Alumni celebrate their and UTPA's success at 50+ Reunion
Posted: 02/18/2013
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On Feb. 17, Dr. Rina Blanca Garza Davis (BS '63) received something for which she had waited 50 years: a crown worthy of The University of Texas-Pan American's first Homecoming Queen.

Pan American College alumnus Jerry Ledbetter (BS '58)donated his varsity letters to UTPA during the 50+ Reunion brunch Feb. 17. Pictured with Ledbetter are UTPA Vice President for University Advancement Veronica Gonzales and UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen.

Davis, who was elected homecoming queen of then-Pan American College in 1963, was unable to attend the coronation ceremony because she and her future husband Joe "Bole" Davis (BS '61) were at their wedding rehearsal. She was later given a modest corona made of cardboard and aluminum foil to commemorate her achievement.

Proud of her accomplishment and the school that provided her with an education after her high school counselors told her she was not college material, Davis kept her makeshift crown in mint condition.

She expressed her gratitude for UT Pan American and fellow Broncs during the 50+ Reunion luncheon held at the UTPA Ballroom.

"I owe everything that I've done in my career Pan American, to UTPA now," she said. "This is where my education started."

Davis went on to earn a master's degree from Southern Methodist University and a doctorate from East Texas State University (now Texas A&M University-Commerce) and was a school district associate superintendent in the Dallas area.

"It has represented something very important to me, not only the service I did at Pan Am, ... just the opportunity it provided me," she said. "Pan American is where it begins."

She and fellow Broncs from the Class of 1963 and earlier -- who were inducted into the University's 50+ Club -- marveled at how much the University has grown from the days when they were attending classes in buildings borrowed from the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District.

UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen told them more growth for the University is on the horizon.

UTPA awarded a real crown to its original Homecoming Queen, Dr. Rina Blanca Garza Davis(second from left), during the 50+ brunch Feb. 17. Pictured from left to right with Davis are UTPA Vice President of University Advancement Veronica Gonzales, UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen and 2012 Homecoming Queen Stephanie Corte.

"This campus has grown, it has grown a lot since you've been here, but it hasn't grown nearly enough yet," Nelsen told attendees.

Every two months in the Rio Grande Valley two new elementary schools and one new middle school are opened to accommodate the growing student population. And at one local hospital, 780 babies were born last month, Nelsen said.

"We've got to keep educating them and giving them opportunities," he said.

Nelsen also updated alumni about the creation of a new regional university and medical school. Upon approval from the Texas State Legislature, the new university will become an emerging research institution and the second largest Hispanic Serving Institution in the country. The new university -- which has yet to be named -- will also be eligible to access the Permanent University Fund to pay for building construction and other major projects.

"That will let us build buildings so those kids who are in those new elementary schools today, those babies who are being born today, will have a place to go, because it really all does start right here and Pan Am has helped you do what you're doing," Nelsen said.

He also praised alumni for their accomplishments and told them that they laid the foundation for the success of future generations.

Nelsen told attendees that students entering the University today are better prepared for the rigors of higher education, thanks to area high schools, which employ many UT Pan American alumni.

"From my heart I reach out to you and I ask you to stay involved in this university, come back, mentor our students, talk to your grandchildren, ... talk to all of the kids," he said. "Let them see the shining examples that you are and the amazing people that you are."

UTPA Vice President for University Advancement Veronica Gonzales echoed Nelsen's request for alumni to remain connected with the University.

"Alumni are the heart of the University," Gonzales said. "We do not grow without you being active and giving to the University."

UTPA 50+ Club inductee Jose V. Sanchez (BS '62) poses with his wife Elida during the 50+ Reunion brunch Feb. 17.

Class of '63 inductee Jose V. Sanchez (BS '62), who attended the event with his wife Elida, earned his degree in education at Pan American College. His career path led him to eventually become the superintendent of the Progreso Independent School District, building the first high school there during his administration. He was also elected five times as the mayor of the city of Weslaco, where he was born.

In 2002, during one of his mayoral terms, he led the city to All-American City status. He's also proud that he helped initiate the High School Equivalency Program at UT Pan American, a federally-funded program that helps migrant and seasonal farm workers and their families earn their GEDs.

Sanchez recalled that he was called into the Army at age 17 from his family's migrant farm work picking cotton. He was able to attend college with the GI Bill.

"I was offered a scholarship to play on the baseball team but at that time I was married and going to school at night. It took me eight years to get all the hours to graduate," said Sanchez, who went on to earn a master's at then-Texas A&I in Kingsville.

The couple have five children, all college graduates.

Sanchez, who has written two books - "VIPS of the Barrio" and "Legacy of the Barrio," said the Valley is blessed to have the University and excited about its growth.

"In the Valley there was the well-to-do class and then there was the barrio - the poor people. The University has given all those people, the parents and the children who came afterward and their children, an opportunity to be all they could be. It is a chain of opportunity," he said.

Russell Talbert (BS '63) travelled from Houston with his wife Sandra to participate in the ceremony. He and his wife taught school briefly in the Valley before moving to Houston in 1967. He said this is the first time they have been to the campus since then.

Russell Talbert (BS '63)and his wife Sandra, who now live in the Houston area, returned to UTPA Feb. 17 to reconnect with fellow alumni at the 50+ Reunion brunch.

"It (the campus) is amazing," said Talbert, who recalled only 2,000 students when he attended. He said it was "about time" when he learned of the announcement of establishing a medical school in the Valley.

Talbert, who earned a degree in social sciences, was editor of the University's student newspaper The Pan American and the yearbook and president of his fraternity. He said he especially enjoyed being a member of the debate team and the 15 hours of classes he took under Dr. Ralph Hayes, a speech teacher at the college.

Talbert, who earned a master's from then A&I and has done doctoral work at the University of Houston, taught school for 31 years in Deer Park, Texas. He retired 19 years ago but keeps busy working with a group of volunteers that does rehabbing of Christian camps in Texas.

His advice to current students was to "get serious, but not too serious."

"You can't get a degree and play. You can't earn a living playing but you need to enjoy yourself while doing it," he said.

Paul Hallock (BS '63), a new inductee who lives in Mission, was sporting his 1963 Pan American College class ring at the brunch. He was a three-year member of the track team, which won a state conference championship for two of those years. Hallock ran the 440, remembering his best time as 49.8 seconds, as well as in two relays.

His wife - the former Pat Welsh (BS '65) - still recalls her anger when Paul, the 1962 president of the Bronco Boosters, kissed, as part of his duties, the new Bronco Queen.

"It (the queen) was Sharon Nelson and Paul and I were engaged at that time. ," said his wife, who was away attending Trinity University then. "I was at Trinity and I didn't know he was down here kissing all the girls."

With his education degree, Paul Hallock coached football and track in McAllen and Mission for 10 years, then worked for an agricultural company for 19 years, and later went back to teaching and coaching cross country at Morris Middle School in McAllen for another 11 years. He retired in 2000 and enjoys playing golf.

Pat Hallock, who remembered a very small campus when she attended, called its growth fabulous.

"It has grown from a small town college to a University like this. I think that says a lot for South Texas," she said.

See more of the Reunion festivities in this photo gallery.