BY KEELY LEWIS
What do the Edinburg Boys & Girls Club, the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the Laurie P. Andrews PAWS Center, and the Museum of South Texas History have in common? Besides all being nonprofit organizations based in Edinburg, they all have been major recipients of funding from the behind-the-scenes nonprofit organization the Edinburg Foundation.
Nowadays, most cities have an official economic development entity that promotes a city’s interests, but 50 years ago, none existed, at least not in the Rio Grande Valley. In June 1968, a group of civic-minded citizens came together to entice Joe Haggar Jr., to locate a Haggar Manufacturing plant in Edinburg. They succeeded, and so began decades of support for business development and nonprofit organizations in Edinburg. Because it won’t be around much longer, I wanted to cover just some of what this nonprofit powerhouse has accomplished in its 50 years in existence:
Five Edinburg businessmen, Ralph Alexander, Dan Newey, Don Borah, Ernest Johnson, and W.W. Curl, had the vision to form the Edinburg Foundation to create jobs for the city, with members having one vote for each $100 they contributed. Their goal was three-fold: to purchase, subdivide, sell or lease property; to build or repair buildings for the use of manufacturing, industrial, or other enterprise in Edinburg; and to accumulate and lend money for those purposes.
After their success in bringing Haggar to town, they developed the first industrial park within the city, which was later sold to the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.
A decade ago, the foundation board’s focus changed to helping local nonprofits with the construction and repair of buildings and improvements. Longtime foundation member Robert Gandy III helmed the shift of the organization from industrial to nonprofit support. More than that, he had the vision to develop an entirely new subdivision on land the foundation owned in north Edinburg, starting with the Edinburg Boys & Girls Club of RGV Legacy Center.
Rather than remodeling the club’s inadequate El Tulle location, Gandy set his sights on building a first-class new center with plenty of land for sports fields and enlisted the help of Cullen Looney and other community leaders. With the foundation helping to procure the land and finance the building, the new club opened in 2010, followed soon after by the opening of an IDEA Public School that would share the center’s sports fields during the day.
In the meantime, the foundation was also offering sizeable matching grants to help maintain the historic buildings that house the Edinburg Chamber and MOSTH, both of which needed extensive updating to continue their missions.
In 2013, the Edinburg Foundation offered a significant donation of affordable land and money to help with the creation of the PAWS Center on the same campus. Current Edinburg Foundation President Byron Jay Lewis also helped negotiate the rights for an electric transmission pole on PAWS land to offset the cost of the land. In April 2016, PAWS opened its doors, offering Hidalgo County’s stray animals a state-of-the-art no-kill sanctuary, complete with city-funded dog parks.
When the campus that now houses Legacy, IDEA, and PAWS was first envisioned, it seemed remote, but city developments, like La Sienna and the upcoming Resaca Market, have continued to spread further north, making Gandy’s vision for this land even more visionary.
The foundation currently has grants in place to help maintain the Legacy Center, the Edinburg Chamber, MOSTH, and PAWS. They also just funded a two-to-one matching grant to completely retire the debt on the PAWS building by year’s end, bringing their total contribution to that organization to more than $1 million. In the past 10 years alone, the Edinburg Foundation has awarded more than $10 million to Edinburg nonprofits — amazing considering its inauspicious beginnings.
Once those grants are completed and funded, the foundation will close up shop, but the true legacy of its founders and board members through the years will continue in the buildings it helped fund and the people who depend on those buildings. Even though most of their contributions were made without much fanfare, these civic leaders deserve our thanks for all they did to better the Edinburg community, past, present, and future.