HARGILL – His pace may have slowed, but the wit that enthralled generations of South Texans for decades was clearly evident when retired U.S. Congressman E. “Kika” de la Garza was asked how old he was.
“Eighty-too-many,” he quipped with a smile, drawing laughter from the small group of admirers surrounding him.
The event was a Thanksgiving dinner this week honoring the long-time Congressman, who rose from a shoeshine boy on the streets of Mission to become the chairman of the powerful House Agriculture Committee from 1981 to 1994. He served in Congress for 32 years before retiring in 1997.
The luncheon was held Nov. 19 at U.S. Citrus in Hargill, north of Edinburg. U.S. Citrus is an innovative citrus production facility that uses state-of-the-art technology and planting methods to produce precocious citrus trees designed to outpace the ravages of citrus greening disease, according to its founder and chairman, Dr. Mani Skaria.
Skaria is also adjunct professor at Texas A&M University’s horticulture department.
Also honored was Dr. John Fucik, a citrus horticulturist whose lifetime of scientific research at the Texas A&M–Kingsville Citrus Center in Weslaco contributed greatly to the citrus industry and who inspired and recruited others, including Skaria, to the ranks of Texas A&M researchers, Skaria said.
“Congressman de la Garza and Dr. Fucik are people who selflessly devoted their entire lives to improving the lives of others,” Skaria said. “Thanks to their work, and the work of others like them, we are able to enjoy the fruits of life that the U.S. offers, including the safe and abundant foods that will grace so many tables this Thanksgiving.”
Dr. Juan Anciso, a fruit and vegetable specialist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco, spoke at the event, reminding the approximately 60 employees and guests attending that U.S. agriculture deserves a mention at Thanksgiving prayers and meals.
“We are so fortunate to enjoy the abundance of food we have in this country,” he said. “I think agriculture, supported by giants in the industry like Congressman de la Garza and Dr. Fucik, has played a huge role in making the U.S. one of the greatest nations on earth, and indeed, in world history. We can’t help but be thankful for our agriculture and the agricultural opportunities that exist in our great country.”
Both Fucik and de la Garza thanked their hosts and spoke directly to the 35 employees of the 2-year old U.S. Citrus, wishing them success in their efforts to keep citrus a viable food product in the face of ravaging plant diseases.
“It’s an honor to be here with those of you who are making this operation work,” de la Garza said. “On behalf of all of us who will benefit from your work, we wish you and your families the best of luck and the very best Thanksgiving.”
Skaria said it was an honor to have hosted de la Garza and Fucik.
We were thrilled to have them at our Thanksgiving celebration,” Skaria said. “The honorable Congressman de la Garza was instrumental in creating and promoting countless agricultural programs, policies, growth and development in the U.S. over so many years.
“And Dr. Fucik, in addition to his lifetime achievements as a citrus scientist, touched so many lives and brought so many bright people into the Texas A&M University System.”
Skaria said honoring past leaders is important.
“It is important that young people, like our employees, are introduced to the leaders who, through their hard work, made today’s world possible,” he said. “It’s also important for young people to see that such leaders deserve to be honored for their accomplishments. Hopefully, the younger generation will be inspired to achieve great things and one day honor their elders.”
De la Garza resides in McAllen with his wife Lucille. He was accompanied to the Thanksgiving event by his daughter-in-law, Velda de la Garza. Fucik and his wife, Naomi, now live in San Antonio.