The spotlight was on Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez, president of The University of Texas-Pan American, as members of the community and University gathered to honor his legacy at a dinner held at the McAllen Country Club May 14, which also marked the establishment of the Miguel A. Nevárez Endowed Chair in Education.
The event helped raise more than $250,000 for the endowment, surpassing its original goal of $150,000. The endowment is expected to grow to $1 million through other fundraising events and opportunities. The endowed chair honors Nevarez's more than 32 years in higher education.
"H.R. 4299 of the 108th Congress was passed 405 votes to zero and will designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located 410 S. Jackson Road in Edinburg, Texas as the 'Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez Post Office Building,'" Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa, who introduced the legislation, said all 32 members of Congress from Texas cosponsored H.R. 4299. The legislation, Hinojosa said will now move to the Senate for consideration.
"I am happy for my friend because he has earned his retirement and he has given so much of himself to the great State of Texas, to the Hispanic community and to our nation," Hinojosa said.
Speaking on behalf of Congressman Solomon Ortiz (TX-27) was Denise Blanchard, district director, who read a statement from Ortiz, calling Nevárez a "guiding light" for the University during its historic merger and its quest to become a doctoral research institution.
"Your commitment and focused vision towards quality education has no doubt influenced many of today's community leaders. It must be an awesome experience to look at the community and know that you helped shape so many of today's business and community leaders. The people of South Texas, the state and indeed the nation are in your debt for the service you provided to the community throughout your career," Blanchard read.
In addition, Nevárez was honored with a certificate of appreciation signed by the The University of Texas System chancellor and UT System presidents in recognition of his outstanding leadership and dedication. The honor was bestowed upon him by Dr. Teresa Sullivan, executive vice chancellor for Academic Affairs for the UT System and head of the UTPA search committee for president.
"This long chapter of achievement is coming to an end, but it is not the last chapter, the last chapter has yet to be written. He is truly someone who will never be forgotten and someone who has truly left us a legacy," Sullivan said.
Saluting Nevárez were two close friends and colleagues, Dr. William H. Cunningham, former UT System chancellor, 1992-2000 and Dr. Hans M. Mark, former UT System chancellor from 1984-1992, who shared stories about Nevárez and their adventures in the UT System.
"I did so (visit) for two reasons, first I felt that UT Pan American had the potential to become one of America's truly great universities and second I badly needed the advice and counsel of one of America's greatest educators - Dr. Nevárez. We all know Mike is a true visionary and has been the guiding force in the development of UT Pan American over a 23 year period," Cunningham said.
Cunningham credited Nevárez with the creation of South Texas Community College in McAllen; increasing the average ACT scores for entering freshmen by 57 percent; the construction of 15 new buildings on campus; and dubbed him "the driving force in the South Texas Border Initiative."
"You were always a gifted administrator and leader; a loyal partner to the UT System and I know at times that was not an easy assignment; a mentor for countless thousands of students, faculty and staff; and a careful strategist who knew how to work the legislature, the political community, major donors and very candidly The University of Texas System and finally a dear personal friend," Cunningham said. "Mike, based on sheer determination you have been literally and largely responsible for the creation of a new research University for all the people of Texas."
The UTPA Foundation also presented Nevárez with a Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented to him by Foundation Chair Joseph Ramirez. Under the UTPA Foundation, the University has gone from $70,000 to $50 million in endowments.
"Mike you have done a superb job. You have shown it in your work at the University and with the Foundation, but most importantly in your work with the students. Through your vision you have exhibited tremendous and balanced judgments. You have brought this University a long ways and you will be I'm sure the first to say that in spite of all you have done, your best accomplishment is positioning UT Pan American for the future," Ramirez said.
"You are contributing to the chair in the Department of Education and in doing so you are helping us achieve our goals of excellence in the college," Nevárez said.
UTPA's endowed chairs and professorships enable the University to create and support new faculty positions, attract internationally prominent teacher-scholars and fund their teaching and research. Endowment funds supplement faculty salaries and support expenditures for course development, research, graduate assistants, equipment and library resources. To date UTPA has six endowed chairs and four professorships.
Nevárez told the audience he is looking forward to a new chapter in his life and he is proud of the legacy he has left behind for UTPA to build on. He said the credit is not his alone, but also the many people who shared and believed in his vision - the UTPA vice presidents, University leaders, faculty, staff, students, lawmakers and the community.
"Like a proud father I can honestly tell you that it has been a pleasure to see this University evolve over the years. You think it would be easier to walk away knowing you have accomplished most of your goals, instead I find it's going to be a little bit difficult," he said.
Nevárez said as he prepares to exit the presidency, he finds comfort in knowing that UTPA is in good hands with strong leaders and faculty. He also encouraged the community to support the University on its mission in becoming a doctoral research institution.
"There are exciting times and greater opportunities ahead for our great University and for the children of South Texas," Nevárez said.
At the end of the evening Nevárez thanked his wife Blanca and children Annette McCann, Mike and Marc Nevárez for their support and sacrifice over the years. "They have sacrificed much to allow me to pursue my dreams. Gracias del corazon," he said.
Putting together this special dinner for Nevárez was an 11-member planning committee made up of community members and corporate and business owners in the Valley. Planning committee members include Glen E. Roney, Morris Atlas, John Schrock Sr., Alonzo Cantu, Arturo E. Guerra Jr., R. David Guerra, Sonia Perez, Margaret L. McAllen, Roberto J. Yzaguirre, Noe Fernandez and Paul S. Moxley.
Roney, an honorary co-chair of the dinner and friend of Nevárez for many years, said he wanted to participate in this event because Nevárez is an important part of Rio Grande Valley history and friend as well.
"I hope that we find the right successor for him and we hope the search committee will do a good job of that," Roney said. "We know he will do well in whatever he decides to do in the future. "
McAllen, a friend of Nevárez since 1985, who also served on the Board of Regents for Pan American University, said she is sad to see him vacate his presidency, but she hopes now he will have time to relax and do all the things he never had an opportunity to do.
"I think he is such a role model and an example of how we'd all like to be," McAllen said. "I've seen all the important things he has done for this University. It is bittersweet because I feel he has so much more to give still, but I think he will continue to give in the field of education and in teaching, but I still hate the thought of having the campus without him as a leader."