Progress Times continued a more than 50-year-old tradition this month, honoring four of the Mission’s “finest” residents through the Citizens Awards at the Greater Mission Chamber of Commerce annual banquet.
Joyce Geary was honored as the 2014 First Lady of Mission; Ruben Rodriguez was named Mr. Mission 2014; Maritza Ramirez Esqueda earned the honor of Woman of the Year; Carl Davis was named Man of the Year.
The honorees are kept secret until they are announced at the banquet, which was held Thursday, Oct. 16, at Mario’s Banquet Hall. Progress Times Publisher Jim Brunson and his wife, Mendi, presented the awards.
First Lady of Mission
Geary wasn’t born in Mission, but she’s made her mark in the city since arriving in 1982 as a member of Volunteers for Education and Social Services to teach elementary students at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church–a job that didn’t even pay minimum wage at the time.
Her service mostly centers on the youths of the community.
While she taught at Our Lady of Guadalupe, Geary also coordinated the Friday Mass, planning and practicing the music and readings with the children and making the sacramental bread–a task she often shared with the children coming to her house to assist.
Geary went on to become a youth minister at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, the Teen Court coordinator at the McAllen Police Department, a sixth-grade teacher at K. White Jr. High School and an assistant principal at Brown Middle School in McAllen and Cavazos Elementary in Mission.
She’s been at Cavazos nine years and has been named “Who’s Who of American Educators.”
As a youth minister and youth choir direct at St. Paul’s, Geary has focused on ways to engage children while making it fun, hosting BYOB (Bring Your Own Banana) parties, retreats and lock-ins. For 20 years, she’s led teams of youths in the Mission Service Project and created well-organized, fun experiences for out-of-town guests who joined them.
Geary also has led two church choirs for 25 years, alternating two Sundays at Our Lady of Guadalupe and the other two at St. Paul’s church. Now in her second generation of leading the groups, former students are now bringing their children back to participate.
She leads the choir to nursing homes, hospitals and homes of shut-ins during the holidays to sing Christmas carols. They also sing to the families whose homes they renovate through the Mission Service Project.
Monsignor Da Vola at St. Paul’s calls her the Pied Piper.
Nominations for Geary poured in this year. That, alone, said a lot about the impact she’s had on the community.
Rodriguez grew up in a migrant family, working in the cotton and tomato fields, where he was driving a John Deere tractor at the age of 8. By age 15, he was a foreman supervising his own crew.
Attending schools in California and Mission while migrating for work, he graduated from Mission High School in 1975.
Beginning a lifelong pattern of service, that same year he began teaching CCD, or Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.
In 1977, Rodriguez married and moved back to California to support his family, working with his dad, a farm labor contractor, harvesting tomatoes and cherries. He often picked up side jobs, delivering small tomato plants from nurseries to fields for transplanting early the next morning.
In 1980, Rodriguez and his wife moved back to Mission, where he went to work at Wickes Lumber, quickly moving up as a manager for outside sales. When Wickes Lumber closed down, Rodriguez worked for a time at Alamo Lumber before starting his own business.
In June 1997, Rodriguez and his wife had five children when she received a call from a caseworker asking if she knew of anyone interested in adopting a set of twins.
When she told Rodriguez, his response was, “Us. If the call came to us, obviously God is sending them to us. You are the one at home with the children, and if you are willing, I am too.”
The boys were 4 years old with a mental age of 9 to 10 months.
Now 21, the boys have grown to become gentlemen, imitating their dad, from church to community service to construction
Also in the summer of 1997, the Rodriguezes received a phone call from an organization that helps place foreign exchange students. A student from Brazil needed a temporary place to stay. Rodriguez opened his three-bedroom, one bathroom home for more than six months.
Since then, Rodriguez has hosted many foreign exchange students, including students from Brazil and Ecuador, as well as medical students from Peru, Brazil, Columbia and Argentina.
Woman of the Year
Ramirez Esqueda is a Mission High School graduate with an international business degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Her successful path led her to start her own company, which eventually sold and merged to Lone Star Shredding and Document Storage, where she now is general manager, helping build it into possibly the largest, privately owned record management center in South Texas.
Her expertise has led her to become a consultant to municipalities and school districts, working closely to help them develop retention and recycle programs.
She’s been a member of the Mission Lions club since 2007.
Ramirez Esqueda serves on the Mission Baccalaureate Committee, which supports graduating seniors from the two high schools in Mission CISD and the two in Sharyland ISD.
A member of Primera Iglesia Baptista in Mission, she participates in the family adoption program, collects and delivers food baskets, clothing and financial assistance to underprivileged families with school-age children.
Her business sense has given her the understanding and skills necessary to help establish and continue to drive a service organization founded with her friend, Eddie Vela, in 2009. A Mission resident, Vela was diagnosed with a rare and incurable form of cancer, and, because of his own circumstance, they saw the need to establish the Faith, Family and Friends Foundation.
The foundation supports law enforcement families who are battling serious and life-threatening illnesses. Vela eventually lost his battle, but Ramirez Esqueda’s energy continues to be the driving force to keep Vela’s mission alive when many others would have fallen by the wayside and lost interest and the vision for the organization’s purpose.
She’s raised more than $100,000 with fundraising events in just a few years to bless the lives of others caught in circumstances for which no one is ever prepared.
Man of the Year
In 1972, Davis was part of the Mission Bronco Baseball team that made history as the United States champions of the Bronco World Series in St. Joseph, Missouri.
He may not be hitting baseballs any longer, but he has worked to ensure that Mission’s youth today have the opportunity to enjoy sports and other wholesome activities through the Mission Boys & Girls Club and Shary Municipal Golf Course, where he has served for years on their boards of directors.
Davis also served 12 years on the City of Mission Building and Adjustments Board, as a board member and as chairman. He previously served several years as a board member of the American Diabetes Association and as a Regional Insurance PAC Director for Farmers Insurance FEPAC, a political action committee representing the Rio Grande Valley for the insurance industry.
Besides dedicating his time to serve the community on various boards, Davis has found time to coordinate events for Autism Awareness, the American Diabetes Association and La Lomita Lions Club. Trading in his baseball cleats for a touring bicycle, in 2008 and 2010, Davis coordinated a 97-mile bike ride for Autism Awareness. He continues to be a dedicated father and advocate for his son.
An involved parishioner at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Davis has served as an usher for 36 years, is a member of Knights of Columbus, and is a board member of the church maintenance committee.
Davis shares something in common with the other individuals honored with the Citizens Awards. He has spent a lifetime looking about him, not to see how others could help him, but rather how he could best use his God-given talents and abilities to bless the lives of those around him.
“This is the spirit of Mission that lives on in the lives of all her citizens who reach out to lift others and touch the lives of their neighbors and friends,” Jim Brunson said. “This is the spirit that makes Mission the place we love to call home.”