Women of Distinction Award Annual Gala Brought Together Talented and Admirable Women

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Texas Border Business

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce celebrated its annual Gala Women of Distinction. The most respected honorees and notable women were recognized on Wednesday, June 13th at the Memorial Event Center in Edinburg.

Government, Education, Entrepreneur, Humanitarian, Professional, Health, Military, Arts & Entertainment and Rising Star.

Honored this year for the Government category is Angela R. Burton, the District Director for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Lower Rio Grande Valley District Office.  She came to the SBA in July 2013 after serving for almost a decade as the first woman President/CEO of the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce.

Angela earned an Associate’s Degree in International Trade and Transportation from Texas Southmost College and a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Science Degree in Business Technology from the University of Texas at Brownsville in 1997. (She graduated Magna Cum Laude).

For Education is Dr. Blandina Cardenas Flores, former President of UT Pan American. In 2010, Dr. Cardenas retired as the first woman President of the University of Texas-Pan American, but that is just a small part of her story.

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For almost 50 years, Dr. Blandina Cardenas has been a champion for the inclusion, advancement, and success of those for whom equality of opportunity is not readily available.  Through a distinguished professional life in government, education, research and advocacy and through a steadfast connection to her community she has challenged practices that exclude, developed strategies and programs that empower the powerless and inspired, mentored and coached countless emerging leaders in education, public service, and practical politics.

For Entrepreneur is Cynthia Marie Belcik Ebrom, the owner and master cake designer at Cynthia’s Cakes, a Victorian style shop located at 4112 N. Doolittle Rd., Edinburg, Tx.

Cynthia was born in Yoakum, Tx. and has lineally steeped in Bohemian and German baking, creating and cultures.  She watched both sets of Grandmothers at an early age as they baked kolaches, strudels, bread, cakes, cookies, sewing, arts and crafts and this fascination grew into her passion for cake decorating 35 years ago.

Professional is Dora Brown, Sr. V.P. of Marketing at IBC bank. In 1970, Dora began her career in banking with Merchants Marine Bank as a receptionist. She was soon transferred to the New Accounts Department and later as a Secretary to the President.

In 1980, she began working for Valley Federal Savings as Vice President of Operations.

In 1990, when Valley Federal Savings became International Bank of Commerce, Dora began her career in Marketing She has been employed with IBC for more than 26 years, and as Senior Vice President and Marketing Officer, continues to earn numerous accolades for her service to her community. Her leadership is a mainstay but continues to flourish. Judge Dori Contreras received the award in her representation.

For Humanitarian Sharon Almaguer was selected, she is with the Almaguer Law Firm. Almaguer received her Bachelor of Business Administration degree at Texas A&M University-College Station and her Juris Doctorate degree at the University of Houston.

Upon graduation from law school, Sharon moved to McAllen to begin her legal career which focuses on helping families deal with the issues of aging, special needs planning, and estate planning. She is a frequent speaker in the community on these issues for AARP and other organizations. Sharon is the current President of the RGV Estate Planning Council. She is a Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation, a member of the College of the State Bar of Texas and was selected to join an elite group of leaders as a member of the Leadership Texas Class of 2014. She is also a member of the State Bar of Texas Pro Bono College providing many hours of no fee legal services to the poor.

For Health is Jennifer Garza, CEO of the Edinburg Regional Medical Center. She is a Rio Grande Valley native and has over 18 years of experience in Health Care Administration.  She has been the Chief Executive Officer at South Texas Health System-Edinburg and South Texas Health System-Children’s (formerly known as Edinburg Regional Medical Center and Edinburg Children’s Hospital) since December 2011.

Prior to her arrival, Jennifer served as Chief Operating Officer at St. Joseph Medical Center in Houston which was a 792-bed acute care hospital.  She was the former Chief Operating Officer and Ethics and Compliance Officer at HCA – The Woman’s Hospital of Texas in Houston where she was in charge of a major expansion project of 122 licensed beds.

For Military, Arlene Laboy was selected. She is an Army Veteran and Founder of Veterans Females United, a local 501(c)(3) Non-profit Organization in the Rio Grande Valley. She is a Licensed Master Social Worker which allows her to employ her knowledge within the organization and the community to better serve women veterans and their families. In addition, Mrs. Laboy is a Certified Peer Facilitator which has allowed her to assist Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress through peer-to-peer support groups since 2013.

For Arts & Entertainment, Armandina Sesin is the recipient of the award. She is the San Juan Library Head Librarian. Her passion for participating in community theater and acting started in 2001 when Pedro García, Director of Teatro Nuestra Cultura, invited her to play a part, in the summer of 2001, in the Play La Muerte de un Matachín.  She has participated with Pedro Garcia in 15 plays, with Tom Fuschetto in five plays, with Dr. Eric Wiley, Carolann Todd, Nephtalí de León, Jessica Peña, Pete Romero, Juan Mejia, in one play, and a play reading of Pedro y Pablo by Dr. Brian Warren which afterwards was presented as a play directed by Augusto Contreras.  She has participated in eight movies, nine TV commercials, and an educational video for The University of Texas-Pan American, now UTRGV.

The Rising Star recipient is Judge Renee Betancourt, 449th District Court. Judge Renee Rodriguez-Betancourt was born in Edinburg, Texas and graduated from Edinburg High School in 1999. In just 2 ½ years, she completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas-Pan American before earning her law degree from the prestigious University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

In 2016, after a decade working in a variety of legal areas, she was elected Judge of the 449th District Court of Texas. According to the Texas Judicial Branch, Rodriguez-Betancourt is the youngest district court judge in Texas. She and her husband, J.R. Betancourt, are the proud parents of three young daughters, Gloriana, Carissa, and Vitalina.

Each of these women has a special story of their own personal and professional struggles and successes. Their stories are unbelievably inspiring.