Cover photo for Mary Rose Cardenas's Obituary

Mary Rose Cardenas

d. December 24, 2023

Brownsville, Texas

Mary Rose Cardenas

 

BROWNSVILLE, TX. - Mary Rose Cardenas, 92, died December 24, 2023, in Brownsville, Texas. Born in Mercedes, Texas in 1931, Mary Rose Cardenas was the oldest of four children. Her father managed a hardware store and sold insurance in Brownsville where he raised his family. The family had no luxuries but managed despite the depression years.

Graduating from Brownsville High School in 1948, Mary Rose enrolled at Brownsville Junior College. But her “very old fashioned” father, alarmed by the large infusion of ex-servicemen who began attending the college on the GI Bill, made her withdraw. Another blow to her educational prospects came shortly after. Her father became ill and had to leave his job. At seventeen years and the oldest child, Mary Rose became the breadwinner.

Her first job was as an office worker and bookkeeper at Cisneros Oil Company, but soon she moved on to a local supermarket as a bookkeeper. In 1950, the Credit Bureau of Brownsville, a firm she would stay with for sixteen years, hired her and she soon became a manager. She left there in 1966, to join the Gulf Mart store as credit manager and assistant manager.

In 1955, she married the love of her life, Renato Cardenas. He owned a gasoline station where he would begin selling used cars. Working side by side their business prospered, and in 1971 they secured the city’s Buick and American Motors franchises. Later they added GMC and Isuzu, and Dodge cars and trucks to the Brownsville dealership. He sold those dealerships and later purchased a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Harlingen and a Ford dealership in Raymondville. Mary Rose Cardenas later sold those dealerships. At her death, she was president of Cardenas Motors in Brownsville. She and her husband, started a land development company in 1969, now known as Cardenas Development which has developed forty subdivisions in the Brownsville, Olmito, Rancho Viejo, and San Benito areas.

Cardenas Motors was once recognized as one of the nation’s largest Hispanic owned enterprises. Hispanic Business Magazine named the company one of the top 100 Hispanic owned corporations in the United States.

Her astute business sense, as well as her active civic service makes her a role model for young businessmen and women in the community. She served on numerous boards including Valley Regional Medical Center, KMBH Public Television and Radio, the boards of the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities, Driscoll Children's Hospital of Corpus Christi, the Federal Reserve Board of San Antonio, the executive board of the Texas Automobile Dealers' Association, and the Rio Grande Council of Boy Scouts.

In 1984, Mary Rose was considering a run for mayor, but was persuaded by a Texas Southmost College (TSC) board member that she could benefit the community more by joining the college board. First elected to the TSC Board of Trustees in 1984, she was re-elected in 1990, 1996, and 2002 and served four terms as Chairman. In May of 2005, she stepped down from the board after more than twenty years of service to the college.

Mary Rose has said the most rewarding experience of her life has been her work at the college. She was on the committee that conducted the search for a new president at TSC in 1986 and was instrumental in hiring Dr. Juliet V. García. Dr. García, who became the first Mexican-American woman in the nation to become president of a college or university.

Under Mary Rose’s tenure as a member of the Board of Trustees, many additional “firsts” were achieved. The campus of TSC was completely rebuilt, correctly restoring many historically important structures, doubling the number of classrooms, student service areas, the size of the library, and the campus increased from 37 acres to more than 300 acres.

A national award-winning scholarship program was implemented which allowed every junior high and high school student in the college district to accumulate scholarship dollars good for tuition by earning A’s and B’s in their schoolwork. More than a million dollars were raised locally, in one of the poorest regions in the nation, and this was matched with an additional $2 million by the U.S. Department of Education to fund these scholarships. Mary Rose was active in raising awareness of the opportunity in the community and helpful in soliciting donations. As a result, hundreds of students attended UTB/TSC with hard earned scholarship dollars.

One of her greatest accomplishments was the role Mrs. Cardenas played in establishing the partnership between The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. When the Chancellor of The University of Texas System, Dr. Hans Mark, told her that the UT System was supportive of a free-standing university in Brownsville, but that it was planned for 20 to 30 years in the future, Mrs. Cardenas told him the people of Brownsville could not wait that long. She proposed that TSC contract with the UT System for education. Dr. Mark deemed her idea an excellent solution. Mrs. Cardenas was then active in garnering legislative support for passage of the law establishing UTB and the partnership, the negotiations with the UT System and the development of the partnership design and interagency agreements.

Because of Mrs. Cardenas’ work on the local and state levels, UT Brownsville welcomed its first freshman class in the fall of 1998. Texans in the lower Rio Grande Valley were now able to attend a four-year university close to home. It was a dream that began several decades before, and the persistence of Mrs. Cardenas, the TSC Board of Trustees, and an involved community led the dream to fruition.

The TSC Board of Trustees, under the leadership of Mrs. Cardenas, donated land on which to build Brownsville’s portion of the Regional Academic Health Center created by the UT System. The Public Health Division was created as a branch of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston’s School of Public Health on the TSC campus.  A building was constructed using $5 million of the tuition revenue bond proceeds appropriated during the last session of the Legislature. In addition, a $5 million endowment from the tobacco settlement funds was available for public health and allied health education contingent on Legislative appropriation.

In 2004, Mary Rose was honored with the Distinguished Alumnus award from Texas Southmost College. In 2005, North and South Hall on the campus were renamed in honor of her.

Mary Rose was a member of the Board of Trustees of Valley Regional Medical Center Board of Directors from 1986 to 2000 where she served four terms as chairwoman. During her term, she worked tirelessly to develop the business plan for the new $60 million hospital and medical office complex which opened in June 1998. She was active in recruiting new doctors to Brownsville. She also served on the board’s community relations committee, which allocated monies to various charity organizations.

She received the Distinguished Public Service Award from the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities in 2002. She also received the Time Magazine Outstanding Dealer in Education from the National Automobile Dealers Association, the Distinguished Service Award for Exceptional Leadership and Devoted Service to Brownsville from the Brownsville Rotary Club and the Mary Yturria Brownsville Citizen of the Year award. In 2007, the Texas Automobile Dealers Association named her a Texas dealer “Legend.”  The Girl Scouts also honored her.

The Rio Grande Council Boy Scouts of America have also named her the Distinguished Citizen for 1999. She was also the recipient of the Outstanding Local Leader award given by the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute located at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.   Former Texas Governor George W. Bush commissioned a Yellow Rose of Texas in Mrs. Cardenas’ honor for her dedication to expand higher education in South Texas. In 2002, she received the Spirit award from the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville for her outstanding support of Catholic education.  The University of Texas at Brownsville honored Renato & Mary Rose Cardenas as outstanding business owners.  The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley honored Mary Rose Cardenas as a distinguished alumna in 2019. 

Mary Rose and her husband were staunch supporters of education. Both instilled the importance of going to college and getting an education to their five children and eight grandchildren. They were members of St. Mary’s Church for more than fifty years.  

Mary Rose was well known for her commitment and dedication to providing opportunities for better health and education that have enhanced the lives of the people in Cameron County and across the Rio Grande Valley. She was steadfast in her willingness to build consensus for action and bring important and useful change.

Mary Rose was a loving wife, mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, great-grandmother, and friend.  An incredibly energetic woman, her motto was “I never go to sleep the same day I woke up.” She was admired for her faith, kindness, friendliness, and generosity. Examples of her generosity include donating the land for the Driscoll Children’s Hospital Specialty Clinic, the Olmito Elementary School in the Villa Los Pinos subdivision in Brownsville and for the entrance to the Harlingen Thicket Park. 

Mary Rose was preceded in death by her parents, Francisco B. Arzamendi and Cleotilde “Otila” Arzamendi; her husband of sixty-one years, Renato E. Cardenas; her brothers, Francisco “Frank” Arzamendi, Richard Arzamendi, and Alfredo Antonio Arzamendi; her brother-in-law, Jorge “George” Cantu; and her sister-in-law, Mary Ann Cleary Arzamendi.

She is survived by her sister, Bertha Cantu; her sister-in-law, Ofelia Arzamendi; five children, Reba Cardenas McNair (Harry), Elsa Cardenas Hagan (Andy), Renato G. "Rene" Cardenas (Angela), Ricardo "Rick" Cardenas (Margie), and Eldarose Cardenas (Efren Guedea); eight grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, numerous nieces, and extended family members.

The family would like to thank Dr. Juan Martinez, Dr. Roberto Robles, and their team members, for their friendship and special care. 

Visiting hours will be held on Friday, the 29th of December 2023 between the hours of five o'clock in the afternoon and seven o’clock in the evening at St. Mary's Catholic Church, 1914 Barnard Road, Brownsville, with the recitation of the holy rosary to begin at seven o’clock Friday evening within the church.

The Funeral Mass will be celebrated at nine o'clock in the morning on Saturday, the 30th of December 2023 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Interment will then follow, via an escorted procession, at Buena Vista Burial Park, 5 McDavitt Boulevard, Brownsville.

Jose Luis Barba, Jagger Cardenas, Renato “Ren” Cardenas, Oscar Garcia, Efren Guedea, Andrew Hagan, James Hagan, and Harry McNair will serve as pallbearers. Honorary pallbearers are Rosemary Breedlove, Eddie Campirano, Charles Dameron, Denny Frank, Juliet Garcia, Chester Gonzalez, Rick Lara, David Oliveira, Jose Martin, Wayne Moore, Michael Putegnat, Roberto Robles, Roberto Rodriguez, Dolly Zimmerman, and other members of the TSC family.  

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Renato E. Cardenas Scholarship Fund c/o UTRGV, Division of Institutional Advancement, 701 E. Expressway, McAllen, Texas 78501 (www.utrgv.edu) or to the Texas Southmost College Foundation, 80 Fort Brown, Brownsville, Texas 78520.

Memories of Mary Rose may be shared at www.darlingmouser.com.

Personalized funeral arrangements directed by Steven R. Hieu Bailey and Staff have been entrusted to the care of Darling-Mouser Funeral Home at 945 Palm Boulevard in Brownsville, Texas 78520, (956) 546-7111. 

Past Services

Visiting Hours

Friday, December 29, 2023

5:00 - 9:00 pm

St. Mary's Catholic Church

1914 Barnard Rd, Brownsville, TX 78520

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Recitation of the Holy Rosary

Friday, December 29, 2023

Starts at 7:00 pm

St. Mary's Catholic Church

1914 Barnard Rd, Brownsville, TX 78520

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Funeral Mass

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Starts at 9:00 am

St. Mary's Catholic Church

1914 Barnard Rd, Brownsville, TX 78520

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Interment

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Starts at 10:00 am

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