McAllen school district leadership approved renaming their boardroom after Ricardo R. Chapa, a week after the former educator and war hero died and less than a day after he was buried.

The board approved the naming to a fair sized crowd. For some in the room who had known or worked with Chapa during his years as an educator, it was clearly an emotional occasion.

“Dr. Chapa was an exemplary individual,” Trustee Sam Saldivar said, choking up a little. He had met Chapa back in the 70s, when Saldivar was a freshman in high school.

“A man of integrity, that was founded on his God, his faith and his country. And that says a lot about a person,” Saldivar added. “It says a lot.”

Chapa packed a lot into his 91 years. A Mission native, he served in various branches of the military, as a personnel clerk, tank gunner and corporal, and was wounded in the Korean War as a Marine in 1951, earning a Purple Heart.

His injuries caused him to leave the service, though he’d be an active participant in working on the Veterans War Memorial of Texas in the 1990s.

Chapa spent much of the rest of his life in education, a good chunk of it as an assistant superintendent at McAllen ISD.

He’d later serve as superintendent, and as interim superintendent at PSJA and Sharyland. He capped off his education career with six years spent as a trustee in the board room that’ll now bear his name.

A life’s worth of labor had a very real impact on the community, trustees said.

“When I first came on the board 10 years ago, Dr. Chapa was my mentor,” Trustee Conrado Alvarado said. “I sat by him, learned a lot from him. He was not shy, but he was a fair man. He voiced his opinion, he was always there on time, he did things the right way. And all the things that he accomplished — I didn’t even know half of them.”

The McAllen ISD school board meeting room in the district’s Administration Building on Wednesday in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Community members began a push to rename the room after Chapa in August. The board launched a committee to do so shortly after, and trustees frequently noted during updates that the board was adhering to renaming policy and that that policy takes time to enact.

“I know for the family members, it seemed like it was forever, but it’s a process in which we as a board have to follow,” Trustee Marco Suarez said.

A committee recommended Chapa’s name unanimously to the board after the district solicited community nominations.

Eugene Gutierrez, committee spokesperson, listed a roster of Chapa’s accomplishments.

“As an educator, Dr. Chapa wanted to take part in sowing the seeds to form the future leaders of McAllen by ensuring children to be involved and healthy and engaged in activities,” he said.

Gutierrez, another former McAllen educator, met Chapa when he started at McAllen ISD, still sporting his crew cut. Gutierrez shared an anecdote that illustrated the personality behind all of Chapa’s achievements.

Gutierrez told the board about a time he and Chapa attended a state principals’ convention in Houston just after the Astrodome opened.

Chapa and Guttierez didn’t have access to the field, where Mickey Mantle and Roger Staubach and a crowd of athlete greats were, but the new stadium was a bustle of disorganized activity and Chapa said they oughta try making their way down.

When Gutierrez asked how they’d pull that off, Chapa told him to strap on his camera, and to write “press” on a sheet of paper and stick it on his chest.

Guttierez went home with seven autographs.

“He was quite a person,” Gutierrez said.

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