Faith, family and philanthropy was the special focus of a dinner Aug. 6 to celebrate the naming of the honors program at The University of Texas-Pan American in memory of the late Rafael A. "Felo" and Carmen Guerra, descendants of pioneering South Texas ranching families who established a lasting family legacy for success in business and a generosity and dedication to education at all levels.
Approved by The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Feb. 12, 2009, the name change to the Rafael A. "Felo" and Carmen Guerra Honors Program was initiated by former UTPA President Dr. Blandina CÃ¡rdenas to honor the Guerra family's contributions to education over the years, particularly at UTPA, through their extensive volunteerism and monetary support for scholarships and other programs to help students reach their highest potential.
Surrounded by family, friends, UTPA administrators and Foundation Board members, and current Guerra Honors Program students, the five surviving children of Rafael and Carmen — A. R. "Felo," Carlos, Hector, Gerardo and Carmen (Guerra) Yzaguirre — and their children were welcomed by UTPA Interim President Dr. Charles A. Sorber.
"It is such an honor to be here with you tonight to celebrate the lives and legacies of two very special people — Rafael A. â€˜Felo' and Carmen Guerra. Thank you all for being such good friends to UTPA and for carrying on the legacy of your wonderful parents and grandparents," Sorber said.
He then introduced the debut of a short documentary video created by UTPA's Division of University Advancement to honor the family titled, "Faith, Family, and Philanthropy: A Special Brand of Caring," which highlights the Guerra's rich tradition in agriculture, business and contributions to their community. A plaque depicting a photo of the couple was also unveiled in a UTPA Visitors Center interior hallway — now named the "Hall of Honor" — leading from the center's first floor rotunda to its front entry.
The Rafael A. "Felo" and Carmen Guerra Honors Program provides students with an enriched and challenging liberal arts curriculum, offers students the chance to conduct research at the undergraduate level and the opportunity to exchange ideas in a challenging and supportive academic environment through honors classes, educational travel, an honor society and developmental seminars.
Guerra Honors Program student Jen Mendoza, a senior from Edinburg majoring in philosophy who plans on attending graduate school, commended the program's high standards.
"I want to go as far as I can academically, and this is a great way to test the waters to see where I stand and what I am capable of. It offers great minds pushing me to fulfill whatever potential I have. Being supported by this program has changed my life and will continue to do so," said Mendoza, who extended her gratitude to the Guerra family.
Speaking for the Guerra family, Carlos said he was sure their mom and dad, who had set a wonderful role model for their children, "were up in heaven smiling down" and expressed appreciation for UTPA's recognition of the family's support of education.
"We hope this will encourage more people to do the same and raise the bar for more kiddos to want to raise their bar and further educate themselves," Carlos said. "I was very impressed with the students I met tonight and to hear of their dreams and goals. We are definitely on the right track here at UTPA."
Carlos' daughter Cristina, a 2008 graduate of Texas A&M University with a degree in agricultural leadership and a graduate gemologist, said supporting education has become a strong part of her family's values.
"The honor itself is an amazing tribute to my grandparents. They gave back so much, and I hope to continue their legacy by doing the same," she said.
For more information on the Rafael A. "Felo" and Carmen Guerra Honors Program, go to www.utpa.edu/honors. To learn more about how you can support the advancement of UTPA, call 956-318-5301.