Past trustees and regents of The University of Texas-Pan American came together to reflect on eight decades of achievement for the campus during its "Sapphire Year" bash at the Fieldhouse on Friday, Nov. 2. The evening belonged to these visionaries whose foresight led to the University we know today.
UT Pan American President Robert S. Nelsen welcomed a crowd of more than 300 at an event honoring 98 former trustees and regents of the University prior to its merging with the UT System in 1989.
"Trustees, regents, families, we honor you today and we will always honor you for your vision, your bravery and your commitment to higher education in the Rio Grande Valley," Nelsen said.
Since 1927, this University has been bold and it continues to be bold, Nelsen said to the many families of trustees and regents no longer living.
Nelsen told the audience it was important to honor those who endured struggles to help transform the small two-year Edinburg College in 1927 to a thriving first-class University of more than 19,300 students and almost 75,000 graduates today.
"Who would have dreamed that this University would have 19,000 students? They did," Nelsen said.
Nelsen paid special tribute to the past trustees and regents by unveiling a rendering of a "Wall of Honor" paying homage to their legacy and commitment to higher education in the Rio Grande Valley. Once completed, the Wall of Honor will be located on the first floor of the Student Services Building.
To celebrate 85 years of history, UTPA served up some entertainment with a dinner show titled "Sapphire Review: A Look Back on 85 Years of Educational Excellence." Featuring UTPA's talented student performers in music and dance, the show took the audience on a journey of the University's many personas - Edinburg College (1927-1933), Edinburg Junior College (1933-1948), Edinburg Regional College (1948-1952), Pan American College (1952-1971), Pan American University (1971-1989), and finally UT Pan American (1989-present) - throughout the decades and included interviews with former presidents Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez and Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, as well as former Pan American University Regent Margaret L. McAllen, and Rene Wallace, alumna and daughter-in-law of former Edinburg Junior College Trustee J. Wade Wallace.
For Dr. Lynda de la Viña (BBA '72), returning to her alma mater to celebrate her grandfather's legacy as an Edinburg College trustee was a special treat for her and family members who attended. As the first Mexican-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in economics in the United States and former dean of the UTSA College of Business, de la Viña and her family were recognized as a founding family in honor of her grandfather Plutarco de la Viña, who was considered a pioneer of the city of Edinburg and was instrumental in establishing the University in 1927. Like her grandfather, de la Viña believes in Pan American and that its future as a powerful leader in U.S. and Latin American relations.
"I'm really proud of the school and all that it has become and all that it will become in the future," de la Viña said. "I have taught at a lot of universities in my career, but you always come home and you always believe in UTPA. This is where my heart is."
For the regents who attended the event, many said it was like a mini reunion and loved reacquainting themselves with the campus and old friends they had not seen in many years. Horacio L. Barrera, a Pan American University regent, who was part of the historic merger between Pan American University and The University of Texas System in 1989, said he is so proud of the University's accomplishments and growth over the past 25 years and is looking forward to the future of UTPA.
"It makes me feel good that we did something good for the community," Barrera, a Brownsville attorney, said.
John L. Bluntzer, former Pan American University regent who served from 1976-1982 and was chairman of the board, remembers when Pan American's longest-serving president Nevárez was selected to lead the institution and when the campus had only a few buildings and about 8,800 students.
Bluntzer, who lives in Robstown now, said he is amazed by how much the University has grown since he left the Valley in 1982. He admitted finding his way around campus proved to be a bit difficult for him, but he enjoyed discovering the new campus scenery.
"It's better to say that I was looking for the old administration building or some sort of building that I recalled so I could get some sort of a footing of where I was and I'm still looking," Bluntzer said. "It's fantastic and it's so well blended; I'm very impressed. I can see why the students enjoy it."
Shan Pickard-Rankin, executive director of the Museum of South Texas History who served alongside Barrera as a Pan American University Regent, said the merger with the UT System and all that brought to UT Pan American and the regional community was her most memorable moment as a Board of Regents member.
"It was rough. You know, I think it was already decided upstate. UT and A&M, I think they had already decided what schools they wanted. We went through the process of the courtship and when A&M came it was pretty per functionary. It was clear that UT was the school that was really interested in Pan Am and that's OK. It worked out great for us," she said.
Rankin said the growth of the University makes her proud despite the bumps encountered along the way.
"I think the whole regional community is just so proud of what the University is, the kind of students who are being turned out, the opportunities it creates for our area and for all the families here. It just means a better life for everybody," she said.
The 85th anniversary festivities continued on the UTPA campus Saturday, Nov. 3 with a Founders' Day Picnic at the Quad attended by hundreds of students, families and friends of the University.
See more of the sapphire celebration in this photo gallery.