get this hospital built. "Featured, front row, from left: Ruben Cantú, Chapter 21 Commander, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), of Harlingen; Sen. Lucio; Rep. Peña; Emilio De Los Santos, Director, Hidalgo County Veterans Department, of Edinburg; Olie Pope, Veterans Service Officer, of Austin; and José A. Leal, Incoming Commander, DAV Chapter 121, of Harlingen. Center row, from left: Homer Gallegos, VFW Post 8788 Commander, of McAllen; and Rey Oropez, Assistant Veterans Service Officer, of Edinburg. Top row, from left: Mike Escobedo, America’s Last Patrol, of Donna; Antonio Arenas, VFW Post 8788, of McAllen; and Nicanoor R. Chávez, American Legion, of Raymondville. See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, recently honored participants of the Texas Vietnam Memorial Highway Motorcycle Run in Austin with a Senate Resolution honoring the yearly event and all Vietnam Veterans. Lucio presented Senate Resolution 863 that recognizes the Texas Vietnam Memorial Highway Motorcycle Run held annually in March to pay tribute to Vietnam Veterans and their return home. "When I returned stateside, I recall that our military flight plane was forced to divert from its intended airport in California to Washington state due to anti-war protests at the original site," said Daniel D. Piñeda of Mercedes, a combat veteran of the U.S. Army who served in Vietnam in 1969. "Once back home in the Valley, for the most part, I, like most other Vietnam veterans, was shunned by the general public. There were no expressions of ‘welcome home soldier’ or anything of the sort." Piñeda explained that the Texas Vietnam Memorial Highway Motorcycle Run "serves to help the Vietnam veterans who were never welcomed home decades ago, but rather, if you would, just swept under the rug. As we ride from town to town in Texas along U.S. Highway 83, we see people, complete strangers, lined up cheering, waving and shouting ‘welcome home.’  It’s the patriotic display of our nation’s people honoring its forgotten veterans." Featured, front row, from left: Marietta Johnston of Junction: Alex Armendáriz of Pflugerville; Brent Jackson, founder of the Run, of Wolfforth; Richard Scibek of Houston; and Hazel Webb of Slaton. Back row, from left: Keeton Johnston of Junction; Mr. and Mrs. Pablo Aguillón of Crystal City; Sen. Lucio; Stephen Arthur of Amarillo; Brenda Jackson, co-founder of the Run, of Wolfforth; Kim Felix of Austin; Lester Nye of Granbury; Chuck Bayes of Houston; and Woody Webb, of Slaton. See story later in this posting.

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Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, featured left, accepts the "Leadership Award", bestowed by The Rio Grande Council, Boy Scouts of America, from his mentor, former Texas Comptroller John Sharp, who is accompanied by Ernesto Carballo, Scout Executive and CEO for the Rio Grande Council, Boy Scouts of America. The public ceremony was part of a fundraiser dinner for scouting in deep South Texas. The event, which was part of the scouts’ national Centennial Celebration, was held on Thursday, May 14, at The Club at Cimmaron. The successful gathering helped raise about $50,000 for Valley scouting efforts. The “Leadership Award” has been designated by the Rio Grande Council, BSA as an award to be presented to a civic, community, or business leader who has demonstrated patriotism, leadership, and service at a local, state, or national level. Sharp, who served as the keynote speaker, later said he said Valley hopes for a Veterans Administration Hospital would be greatly improved if Texas had at least one Democratic U.S. senator in Washington. Sharp is an announced Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is expected to vacate her seat in the coming months in order to campaign for governor in the March 2010 Republican Party primary. See lead story on Sharp’s support for a state-federal partnership to build Valley VA Hospital, as envisioned by state legislation by Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, and how Sharp says he can make a difference on that goal in securing federal funding because of his Democratic Party affiliation. 

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Texas Transportation Commission would include South Texans under measure approved by House

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Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, featured in Edinburg last year with Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, has secured House passage of his legislation that would prevent the sale and distribution in Texas of flame-producing lighters that look like toys – mechanisms that have been linked to injuries and deaths of children nationwide. His House Bill 90, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Friday, May 1, now goes to the Senate for its consideration and action. The bill defines "toy-like lighter" to mean a mechanical or electrical device typically used for lighting cigarettes, cigars, or pipes that resembles in physical form or function articles designed or intended for play by children under 10 years of age. "HB 90 would protect the public, and especially children," said Martínez, who is a firefighter, licensed paramedic, critical care flight paramedic, and Texas Department of Health instructor and coordinator. "Deadly fires have  been caused across the country by these lighters. These objects are easily  mistaken for toys and are enticing to children. They do not have  disclaimers and are inherently dangerous." Gonzáles is a co-author of Martínez’ legislation. See story later in this posting. 

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Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, right, met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday, May 7, in Washington, D.C., to discuss border security and the appointments of U.S. District Judges, U.S. Marshalls, and U.S. Attorneys. The gathering was part of a meeting between the Texas congressional delegation and Holder. Also on May 7, Cuellar, during a separate event, joined a bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act.  The bill, which cracks down on predatory lending practices and ensures that the mortgage industry follows basic principles of sound lending, responsibility, and consumer protection, passed the U.S. House on a 300-114 vote. See story on the mortgage legislation later in this posting. 

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Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Rep. Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg, on Tuesday, May 5, marked the Texas Senate’s passage of legislation that would require convicted sex offenders to provide their online and cellular telephone account information to the state’s Sex Offender Registry.  Senate Bill 689 passed the Senate on Monday, May 4, and is now pending in the Texas House of Representatives, where the Edinburg lawmaker will carry it as the sponsor. “This legislation will help protect children by ensuring that state law keeps up with modern technology,” Abbott said. “By requiring sexual predators to provide their electronic identities, the Legislature is simply improving existing registration requirements – which require convicted sex offenders to provide their addresses to the Department of Public Safety. As Attorney General, I am grateful to Sen. Shapiro and Rep. Peña for their innovative approach and commitment to Texas children.” See story later in this posting. 

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Rio Grande Valley members of the Juvenile Justice Association of Texas are featured behind the Senate chamber, greeted by Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, during their visit to the Texas Capitol on April 29. The group was in Austin to attend a conference. From left: Linda M. Luna of Brownsville; Abel Zapata of La Feria; Sen. Lucio; Al Elizondo of San Benito; Luis Flores of Harlingen; and Javier Losoya of Harlingen. 

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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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