UTPA donors touted for their investment in students and higher education
Posted: 04/15/2013
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Ruth Dean Morris retired from her 35-year career as a music teacher at The University of Texas-Pan American 34 years ago but through her visionary philanthropy she continues to make a difference in the lives of students and the University.

Current members and new inductees of the Heritage Society were thanked for their support of UT Pan American and its students at a dinner April 5 at UTPA. Pictured with new inductee Chantal "Shawn" Seale (second from right) are from left Jody Nelsen and UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen, both also new inductees, and Veronica Gonzales, UTPA vice president for University Advancement. Other new inductees are David and Rachael Loman and the late John Van Ramshorst.

At the annual Heritage Society dinner held April 5 at the University, donors, like Morris, who include UTPA in their estate plans or who create future gifts for the University through other types of planned gifts were thanked for their generosity and foresight. Alumna Graciela De la Garza ('55), a member of the 1955 women's chorus led by Morris, and Graciela's granddaughter Clarissa De la Garza talked about the beloved teacher's lasting impact.

"She (Morris) was very professional and loved music. She was easy to talk to and friendly. We loved her," said Graciela, who proudly displayed a 1955 photo of the white formal-clad chorus.

Her granddaughter has never met Morris but the first year sophomore majoring in music education is a grateful recipient of the Ruth Dean and Homer J. Morris endowed scholarship that Morris established for music majors and plans to add to through an estate gift. Clarissa said she appreciates the financial support the scholarship provides and the encouragement it gives her to do her best.

"Music is what I love to do. I want other people to love it as much as I do. Having their (donors) support makes me want to work harder. I want to make it worth every penny that they gave," Clarissa said.

During the evening a number of UTPA students, many of whom were accompanied by their parents, gave testimonials regarding the often transformative assistance they have received from programs and scholarships supported by gifts from faculty, staff, alumni and friends to the University.

Veronica Gonzales, vice president for University Advancement, said the gifts from donors are instrumental to the students' success and lead to a more compassionate society that believes more in giving than receiving.

"By making these gifts you are telling our students you believe in them, so much so that you are leaving money that you could have left your own family or other charities. Regardless of the professions these students pursue, they will all have something in common. They will remember that it was the generosity of others ... that helped them get ahead," she said. "Hopefully, they too, will pay it forward."

Nine UTPA students gave a brief presentation during the Heritage Society event describing the assistance they have received from programs and scholarships supported by donors to the University. The students are pictured with UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen (sixth from right) and Vice President for University Advancement Veronica Gonzales (far right).
Leading by example, UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen and his wife Jody were among the newest inductees to the Heritage Society, recently signing papers to leave their estate to UT Pan American. The couple also recently established a $20,000 endowment in honor of their late son Seth to help cover emergency needs of students.

"My wife said, 'don't cry,'" said President Nelsen, when he thanked the society's donors. "How can you not cry when you see the generosity of others? How do you not cry when you see young freshmen coming forward and stepping up? You have done this because you care, because you know it is important and because you have hearts that are huge. And because you know the future of the Valley and the nation is here in deep South Texas. You are making this world a better place."

Other new Heritage Society inductees are David and Rachael Loman, Chantal "Shawn" Seale and the late John Van Ramshorst. Seale earned both her bachelor's (1988) and her master's (1994) in business administration from UT Pan American. She became a manager and worked 33 years for the company that financed her education - AT&T. Seale decided she wanted to help others the way AT&T helped her and has designated a bequest in her will to endow a scholarship for students in the College of Business Administration.

"I think no matter what you do - if you are a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer - you have to have good business sense or you really can't run a successful business. And I think a degree in business is complementary to any other degree a person might have. It is important for anybody," she said.

Seale wants others who received financial assistance to obtain their college education to consider helping someone else.

"I feel strongly about the University and the Valley. I encourage people to make use of this - for what money you put in, a lot comes back to help the University and the students."

There are many easy giving options and strategies that can enhance a donor's personal well-being as well as benefit UTPA and its students. For more information, go to the gift and estate planning page of the UTPA Development Office website or contact Director of Planned Giving Cecilia Johnson at or (956) 665-2352.