Being selected as the McAllen Chamber of Commerce Man and Woman of the Year requires people with a mixture of attributes. They could be business owners, people of faith, retirees or elected officials. Career accomplishments are no surprise, but the award is not just about the work they do. It’s also about the heart they give.
Woman of the Year Veronica Gonzales is UTRGV Vice-President of Governmental & Community Relations. Born and raised in San Marcos, it was upon graduation from law school that she opted to join the law firm of Jarvis, Schwarz and Kittleman in McAllen. Driving down to the Valley back in 1991, she gazed upon the wide open spaces with nothing in them and exclaimed, “Oh, my gosh! What did I do?”
She laughs today as she recalls that first drive to the land that has become her home and her life. Veronica even found relatives she wasn’t aware of, which made the Valley feel even more welcoming.
Working her way to partner, Veronica branched off in 2005 to be elected State Representative of District 41, a position she held for seven years. She then joined the staff of University of Texas-Pan American now University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, in 2012, and remains active across the Valley in a variety of organizations.
“Coming to the Valley changed me during changing times here on the border,” she said. “I grew as a business person, then as a legislator, while McAllen was growing from a small town to an urban area with regional and statewide impact.”
She found where she fit into the community, where she could help the most.
“My grandmother was a social worker and I would tag along with her to the community resource center where she worked,” she said. When my uncle, who became the first Hispanic mayor in San Marcos, was campaigning, I joined him and my aunt and learned about service to the community. It was natural for me to take that on.”
Veronica serves on many boards such as Lone Star Bank, AACT and the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council. One she serves on that strongly tugs at her heartstrings is Easter Seals RGV.
“Easter Seals is about helping people living with disabilities,” she said. “My father had muscular dystrophy, ultimately becoming bedridden. I know how hard it is on families, and it’s especially difficult when it’s a child. Easter Seals has meant a lot to me.”
Being presented the McAllen Chamber Woman of the Year award was a splendid surprise.
“It’s such a wonderful recognition and honor because the Chamber only chooses one woman a year, and there are incredible women all over McAllen doing impactful work. It was a tremendous feeling to know that it was not just people I worked with giving me this honor, but people who have become my friends and family. I’ve got great friends, family, and co-workers. I couldn’t ask for more in any city. I love visiting new places, but I’m always glad to come return home.”
Bill Wilson, Chairman of the Board of D. Wilson Construction, gives credit to those who came before him.
“My family landed here about 100 years ago, some as farmers, some as builders,” he said. “My granddad and his brother worked on the original Casa de Palmas hotel. Growing up in the Valley, our family was always aware that even though we didn’t have a lot, there were those who had less, which was invariably an opportunity for us. Besides starting the construction business, my dad was the pastor at our church for 18 years, and involved in missionary work in Mexico. Following his lead the rest of us became involved in helping other people. He taught us to appreciate what we had, but we also had a responsibility to help others.”
Working with his dad, Darrell Wilson, who started the company on a $100 loan, Bill feels it was his family’s hard work which has brought him where he is today.
“Our webpage states that in 1996 we increased our business from $25 million up to $100 million in 2014. That’s a huge accomplishment. I think that’s part of the reasoning behind the award.”
Selling the company in 2000 to the employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP) has meant more to the employees than Bill had even dreamed, and is giving them a secure future.
“Some of the people had been there longer than I had, so instead of selling to an outsider, we opted for the ESOP,” he said, reflecting on the momentous change it brought to the company.
However, Bill believes the award is also in honor of the things he and his family have accomplished outside the company. It’s helping the Chamber and the MEDC when they need it, and serving on boards when asked. Bill’s passion has been the Museum of South Texas History. Serving on that board previously, among many others, and ready to serve again, he believes helping with fundraisers for various organizations also led him to become the recipient of this prestigious award.
“We have learned that it’s important to give back to the community. When I think of growing up here with 28,000 people and what it is today, it’s come a long way. When my dad died, my mom set up a scholarship fund at McHigh.” He pointed to that fund as yet another act of giving from his family.
Bill is convinced, for him, this award is a personal award for his family. He truly feels it’s because of all his family’s giving and hard work he has become the man he is today.
Veronica and Bill are outstanding examples of the quality of people who live, work and give with their hearts in McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley.