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Cavazos Legacy of Encouraging Education Lives othrough Endowments

Chris Cisneros Jr. joins fellow scholarship recipients in conversation with Johnny Cavazos.  
Chris Cisneros Jr. joins fellow scholarship recipients in conversation with Johnny Cavazos.

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – AUGUST 21, 2012 – Chris Cisneros Jr., a 2007 graduate of The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, joined many throughout the community in sorrow over the passing of Johnny N. Cavazos of Brownsville who passed away Thursday, Aug. 16 at the age of 79.

Cavazos, along with Nena, his wife of 58 years, left a legacy that to date has helped over 185 students pursue higher education by establishing two endowments that are earmarked for education students; one specifically for elementary education and the other for education with a major in kinesiology.

Cisneros, a kinesiology major, remembers Cavazos as “a great man who had many inspiring stories to share with everyone.”

Cisneros recalled the evening he and his brother, Stephen, had the opportunity to sit with the couple at an endowment scholarship dinner.

“We listened intently to his words of wisdom,” Cisneros said. “His scholarships greatly helped me pay my way through school. Aside from relieving me of financial stress, being a recipient of the Cavazos endowment showed me that hard work can payoff.”

Cisneros is now beginning his sixth year with Brownsville Independent School District, teaching third grade at Gonzalez Elementary School.

“I, as well as many others who Johnny and Nena Cavazos have helped, am very thankful for all their contributions to the community,” Cisneros said.

The story of Johnny and Nena Cavazos is one of determination and perseverance. They first met when they began their college educations at Texas Southmost College in the early 1950s. At TSC, Cavazos played football during the college’s final football season.

In 1951, Johnny put his education on hold when he joined the United States Air Force to serve during the Korean War. Upon honorable discharge, he entered St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and received a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and International Relations in 1958.

As a young couple, Johnny and Nena returned to make Brownsville to make their home where they both began working as educators. Johnny was a coach at Central Junior High School, and Nena taught second grade at Ebony Heights School, now Martin Elementary School.

In 1965, the couple decided to strike out on their own. Starting from a one-room office, the Cavazos opened an independent insurance agency that grew as the years passed.

Having built a successful business and being firm believers in education, the couple began sponsoring scholarships for college-bound graduates of Brownsville High School. In 2002, they formalized their effort by creating an endowment at BISD to award scholarships to high school athletes to continue their education.Johnny N. Cavazos

In 2004, the Cavazos established the Johnny N. and Nena S. Cavazos Kinesiology Endowment for students majoring in kinesiology at UTB and TSC. Two years later, in 2006, they once again backed up their belief in higher education with an endowment for student scholarships for elementary education majors.

Johnny said he loved reading the cards and the letters they received from grateful scholarship residents. He kept them all and said some would “put a tear in his eye. When the students thanked us it made it all worthwhile.”

In May of 2006, Texas Southmost College honored the Cavazos with the highest award, the Distinguished Alumnus Award. They were the first husband and wife selected as recipients. As the Commencement speaker that year, Johnny told the graduates, “There is no limit to the gift you can share with others. Give back and share what you have received.”

Gifts can be made can be made to the Johnny N. and Nena S. Cavazos Kinesiology Endowment and the Johnny N. and Nena S. Cavazos Endowment for Elementary Education.

For information, please contact Laurie Howell, University Relations Executive Director, at laurie.howell@utb.edu or 956-882-4334. More information on giving opportunities can be found on the university website or email giving@utb.eu

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