Rene Wallace (AA '51) is known as a dedicated wife and mother, enterprising businesswoman, community champion and proud alumna of The University of Texas-Pan American.
Earlier this year, she received another title, Pillar of Success. Wallace, who earned an associate degree from Edinburg College, one of UTPA's predecessors, was one of five distinguished alumni given the award in February for their remarkable achievements and contributions to society.
"It is just so thrilling to me," Wallace said about receiving the award. "I guess it's the best thrill of all. I had such a great time in school ... I loved school and I loved my teachers."
Wallace was an avid student growing up and skipped three grades. In high school she served as drum major of the Sergeanettes, was the editor of her school's year book and was voted "Best All Around" by her classmates.
She graduated from Edinburg High School at age 16 and earned her associate degree from then-Edinburg College at age 19.
While a college student, Wallace learned to play the card game bridge. Wallace said she would join fellow students in the in the student union to play and would take breaks from the game to attend classes.
"Bridge is such a mind-improving game," Wallace said. "I learned from a little fold out card on how to count and how to bid and that today is so wonderful because when I leave home and go play bridge it's about two and a half hours. When I sit down at that table, I don't think about anything but concentrating on counting (the cards)."
Her skills as a bridge player led her to compete in tournaments throughout the United States and Mexico. She even defeated Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates in a tournament match. She is now a silver life master and is working to reach the gold life master level in the American Contract Bridge League.
After graduating from Edinburg College, Wallace worked for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, and later became the Chamber's first female vice president.
While working for the Chamber, Wallace was asked to travel with a delegation from Edinburg and the college to petition state legislators to turn the two-year community college into a four-year institution. As a proud alumna, Wallace accepted the invitation.
She and other representatives from Edinburg and the college spoke to members of the state senate's appropriations committee about the need for a four-year institution in the Valley.
"I went up there and said, 'The Valley is growing and there are so many people just like me who have the intelligence but not the money.'... I said, 'The Valley is growing and we really need a four-year school.' And I said, 'And if you don't have the money, they can't go, I couldn't go.'"
After their presentation, one of the state senators told her the Valley would have a four-year school.
"Knowing that over 70,000 people have been able to graduate from college just because I played a very small, small, small part, just thrills me to no end," Wallace said.
Wallace continued to work toward improving the quality of life in the Rio Grande Valley by serving on numerous boards, including the Junior and Senior Service League and The United Way. She also served on Edinburg's Planning and Zoning Committee and served as its chairwoman for several years.
But above all else, Wallace put her family first.
As a young mother wanting to make sure all five of her children went to college, she began investing in various companies. Wallace also earned her securities license and began selling insurance to help set aside money for her children's education. At the time she took her licensure exam, she was the only woman in a group of more than 50 taking the test.
Wallace sold policies through Liberty Life Insurance Company - many of her clients were educators at the University - and through Aflac. On her first day on the job with Aflac, Wallace sold 99 insurance policies. She said she would sell policies while her children were in school and was there to pick them up when classes let out.
A dedicated wife, Wallace set aside her insurance business to help her husband with his business, Jack Wallace Farms. She handled the day-to-day administrative tasks, allowing her husband to focus on the farm.
Wallace also exercised her business savvy to pursue real estate development. She was instrumental in the development of the Cimarron Country Club and its surrounding subdivisions. She served on the Board of Directors of the Cimarron Architectural Board and build several homes in that neighborhood, including her own. She also developed her own subdivision - Southern Oasis in Mission - that catered to the 55-plus community and Winter Texans.
Her success as a businesswoman led her to become sought out for advice by other businesswomen. Wallace delivered keynote addresses at the Chicago and Miami Women's Leadership Roundtable. In 2006,the National Republican Congressional Committee's Business Advisory Council named Wallace Texas Businesswoman of the Year for her service to her community, especially the creation of Southern Oasis. Of all her accomplishments, Wallace said she is most proud of being the wife of Jack Wallace and the mother of their five children.
Wallace said she attributes her success to the support of her loving husband, whom she says has backed her 100 percent.
"I'm a wife first, I want to give Jack the first credit, a wife and mother, and I couldn't have done this if he had not supported me," she said. "You know, he wanted me to be happy and he wanted me to be able to do what I wanted to do."
Elliott Bottom, a retired banker and longtime business associate of the Wallace family, recalled the many successes Rene Wallace had in running businesses.
"She's been in a varied amount of things, the main thing is that she helped her husband run his business operation, which is produce, raising potatoes primarily for Frito Lay, and he was in bad health one time and she really took over the business and ran it for herself for awhile," Bottom said. "She did a wonderful job on that... She went into the housing business and built homes for the winter tourists and did that for quite a while. And she did that all by herself and was very, very successful with that also."
Bottom said Wallace is well deserving of the Pillar of Success designation.
"There were not many people around who have her experience or her get up and go to get something done," Bottom said. "I don't think you can find anybody better for what you've got her up for."
Hear more about Wallace's amazing life in this video: