When Maria Diola Gonzalez came to then-Edinburg Regional College, she said she brought $50 to pay for her courses and bought her books second-hand.
"Pan Am was my savior," said the 1956 alumnus of The University of Texas-Pan American. "I went here when it was a two-year junior college. I worried about what am I going to do after two years. I knew my parents couldn't afford to send me off. But after two years, that is when it turned into Pan American College (a four year university) so that worked out great for me to finish my education here."
Maria had a rewarding 53-year career as an elementary school teacher and bilingual education specialist. She relocated frequently with her husband Angel Noe Gonzales, also an educator, administrator and a national advocate for bilingual education, who once worked in the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., as a bilingual specialist.
She said Angel, who came from a family with 10 children, also had financial difficulty paying for his college education. With three grandchildren now attending college, Maria said she knows that families today, even with both husband and wife working, have just as tough time gathering the money to pay for college costs.
"I owe Pan Am for my livelihood," said Maria, who along with Angel and his siblings have set up several endowments to provide academic scholarships for students in UTPA's College of Education, including the Diola Cantu Gonzalez Endowed Scholarship. "We have already had our lives and we've made it and because of our education we are able to help others."
At the recent "Guiding Stars Meet Rising Stars" donor scholarship luncheon at The University of Texas-Pan American, Maria and Angel Gonzalez were among many generous donors to UT Pan American who were able to meet with recipients of the endowed academic scholarships they have established.
Fabiola Salinas, who is majoring in interdisciplinary studies-bilingual education, said the Diola Cantu Gonzalez Scholarship she received is enabling her to attend summer classes and complete her degree earlier.
"I am very grateful. Without their help, getting an education might not be possible. This scholarship is giving me an opportunity to make a better future for myself," said the freshman from Mission.
In a video presentation (see video above), donors heard from several scholarship recipients from the 2012-2013 academic year on how donor generosity and foresight helped them. UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen and Vice President for Advancement Veronica Gonzales also welcomed guests and described the impact of endowment gifts.
"An endowment is the most enduring gift a donor can make to the University or the UTPA Foundation. It is a permanent fund that pays out for scholarships year after year," Gonzales said. "These scholarships truly make a difference in the life of our students. For some, if not for the scholarship, they wouldn't be able to go to school. For other students, these scholarships allow them to conduct invaluable and sometimes groundbreaking research. And for some students, the scholarship means being able to travel abroad and experience other cultures, lifestyles and languages."
Gonzales assured donors that UT Pan American is working with The University of Texas System to create a smooth transition of endowments as UT Pan American joins with The University of Texas at Brownsville to become The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Nelsen described the benefits to students, the University and Valley from the creation of UTRGV and the new medical school and gave an update of its current status. He also thanked the donors he called "part of our family" and described the scholarship recipients as "some of the brightest kids that you will ever meet."
Eligio "Kika" de la Garza and his wife Lucille said they chose to use funds raised at an event honoring the former 32-year U.S. Congressman to establish the Eligio "Kika" de la Garza Scholarship for students attending Pan American.
Then-Edinburg Junior College was where de la Garza began his higher education studies before joining the Army and serving in the Korean conflict. He later earned a law degree before being elected to the Texas House of Representatives. In 1965, he was elected to Congress, where he oversaw transformational agricultural legislation and cofounded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
De la Garza, 86, said the scholarship has worked out well and he appreciates it when he hears from students who say "thank you, I got your scholarship."
"They say it helps a lot," he said. "Having a college education makes a lot of difference. In life, your success is geared to your level of education. That's why higher education is so important. I'm proud that we have higher education at this level here, it is something we should be proud of. We still have lots of kids that can't go off to college, but UT Pan American measures up to any college."
Andrew Padron, a Bronc baseball team student-athlete, said he was honored to receive the Eligio "Kika" de la Garza scholarship when he entered the University in fall 2013. The political science major is considering a career as a sports agent or corporate lawyer following his graduation.
"This scholarship helped me a lot financially. I didn't receive a baseball scholarship," he said. "I feel better about myself receiving a scholarship from a man who has been so important, not only in the Valley but in the state and country. It's amazing and it is an honor."
Padron said giving back to the community has always been important to him and part of UTPA baseball coach Manny Mantrana's mission for his team members. He said the team has given blood for example and a lot of time in community service.
"It is important to give back to the community in service and in money, so hopefully in the future I will make enough money and will be able to be donor. That will be important to me. Even if I move away, I am not going to forget the Valley," he said.
Enjoy more pictures from the event at this Facebook photo gallery.
To learn more about donating to UTPA contact the University's Development Office at (956) 665-5301.