On Saturday, Aug. 8 at 10 a.m., South Texas Independent School District (STISD) will dedicate the new academic building at South Texas Preparatory Academy (STPA) in Edinburg to education, business and community leader Romeo M. Villarreal of Edinburg. Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, former president of the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) in Edinburg, will be the guest speaker at the dedication ceremony.
The owner of Edinburg Child Care, Inc., Villarreal has served on the STISD Board of Directors for 37 years, with 10 as president. He became a board member in 1972, but his ties to STISD go back to the 1960s, before the school district was born.
Villarreal began his educational career as an agriculture teacher for youth with cognitive disabilities. In 1962, he helped a group of parents from Edinburg lobby the state for a school district dedicated to serving the challenged students of the Rio Grande Valley.
In 1963, Villarreal was the first person hired at South Texas High School in Edinburg. South Texas High School opened in 1964 as a residential school for special-needs students. South Texas High School was the first "child" of South Texas Independent School District, and the campus is now home to South Texas Business, Education & Technology Academy (BETA) and STPA.
In the 1970s, this Edinburg resident transitioned from a school administrator to a program executive serving the residents of Edinburg and Hidalgo County. At different points in time, Villarreal was director of the Child Nutrition Agency in Edinburg, director of El Tule Bilingual Day Care Center in Edinburg and director of the Migrant Program for Hidalgo County. Always active in local government, he was a member of the Edinburg Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and City of Edinburg Urban Renewal Board.
In the 1980s, this community leader was even the acting city manager for the City of Edinburg. It was at the City of Edinburg where he met his wife Mary. During that decade, he opened Edinburg Child Care, Inc., a federal program that provides nutrition training to child care workers.
Villarreal became fully self-employed in the 1990s and started his real estate company, Edinburg Properties, where he focused on helping the indigent and underprivileged. Throughout his professional career, he also managed his family's ranch in San Manuel, Santa Rita Farms.
Though he became a businessman, Villarreal never stopped serving the students of the Rio Grande Valley. In addition to STISD, he served on the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District Board of Directors for a term as well as the Texas Association of School Boards and Texas Special Education Continuing Advisory Committee, each for approximately 10 years.
An active member of his community, he has also been a loyal member of the Edinburg Noon Lions Club for 23 years.
Born on Sept. 21, 1936, in Encino (near Falfurrias), this native Texan graduated from Edinburg High School in 1955. Villarreal earned a bachelor's degree in Agriculture from Texas A&M University-Kingsville and one in Special Education from UTPA. He earned his master's degree in Vocational Rehabilitation from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
He and his wife have five grown children: Yvonne Villarreal of Edinburg, 48; Rick Villarreal of Edinburg, 46; Michael Villarreal of Edinburg, 36; Mark Corona of Chicago, 39; and Gylma Garza of Edinburg, 34. Villarreal's oldest son John Villarreal of Edinburg passed away in 2001 and his youngest son Joshua Villarreal of Edinburg passed in away in 2002. They would have been 49 and 29, respectfully.
Now retired, the 72-year-old enjoys hunting, relaxing at the family ranch and spending time with his 13 grandchildren. Villarreal still spends much of his time helping those in need.
The public is welcome to attend the building dedication ceremony, with fine food and beverages to be served. STPA is located at 724 S. Sugar Road in Edinburg, at the corner of Sugar Road and Sprague Street. For more information, call 956-514-4255.