Featured: Mark S. Peña and his wife Michelle. Mark S. Peña, who passed away at his home on Sunday, March 29, 2020, was a Texas environmental activist, regional economic development leader, and a brother of former Rep. Aaron Peña, Jr. On Tuesday, September 15, 2020, Mark S. Peña had a key roadway unanimously renamed in his memory by the Edinburg City Council.
Photograph Courtesy EDWARDS ABSTRACT & TITLE COMPANY
Mark S. Peña, Texas environmental activist, regional economic development leader, brother of former Rep. Aaron Peña, Jr., has key roadway renamed in his memory by Edinburg City Council
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Attorney Mark S. Peña, 57, a Texas environmental activist, regional economic development leader, and a brother of former Rep. Aaron Peña, Jr., on Tuesday, September 15, 2020, had a key roadway unanimously renamed in his memory by the Edinburg City Council.
Palm Drive, located south of Freddy González Drive and north of Tourist Drive between Stadium Drive and South 9th Avenue, will now be Mark S. Peña Drive, in tribute to a man, who according to his official biography, “was driven by a deep respect for the fundamental value of each person. He loved a good discussion and kept many lively conversations going on Facebook and loved the connections he was able to maintain there. He was very happy to be known by several close friends as their one and only favorite liberal. He wore the title of ‘tree-hugger’ proudly and one of his favorite past-times was taking a walk or bike ride.”
Peña’s decades of public service was recalled with admiration by many in deep South Texas, including the current mayor and former mayor of his hometown, who issued the following statements soon after his passing was announced:
“Today, Edinburg lost a brother. God called Mark Peña home. He was a community leader and he didn’t need a title or an elected position to make a difference in our great city. In my eyes, Mark led by example, he never backed down, he loved Edinburg and served with passion,” Mayor Richard Molina remarked. “I am honored to have known him and served our community side by side.”
Former Mayor Richard García, who helped appoint Peña to the Board of Directors, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, said, “Adiós mi amigo, you were passion personified. Thank you for the periodic conversations we shared about the direction of our community. Your sincerity was infectious and I will carry the greatest respect for you in my heart during your absence as I did during your presence. Salud, Mark Peña.”
Periodically, the city will entertain requests for a street name change as a way to honor individuals, or to mark a special significance in the area, explained Kimberly A. Mendoza, Director of Planning & Zoning for the City of Edinburg.
“The city council voted to initiate the process of renaming Palm Drive to Mark S. Peña (Drive) at their meeting of Tuesday, August 18, 2020, she said. “As a result of the city council’s action on Tuesday, September 15, 2020, four signs located on Palm Drive will be replaced carrying the new name of Mark S. Peña Drive.”
Mendoza, in her published presentation to the city council about the name change, in her remarks published in the city council agenda packet, echoed similar sentiments about Peña’s documented history of volunteerism.
“Mr. Mark S. Peña, an active leader in the community was involved in countless efforts to help make the City of Edinburg and the Rio Grande Valley a better place for everyone. He served on various City Boards and proudly represented the City of Edinburg for All America City in 2019,” she stated.
According to his official biography:
• Peña served as a Director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, Chairman of the Edinburg Environment Advisory Board, Edinburg Cool Cities Campaign Chair, Chair Ebony Hills Ad Hoc Committee, Edinburg Tree Board Chair, and membership in efforts for Edinburg Downtown Development, Planning & Zoning and was proud to represent Edinburg for All America City in 2019; and
• He is a Past President of the Edinburg Rotary Club and was named a Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International. He is also the recipient of the American Planning Association’s 2010 Texas Chapter Award. One of Peña’s great passions was the environment, he served as Chairman of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club and was the founder of the Ciclistas Urbanos, a group which was formed to help advocate for cycling in the Rio Grande Valley. He also served as a board member at the state level for Bike Texas.
René Ballesteros of Edinburg was one of many Texans who benefited from Peña’s support for healthy lifestyles and exercise.
“The Rio Grande Valley lost an inspiring leader. Mark was impactful on my life and outlook on livability and bicycle riding. I think he recognized a passion for riding in me and always encouraged me to explore and reflect on my environment beyond just using the roads,” Ballesteros wrote in the condolences published on Legacy.com. “His advocacy will not end as long as all of those inspired by him continue that vision of livability.”
Referencing Peña’s legendary volunteer activism on behalf of the public, Mendoza also stated that he “was passionate about the environment and served as Chairman of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club and founded Ciclistas Urbanos, a group to help advocate for cycling in the Rio Grande Valley.”
The Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club posted the following remembrance on Facebook:
“It is with great sadness that we relay the loss of Mark Peña, long time Sierran, past chair of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club and a founder of the Ciclistas Urbanos group which was formed to help popularize and advocate for cycling in the RGV. Mark was a wonderful environmental champion in the Rio Grande Valley, and a terrific inspiration for so many. Rest in Power, Mark.”
Miriam Cepeda of Edinburg also shared her thoughts on the loss of a visionary neighbor who also was a friend of the environment.
“You will be greatly missed by those who knew you. As a child, I only knew you as my neighbor, as well as your brother behind me. Growing up, I then meet your other brother. Funny how life works,” Cepeda wrote, also on Legacy.com. “However, The Peñas down the street, with the natural wild habitat for birds, will always be my neighbors. You will be greatly missed. Your spirit will always remain here in our neighborhood. RIP my neighbor.”
Ramiro Garza, Jr., former Edinburg City Manager and former Executive Director of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council, highlighted several of the successful key efforts which were influenced by Peña.
In a tribute published by the Rio Grande Guardian on Sunday, March 29, 2020, Garza, President, RG Economic Advisors, Inc., said this of his friend:
“In all the years I worked for the Edinburg EDC and the City of Edinburg, I had the privilege of working with Mark on many initiatives as he volunteered for several committees. Mark’s handprints are all throughout Edinburg as a long time advocate of environmental, healthy, and green space initiatives,” Garza said. “Whether it was advocating for Ebony Hills, the Cool cities campaign, adding bike lanes/trails or downtown revitalization, Mark was one of the strongest advocates in making Edinburg a healthy and vibrant community.”
Garza said that as part of the Edinburg environmental committee, Peña was behind efforts to push Edinburg to create a curbside recycling program citywide.
“He also helped Edinburg with the creation of a downtown master plan which advocated for Hidalgo County to build a new courthouse. He was a true professional who cared about his community and his tireless efforts made Edinburg better for it,” Garza said.
One of the most profound and insightful public observations about Peña came from his wife, Michelle, who posted the following commentary on their respective Facebook page on the day of his passing:
“This is Michelle, posting for Mark. Some of you may have already heard but wanted to make sure that everyone who shared Mark’s friendship, love of life, and a good debate, as well as all the issues he was so passionate about, knew why he had been so quiet on Facebook lately and to confirm some very sad news.
“Mark had been going through some extensive medical testing these past couple months hoping to find some answers other than Lou Gehrig’s Disease/ALS. This past Monday, his diagnosis of ALS was confirmed, and his was much faster in its progression than any of us wished. Earlier this morning, Mark passed away in his sleep – respiratory issues are one of the hardest parts of ALS – and his body was just too tired to do the work of breathing that most of us just take for granted.
“He passed at home, where he would want to be and on his own terms. He loved his Facebook community, loved a good discussion/debate, and especially loved throwing himself into causes to try and make this world and his Valley home even better. If you worked with him on a cause, you know he gave it his all, so please keep that fight going. (And don’t ignore your right to vote.)
“Nothing would make Mark, or myself and his amazing children, happier than to know that everyone was trying to make the world a little greener and a little bit easier for everyone to move around in and enjoy. Keep yourselves safe as we all move through COVID-19, and take some time to go for a walk, to a park, or bike ride to see the world as he did. Much love to all.”
More details about Peña are provided in his obituary, which follow:
Mark S. Peña
October 23, 1962-March 29, 2020
Mark S. Peña passed away peacefully at his home in Edinburg on Sunday, March 29, 2020.
He will be missed by his loving wife, Michelle, and their children Gabriel, Luke, Isabelle, Juliette, Anna, and Esteban.
He is also survived by his parents L. Aron Peña, Sr. and Sylvia Peña; and brothers Aaron Pena, Jr.; Eric Pena; sister Evie Peña-Shives; Jeff Peña; and Dominic Peña; his large extended family and countless friends. Although the last few months of his life were colored by his battle with ALS/Lou Gehrig’s, what he will most be remembered for is his intense love of life, nature, and gift for bringing people together.
(Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a-my-o-TROE-fik LAT-ur-ul skluh-ROE-sis), or ALS, is a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control.
In this very rare disease, n this disease, nerve cells break down, which reduces functionality in the muscles they supply. The cause is unknown. The main symptom is muscle weakness. Medication and therapy can slow ALS and reduce discomfort, but there’s no cure. ALS is often called Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the baseball player who was diagnosed with it. – Mayo Clinic)
Mark was truly a son of Edinburg and began many lifelong friendships during his (Edinburg High School) Bobcat days. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy in 1984 from the University of Texas at Austin, where he also pursued studies in Music including Vocal & Opera Performance. Mark had a lifelong love of music and shared his baritone voice with many choirs, among them: the San Antonio Master Singers, Austin Chamber Choir, St. Louis Catholic Church Choir, and the Valley Symphony Chorale.
He earned his law degree in May 1999 from Texas Wesleyan University School of Law (now Texas A&M University School of Law), receiving honors as a Law Review Invitee and was selected as Commencement Speaker by his classmates. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas, the Hidalgo County Bar Association, and the American Bar Association. Before joining the State Bar, he was a Real Estate Agent, a Right of Way Agent, and Civil Rights Investigator with the Texas Department of Transportation.
After law school, Mark returned to the Valley and worked with both the Law Offices of L. Aron Peña and Aaron Peña. In 2001, Mark joined Scott & Lewis, and later, Lewis, Monroe & Peña as a partner in the law firm. He served as counsel for Edwards Abstract and Title Co. for the offices in Hidalgo and Cameron counties. Edwards Abstract and Title Co. was his second home, and the people of Edwards Abstract and Title Co. were his second family.
Mark was a frequent speaker on Real Estate and Title Insurance matters, as well as sustainable urban planning, development, and transportation issues. Mark had a profound innate sense of social justice, loved his community, and was involved in countless efforts to help make Edinburg and the Rio Grande Valley better for each person.
Mark was driven by a deep respect for the fundamental value of each person.
He loved a good discussion and kept many lively conversations going on Facebook and loved the connections he was able to maintain there.
He was very happy to be known by several close friends as their one and only favorite liberal. He wore the title of “tree-hugger” proudly and one of his favorite past-times was taking a walk or bike ride. He was especially proud that all his children acquired his love of the outdoors.
Mark embraced life fully and in the midst of all his causes, he made time to be an amazing father to his kids and the wonderful friends they brought to his home. If he was not outdoors, he could be found sharing a meal, singing along with a song and creating his own lyrics, and dancing because life should be celebrated.
A private family service was held on Friday, April 3, 2020, under the direction of Memorial Funeral Home in Edinburg. In lieu of flowers, donations were requested to be made in Mark’s name to Valley Land Fund and Bike Texas. Mark would also be honored to have a tree planted and cared for in his name.
For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).