|McALLEN, November 2 - Easter Seals Rio Grande Valley commemorated 60 years of service on October 29, 2013.
The parent organization has been in existence for over 80 years, initially dedicated to helping children with disabilities, such as Downs Syndrome. A special film highlighting such a case was featured at the McAllen Convention Center Tuesday night. The occasion honored Michael J. Blum, 2013 Humanitarian Honoree.
The crowded ballroom was festive. Easter lilies in full bloom lined the lobby. Mixing for wine and renewal of friendships was a veritable panoply of town and gown civic leaders. A bronze statue of the 1951 recipient of the Humanitarian award, Ms Lucile Hendricks, sat in the lobby, as though she were still receiving (or admonishing?) guests. I was privileged to attend along with Dr. Isidore Flores, director of the International Valley Health Institute. We were guests through the generosity of Frost National Bank, invited by Ms Elva Cerda of that institution.
The new Rabbi of Temple Emmanuel, Claudio J. Kogan, gave a profound invocation, praying for guidance for leaders and members and justice and consideration for those less fortunate.The daughter of Lucile Hendricks, seated at our table, was visibly moved by his thoughtful, ecumenical petition, as were so many in the room, many answering with a hearty “Amen.”
Easter Seals is, of course, a venerable charitable institution. But even with its gravitas, a good cause like that needs active leaders. The genius of this regional club is that it has managed to blend various ethnic groups and religions; Jewish, Protestants, Catholics, (and more secular types) fused into a critical mass, dedicated to helping people less fortunate, as the Rabbi prayed.
Adults, as well as children, receive developmental aid. Here in south Texas, over 2,000 families receive help for services that include Early Childhood Intervention for infants and toddlers, Pediatric Rehabilitation, Inclusive Childcare and Adult Services for rehabilitation and Supportive Employment. Cases for first focus are usually extreme, sometimes emergency problems, but vision and coverage have expanded. It’s not your grandfather’s Easter Seals anymore.
And the list of activists is eclectic. Think: liberal, witty Bobby Guerra, Democratic state representative as president amidst the various, more staid members of bank boards or legal teams! A very American, very warm, south Texas mélange of cooperation. And all agreed overwhelmingly with the choice of Mike Blum as Humanitarian of the Year.
Political Scientist Dr. Jerry Polinard of the University of Texas-Pan American, my colleague, has often been involved with guiding Leadership McAllen. He believes that group and the tradition of cultivating leaders - Blum and others - has been the key to McAllen’s successes over the years.
Mike himself was quite humble, appreciative, overwhelmed by the honor. But few could be so deserving. Not only does he “know where the bodies are buried,” as he jokingly reported in his acceptance speech, but has shared his enthusiasm for civic involvement over many years, in McAllen and wider Rio Grande Valley affairs and institutions.
He served on the first Leadership McAllen cohort. As the audience found, Mike was hardly ever absent from a long list of successful endeavors for city and community. He even, according to Roger Stolley, presenting the award, often played Santa Claus for public and private events. Perhaps a first? Yes, a south Texas Jewish Santa Claus, as Roger humorously reported.
Other awards included Volunteer of the Year, Mr. Carlos Melguizo, and Business of the Year to HEB food stores. Highlight of the evening, during the enjoyable meal, was an auction of exquisite, colorful ostrich eggs, hand-painted by well-known artists such as Berry Fritz and Amado Pena. Even Mike Blum donated one of his own wooden creations, to be polished and designed to order for the lucky purchaser. Over $25,000 was raised in the spirited auction. Elegantly dressed young ladies displayed the art objects to all, adding a touch of glamour.
Joe Brown’s and Rick Guerra’s banter treated the guests to a variety of puns or doble sentidos - most guests “caught” even if they did not know Spanish - about the ostrich “huevos.” The lightness of the evening nicely counter-balanced the heaviness of the mission - that of a community doing what it can for children with birth defects and for their struggling parents and families. A very good “cause” united a diverse community. Easter and Hanukkah came together.
Dr. Gary Mounce is political science professor at the University of Texas-Pan American. His columns appear regularly in the Rio Grande Guardian.