The Mission Historical Museum annually honors residents who have shown dedication to make the community a better place than they found it.
This year’s honorees include Bill Filut, who is a long-time president of the Texas Citrus Fiesta; Renee Martin and Tomas Tijerina, who annually host a Thanksgiving dinner for thousands of people in the area; Kathy Olivarez, who served on the city’s zoning board for decades; Connie Walsh, who has done significant work with the youths in the area; Richard Walsh, a long-time Mission CISD board member; and David Heflin, local veterinarian and youth mentor.
To qualify, honorees must have lived in or worked in the community for 30 years or more. Proceeds from the awards banquet, which includes a silent auction, go to support programs at the museum.
Luis Contreras, museum director, said they’re still collecting donations, but he believes the agency will surpass its $25,000 goal.
“The turnout was actually more than we expected. It’s really nice to see the community support,” Contreras said. “It’s not just the quantity of people that come see us, but the quality that we admire. It means a lot to the organization.”
Contreras said there are a couple of big projects in the work, including an exhibit reconfiguration, which includes a permanent exhibit that tells the story of Mission. Contreras said he’s also working on an oral history project with Mission High Schools Mexican-American cultural studies class. He hopes to open up the project to other school districts.
“These projects are very, very important and very keenly focused on community,” Contreras said. “ When you do things that are community-curated, then you give them that sense of ownership.”
William “Bill” Filut
Filut graduated from Sharyland High School in 1968 and earned his certification as an electrical contractor. For many years he owned an electrical contracting company and he now works for the city of Mission.
He has been a Lions Club member for 19 years, serving as president in 2003. Filut has been cooking for the annual Lions Club Barbeque since he joined the organization. He received the C.B. Curtis Award in 2007.
Filut was married to Berta Filut, who was executive director of the Texas Citrus Fiesta for 19 years. They were a team who worked together in making the Fiesta the biggest annual event for the city of Mission.
Half of Bill Filut’s life has been dedicated to the Texas Citrus Fiesta organization. He served as president of the board of directors for 23 years, and for the other seven he volunteered and was a board member. He also works on all events throughout the year, including the parade, Vaquero Cook-off, Fun Fair and Royal Coronation. His priority at Fiesta time consists of maintaining, decorating and driving the king and queen’s float.
Another one of Filut’s duties is driving the float with the Royal Court around Texas and Valley cities to serve as the ambassador for the city of Mission and to promote the Fiesta.
The Texas Citrus Fiesta Kings Association named Filut an honorary King Citrus in 2015. The association will award a scholarship in Filut’s name and in memory of his late wife, Berta, to the reigning Queen Citrianna each year.
Dr. David Heflin
As part of the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, Heflin has contributed to the community by serving as a doctor of veterinary medicine for 28 years. Heflin started veterinary medicine by pulling his own weight, practicing from the back of a pick-up truck, which has transformed into a multi-veterinarian practice – Mission Veterinary Hospital.
Heflin’s passion for animals began at a young age as he discovered his empathy for all kinds of living things. In school, he joined the Future Farmers of America. He earned a degree in biomedical science from Texas A&M University in 1981 and moved to Mission in 1986 to start his practice.
Heflin also took part in the Mission Economic Development Corporation and has served on the board of directors of Texas Veterinary Association for nine years. Additionally, Heflin served on the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners for six years and donated his time to the Texas Dove Hunters Association Board of Directors.
As a result of Heflin’s involvement with youth leadership and teaching, he has sponsored seven students from other countries, including Brazil, Germany, Spain, India and Ireland. He has contributed to the 4H Program, has coached almost every sport his daughters have participated in and is a member of the Sheriff’s Posse Association of Hidalgo County. Heflin also is a volunteer at Calvary Baptist Church and is involved in teaching youth leadership.
Olivarez moved to Mission with her husband, Ben, in 1970. She taught for two years before stopping to have a family, serving as a Girl Scout leader for 10 years. Seeing that some of the scouts had never left the Valley, Olivarez took them to Disneyworld in Orlando to a historic Civil War town where the Girls Scouts was founded and to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado as part of their badge work.
In that time, Olivarez started working part time, first for Bill Austin and then for June Brann at the Progress Times. In addition to covering meetings for the paper, she wrote many articles on the history of the city of Mission and the Rio Grande Valley and covered many of the Mission Historical Museum’s meetings honoring Mission pioneers.
Meanwhile, she earned certification in library science and ended up working as a librarian for more than 20 years, first with Rio Grande City ISD and then La Joya ISD, before retiring and taking the job as editor of the Winter Texan Times.
Olivarez also was involved in the Texas Citrus Fiesta, initially by making costumes for her children, and later the Boy Scouts, then her grandchildren. In 2001, she received the Maureen Duncan Nicklaus Product Costume Show award for her dedication to the Product Costume Show.
Olivarez has served on Mission’s Zoning Board of Adjustments for 25 years, serving several terms as the chairman or co-chairman. In 2003, she received the Texas APA Southmost Section Planning Award for Best Zoning Board of Adjustments Member of the Year. She also served on the Mission Historical Commission.
Renee Martin and Tomas Tijerina
Although Renee and Tomas Tijerina already juggle a restaurant and retail business, along with a real estate and insurance business, they are both constantly seeking ways to help those who are less fortunate. In 2006, when Tomas learned that a water well was needed in Africa in an area where people had no clean water available, he simply asked how much it would cost to drill the well, and made the donation.
Several years ago, he and his wife went on a business trip to California. While there, they met people who annually held a Thanksgiving dinner, which fed thousands of needy people. Upon returning home, he and his wife Renee began a plan to feed 1,000 needy people in Mission on Thanksgiving Day 2006. They organized and over time, with the cooperation of several area organizations, the dream became reality.
In 2007, they served 1,200 people and incorporated a plan that allowed home deliveries to the homebound. Still not satisfied, they made plans to make it bigger and better the next year, with a goal for 1,500 needy persons to receive a meal in 2008. The Thanksgiving Day feast has not stopped yet. Last year, 3,500 needy people were able to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with turkey and the trimmings.
The Tijerinas delivered $4,000 worth of food from their restaurant to the Mission Food Pantry when Hurricane Dolly hit the Mission area, and they soon became the catalyst in organizing a food drive called, “Curbing Hunger.”
They also annually hold the Breast Cancer Awareness Breakfast, and the proceeds go to M.D. Anderson for breast cancer research.
Connie Walsh moved to Mission with her husband, Richard, in 1970 with their three children. Here, she got involved in St. Paul’s Catholic Church and its religious education classes for young adults who had no knowledge of the Bible. She has been an active part of the St. Paul’s Altar Society and is a past president, when she started a movement called Youth for Peace. A few years ago, Connie Walsh organized a 24/7 adoration to the Blessed Sacrament.
Outside of church, she also was an active worker with the Mission Service Project and encouraged others to help. For many years, Connie Walsh made costumes for the Texas Citrus Fiesta and was an active member of the PEO Sisterhood. She organized Christmas and Easter parties for handicapped children and devoted time to helping children in the colonias.
In fact, she earned the Progress Times Spirit of Mission award in 1992 for her work with the youths of the area.
Of his wife, Richard Walsh said, “I would like for everyone to know that without Connie, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. It was because of her willingness to move to Mission that we made our first significant decision together that has continued to this day. From the day she wrote my name down to volunteer as the Cub Scout Master at Bryan School, she pretty well directed, and I followed.”
Richard Walsh became the owner and president of Mission Gin Co. with cotton gins in Mission, Russelltown, Citrus City, McCook, La Joya and Lamesa. He was learning the business, meeting cotton and citrus growers, while trying to take the workload off his father.
Walsh’s father, James P. Walsh, wanted a business that could employ people all year, so he bought a citrus packing shed, and that was the beginning of Mission Shippers in 1951. James Walsh taught his son if you treat people right, they will treat you right in return and he supported Richard Walsh’s work in the community. That’s why James Walsh always donated most of the fruit used during the Fiesta free of charge. That tradition was continued at Mission Shippers after he was gone.
From 1970 through 1983, Richard Walsh served on the board of St. Paul’s Catholic Church, and from 1990 to 2000, he served on the Diocese of Brownsville Seminary Board.
Richard Walsh also served on the Mission CISD board for 16 years, serving two terms as president. In 1997, he served on the Rio Grande Valley School Board as vice president and secretary, receiving the Friend of Education Award in 1997.
In 1986, Richard Walsh was recognized with a special dedication at the Weslaco-Mission football game for his community-wide efforts to resurface the football and track field and name the Mission stadium after Tom Landry. Additionally, Richard Walsh served on the Mission Economic Development board and the Mission Chamber of Commerce Board for several years. He is currently on the board of directors for Juan Diego Catholic School.