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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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House passes bill by Rep. Martínez to protect Texas’ $159 million citrus industry from new plant plague

 

Hidalgo County leaders on Friday, May 1, commemorated the historic infusion of about $300 million in federal funds for the Hidalgo County Levee Rehabilitation Project during a special recognition ceremony and press conference at the Hidalgo Pump House Museum and World Birding Center Nature Park.  Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, featured first on right, released an economic impact study, commissioned by his office and conducted by Sai Mullapudi of the University of Texas-Pan American’s Data and Information Systems Center Division of Community Engagement, that highlighted the economic impact of the levee upgrades.  The study indicates that the entire levee rehabilitation project, when completed, will produce nearly 5,000 local jobs and generate $508 million in economic impact. From left, in this photograph, are: Ron Vitiello, chief for the Rio Grand Valley Border Patrol sector; Mayor John David Franz of Hidalgo; Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen; and Salinas. See story later in this posting. 

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May marks National Mental Health Month and to recognize the month-long health campaign in the Rio Grande Valley, the South Texas Behavioral Health Center hosted an advocacy reception for community leaders on Friday, May 1. Area leaders spanning from law enforcement, military, elected officials, health care practitioners and social service providers attended the event in recognition of the advancements and challenges of mental health care in the Valley. Standing, from left, are: Solomon Torres, District Director for Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Doug Matney, Vice President of Acute Care and Group Director for South Texas Health System; César Matos, MD; Joe Rodríguez, CEO for South Texas Behavioral Health Center and Michael Sauceda, Business Development Director for South Texas Behavioral Health Center. See story later in this posting. 

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Manuel Garcia and Johnny Rodriguez, two of the board members for Edinburg Child Care, Inc., a non-profit business dedicated to providing nutrition and education services to children in day care homes, display a cake that helped mark the 25th anniversary of the local entity.  The local firm, which helps generate a multi-million dollar economic impact for the region, hosted a celebration in the Edinburg/San Manuel region on April 25, 2009, as a treat for many of its participants. Operations consist of reimbursements to day care homes and day care centers for meals served to children under their care and administrative costs.  All seed funds/startup costs were provided by Romeo Villarreal, a local businessman and educator. The policy-making board of directors oversees the program, which is administered by an executive director. Since 1991, this program has generated between $2 million to $2.3 million dollars annually and disbursed to providers from Corpus Christi to Laredo, to Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley. Three hundred to 500 small business owners of day care centers are being supplemented annually through this agency. Edinburg Child Care, Inc. is located 2002 West University, Suite 3, Edinburg, 78539. They may also be contacted by telephone at 956/383-6789; by fax at 956/383-6888; and toll-free at 1/800-281-6780. Mary Villarreal, the company’s executive director, may also be reached via Internet mvillarrealmmv@sbcglobal.net or edinburgchildcare@hotmail.com. 

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The Texas Senate on Monday, May 4, unanimously voted for Senate Bill 1443 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee,  that would provide financial relief to students and their families, while recognizing the shared responsibility of the legislature and higher education institutions to keep college affordable and accessible without sacrificing excellence. The bill focuses on total academic costs, not simply on tuition; caps increases and links them to formula funding; offers an optional 4-year guaranteed tuition rate; includes additional cost-cutting measures; and establishes legislative oversight. See story later in this posting. 

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Asian citrus psyllid nymphs, shown here in their development stages by a U.S. Department of Agriculture photograph, can live on citrus trees that are infected with the Citrus Greening Disease and can acquire that plague just before reaching the adult stage. Once that happens, those insects can immediately transmit the disease to uninfected trees, which ruin the trees and citrus.  The greening disease, which has not yet been detected in Texas, could devastate the state’s $159 million citrus industry, most of which is located in Hidalgo County. A bill by Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, has been passed by the House of Representatives. The measure would give the Texas Department of Agriculture the needed policy powers to help citrus growers prevent a potentially-devastating outbreak of this plant disease. See lead story later in this posting. 

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

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

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

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

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