MCALLEN, Texas – Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council President Jim Darling paid tribute to Dr. Shirley A. Reed, the retiring founder president of South Texas College, at a board of directors meeting.
Along with LRGVDC Executive Director Manuel Cruz, Darling unveiled a gold cup that will be presented to Reed. Darling is president of LRGVDC.
In an interview after the meeting ended, Darling said the establishment of South Texas College has, in his opinion, been one of the top three “game changers” for the Rio Grande Valley over the last 25 years.
“Shirley was the right person at the right time for STC. She came in not quite a year after the designation. It took a while for the search (of a president). So, we had about 500 students, not even that. She was relentless,” Darling said.
“It is great to have somebody like that. I do not know how good a friend because everything was STC. She just dedicated her career to that. Would not take no for an answer a lot of the times. But you see what it did. It is amazing.”
Today, STC has around 28,000 students and partnerships with local school districts that allow hundreds of students to leave high school with an associate degree or industry-recognized certificate.
Darling said before STC, students wanting to attend a community college in Hidalgo County had to attend a campus belonging to Texas State Technical College. Starr County did not have anything.
“Before, the kids wouldn’t get any education. They could not get a good education they could use in the workforce. I have not really analyzed it but the three or four things in the last 25 years I’ve seen that have been game changers, STC is in that group.”
Darling, now mayor of McAllen, was attorney for STC in the early years. He said before it was formed, very little attention was paid to the needs of students that would benefit from a community college education.
“We were a line item in the budget. We did get EDA (Economic Development Administration) grants for buildings and the City (of McAllen) gave them (STC) 40 acres. We gave them the land and we got three EDA grants thanks to the government. We turned that line item into South Texas College,” Darling recalled.
“The City was kind of behind that in the beginning. Mr. Roney and Othal Brand volunteered me to be the college’s lawyer so I was. I actually had an office at STC. I was there for a good part of the growth. We rewrote everything. We had to rewrite the personnel policies and then go back to the Legislature each year. It seems like I was there eight or nine years. I am not sure.”
The “Mr. Roney” Darling was referring to was Glen E. Roney, an icon of the banking industry in the Valley and a driving force in setting up STC.
Asked what the other “game changers” have been for the Valley, Darling said:
“I certainly think the UTRGV merger and the medical school. That is still developing. We are seeing results from that. The real growth is going to be, the shortage of primary care doctors, that opportunity is still growing. But, definitely, it has made an impact but the potential for me is going to be tremendous. We have not seen the impact yet but I think the MPO merger. NAFTA was a huge one. What NAFTA did for our area, from an economic standpoint. McAllen has always been a retail center but that has always been there.”
Going back to STC, Darling said the college has had a profound impact in Starr County and in Weslaco, both of which have STC campuses.
“Starr County. Look at Weslaco. All the kids. The partnership with the development corporation and transportation, getting kids back and forth, allowing them to study on the buses.”
Darling said he and Shirley Reed have at least one thing in common: both benefited enormously from going to a community college themselves.
“Shirley and I are both products of community colleges. We know the impact. I got out of the service. Did not know what I wanted to do, did not necessarily have the great grades. If it had not been for community college I probably would not have gone back to college.”
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