The twinkling lights of the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign, the elaborate showgirls and even an Elvis impersonator made The University of Texas-Pan American's annual Alumni Ball a high-rolling event on Feb. 15.
For one night, UTPA turned into a city that never sleeps and offered up one of the most highly attended and entertaining alumni balls of the University's history. With a theme of "Viva Las Vegas," a sold out crowd of more than 500 alumni and friends of UTPA attended the spectacular evening that included fabulous gaming - slots, black jack, poker, and roulette - and exciting showgirl numbers performed by the University's Blazer dance team. Also entertaining and posing for photos with eager fans throughout the night were impersonators Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Michael Jackson, and a hunky gladiator, who mingled with attendees.
The true headliners of the event were the five Pillars of Success, who were recognized prior to the Alumni Ball at a ceremony unveiling their portrait and brief biography at the Visitors Center. The Pillars of Success are a select group of Broncs, who are chosen for their inspirational stories and outstanding achievements. They also exemplify what being a Bronc is all about - excellence in profession and service to community and alma mater.
Presented with medallions and special video tributes were Pillars Rene L. Wallace (AA '51), business trailblazer and community champion; Lydia Rendon (BA '60), lifelong educator; Dr. Robert W. Feldtman (BS '68), medical pioneer and cardiovascular/thoracic surgeon; Ramon Garcia (BA'70), Hidalgo County Judge and former Pan American University regent; and Norma V. Cantu (BA '73), civil rights activist and professor of law and education at UT Austin.
UT Pan American President welcomed the attendees and sponsors who made the night possible with their generous contributions, including Bert Ogden Rio Grande Valley, who were the title sponsors.
Bert Ogden's CEO Robert C. Vackar and wife Janet said they have special ties with Edinburg since both of their parents started businesses there. Robert Vackar said he went to high school just across the railroad tracks at the east end of the UTPA campus and his sister was a Bronco Queen who went on to graduate from UTPA.
"We've watched this place evolve and grow," he said.
He said his company is growing too with a need for more employees.
"We are expanding our operations and when we looked at it last year, we felt the only way we could grow is to hire more UTPA graduates, " Robert Vackar said. Bert Ogden now has 36 employees, who are UTPA graduates, and hoping to expand it to 50 by May.
For some couples, the Alumni Ball was an opportunity to celebrate Valentine's Day, which was the day before. One of those couples was Reynaldo Ramirez (BA '72), a former teacher at Weslaco High School and a 35-year retired master sergeant in the U.S. Army National Guard, and his wife Maria (BS '73), who are both members of the Alumni Association and were looking forward to catching up with old friends and former students at the ball.
They said they got more involved in the organization after their children left home. Their four children are all college graduates, two from UT Pan American. The Ramirez's said they are impressed with the growth of the University.
"I can't believe the growth, both in athletics and in every direction and now with this merger," Reynaldo said. "I'm excited. This is going to be a big thing for the Valley."
Nelsen told the audience that there are exciting times ahead for the Valley with the proposed new university in South Texas that will unify UTPA, UT Brownsville and create a new medical school, and also bring the much needed Permanent University Funds (PUF) to the Rio Grande Valley.
"In 2014 we will be enrolling the first class in that medical school and yes I get emotional because of the possibilities that this means for the children," Nelsen said.
"Alumni, somos familia, pero estamos creciendo (we are family, but we are still growing)," he added.
Homecoming Weekend continues on Saturday, Feb. 16 with the Bronc Madness Tailgate and men's and women's basketball games. Visit www.utpa.edu/homecoming to learn more.
See more photos at our Alumni Ball gallery.