McALLEN/MISSION – Congressman Eligio de la Garza, 89, passed away peacefully on Monday, March 13, 2017, at Legend Transitional Care Center in McAllen.
Eligio had a long and distinguished career in public service and was fondly known simply as “Kika.”
Born in Mercedes, Texas on September 22, 1927, Kika grew up in Mission, Texas where he attended Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic School and Mission High School.
In 1944, at the age of 17, Kika enlisted in the United States Navy to serve during the final months of World War II.
Upon returning home, he completed his high school courses and attended Edinburg Junior College. He transferred to St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and returned to serve his country during the Korean conflict as an artillery officer in the United States Army, as an aide to General Kenneth Cooper. After his service, he earned a law degree in 1951 from St. Mary’s University.
In 1952, at the age of 24, Kika launched his career in public service by being elected to the Texas House of Representatives. After serving six consecutive terms in Austin, Kika was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1965 where he proudly served for 32 years. One of his most prominent accomplishments was being the driving force in creating the nation’s first state-run system of English language instruction for pre-school children. A strong supporter of civil rights safeguard for minorities, Kika fought for improved access to health care for the elderly and veterans, better living conditions for low-income individuals and the impoverished, and access to educational opportunities for all citizens.
Kika’s involvement in the “El Morillo Drain” project improved water quality for the entire Rio Grande Valley by reducing salinity in the Rio Grande River. His involvement with economic development in the Valley and its long-range economic growth resulted in the construction of the Falcon and Anzalduas dams and Amistad Reservoir as well as the construction of the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge and the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge.
As an influential proponent of free trade, he was instrumental in the passage of both the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the expansion of the International General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). As one of Congress’ leading experts on U.S.-Mexican relations, he worked to improve relations and trade between the two countries throughout his congressional career.
Congressman de la Garza was one of the founding members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which he chaired from 1989 to 1991. He was assigned to the Committee on Agriculture and rose to become chairman serving from 1981 to1994. He became the first Hispanic to chair a standing committee of the House of Representatives since 1917. He was also the first member of Congress to receive Mexico’s Order of the Aztec Eagle Award and Israel’s Vulcan Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award. For Kika, dreams became reality in a journey that took a simple shoeshine boy from the streets of downtown Mission to the halls of the United States Capitol.
Numerous facilities have been named in his honor including the Kika de la Garza Fine Arts Center in Mission; Kika de la Garza Elementary School in La Joya I.S.D.; Kika de la Garza Federal Building in McAllen; Kika de la Garza Pharr Reynosa Border Station at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge; Kika de la Garza U.S.D.A. Service Center in Edinburg; Kika de la Garza Plant Material Center in Kingsville; Prairie View A & M University Kika de la Garza International Goat Research Center; and Kika de la Garza American Institute for Goat Research in Langston, Okla. There are also streets named in his honor in La Joya, Mission, Edinburg, Harlingen, Prairie View, and the Kika de la Garza Highway in Mercedes. To commemorate over four decades of public service, a statue of Kika has been erected at the Rotary Park in downtown Mission.
Among some of the honors bestowed on him were Mr. Mission, Citrus Fiesta King, Mission, Borderfest King, Hidalgo, Border Texan of the Year, Hidalgo, Señor Internacional, Laredo, Mr. South Texas, Laredo, the Golden Eagle Award, Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Excellence in Leadership Award by The International Women’s Board of The University of Texas Pan American Foundation.
Congressman de la Garza was a proud member of the following organizations: Catholic War Veterans Post 1065 in Mission, American Legion Post 101 in Pharr, McAllen Chamber of Commerce, Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Museum of South Texas History, Mission Historical Museum, Order of The Alhambra Mosara 260, and Knights of Columbus Council 8298.
His happiest moments were those spent with his wife, children, and grandchildren.
He is survived by his loving wife of 63 years, Lucille; three children, Jorge (Velda) de la Garza, Michael (Michelle Chaple) de la Garza, and Angela de la Garza Cisneros (Jerry). Also left to cherish his memory are his beloved grandchildren, Christina (John) Hryhorchuk, Jorge de la Garza, Jr., Laura de la Garza, Mariel de la Garza, Michael de la Garza, Jr., Michelle Alexandra de la Garza, Jennifer (Manuel) Ybarra, Philip Farias, and one great-grandchild, Jaxon de la Garza. He is also survived by many loving cousins, nieces, nephews, extended family and faithful canine companions, Chiqui and Rocky.
Kika was preceded in death by his parents, Dario and Elisa de la Garza; brother and sister-in-law, Robert and Gilda de la Garza, and his in-laws Joe V. and Estela Alamia.
Visitation will be held on Thursday, March 16, from 5 to 9 p.m. with a 7 p.m. rosary, at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in McAllen. The funeral mass will be held at 2 p.m. on Friday, March 17, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Mission. Interment will follow at Valley Memorial Gardens in Mission. Military honors will be conducted by VFW Post 8788 of McAllen.
Pallbearers will be grandsons, Jorge de la Garza, Jr., Philip Farias, Michael de la Garza, Jr. and nephews, Eddie de la Garza, Rene de la Garza and John Struthers.
Honorary pallbearers are Romeo de la Garza, Gilbert Garza, A. J. Garza, David Garza, Sam Gorena, Paul Walsh, John Cordaway, Ernesto Peña, Isidro Garcia, Richard Martinez, Lee Garza, Leonel Acevedo, Roy Guzman, Alberto Guerra, Antonio Saenz, Bobby Trdla, Jesse Treviño and Solomon Marroquin.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the E. “Kika” de la Garza Endowed Scholarship Fund at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Funeral services are under the direction of Memorial Funeral Home in Edinburg.