By Rebecca Esparza '99 BBA, '04 MBA
They walk the same campus as their ancestors and continue the legacy started generations ago. For many students, employees and faculty, the University of the Incarnate Word is more than just a place to study or work: it’s about continuing family traditions.
According to the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, the largest ongoing study of college students in the United States, close to 10 percent of current university freshmen nationwide are attending the alma mater of a parent or relative.
From family legacies that started when the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word first began caring for and teaching orphaned children in the late 1800s, (establishing the Academy of the Incarnate Word by 1900), to more recent traditions that began in the mid-1980s, each family featured has a heart-warming story of familial, long-standing ties to UIW.
Family continues to make its mark on UIW
Olga Hachar La Vaude and Family
Olga Hachar La Vaude recalls with fondness her days attending the university, then called Incarnate Word College before it went co-ed in 1970. She graduated from Incarnate Word High School in 1947 and received her Bachelor of Arts from the college in 1950.
“I had attended the school since fifth grade and still remember exactly what you had to say if you addressed or passed by a Sister in the hallway: ‘Praise be the Incarnate Word, Sister,’” she said gracefully, bowing her head with a gentile smile. “That is something that will stay with me forever.”
Though her parents initially wanted her to study music, Olga, now 79, admitted her love of biology was too strong. She minored in chemistry and French. Eventually, she would make the decision to move back home to Laredo and work at her family’s legendary department store, Hachar’s. In 2002, she retired from Hachar's after 45 years of tireless dedication to the family business.
Serving on the university’s board from 1990-1999, Olga said she’s been proud to serve her alma mater with not only her time and talents, but with monetary support, too. Her daughter, Yvonne La Vaude, also attended Incarnate Word High School and Incarnate Word College.
“I wanted my daughter to have a good Catholic education,” she noted.
Ramfils Ralphael DePena
Yvonne’s son, Ramfils Raphael DePena, is now a sophomore accounting major at UIW, with a 3.43 GPA.
“I think it’s wonderful my grandson has so many options to choose from,” Olga said proudly.
“I always remind him that back when I went to the university, we didn’t have anything like scholarships or grants to help us through. I want him to appreciate all that he has today. Sometimes young people don’t realize how we’ve helped pave the way for them.”
Olga said the school was such a big part of her life for so many years that it’s deeply important she continue supporting UIW through annual giving.
“Our relationship goes back a long time. Supporting the school through my annual donation is just one way to show my love for the Sisters and the school that made a deep impact on me and my family,” she added.
Ramfils said he’d love to see his children attend the school someday, but the choice would be left to them.
“I don’t know where life will take my kids, but if they want to continue the tradition, that would be wonderful,” he said. “It’s a great campus, and it will only get better. I especially enjoy the one-on-one interaction I have with my teachers. It’s everything I look for in a school, so once I graduate in two years, I plan to stay to pursue my graduate degree in accounting.”
Family’s legacy is just beginning
Suzanne and David Pedraza
Eighteen-year-old Lauren Pedraza originally wanted to pursue her degree out-of-state, but none of the schools she researched offered anything like UIW’s computer graphic arts program.
So Lauren’s love of music led her to the school where both her parents graduated with their nursing degrees just two decades earlier.
Taking a full load of 16 hours her first semester at the university, she’s enjoying the low student-teacher ratio in her classes.
Her parents, Suzanne and David Pedraza, grew up in San Antonio and were high school sweethearts when they enrolled in the university’s nursing program in the early 1980s.
“We met in our junior year of high school. I was attending Incarnate Word and he was at Central Catholic,” Suzanne recalled. “This year will mark our 23rd wedding anniversary.”
Although they had always loved the idea of their daughter Lauren attending UIW someday, they never pressured her into making the decision that would not only keep the family tradition going, but also keep her close to home.
“We believe the core values instilled in us at the university have served us well throughout our lives. I’ve gone through life realizing what a solid foundation I was given and thank my parents for the sacrifices they made to ensure I had a Catholic education,” Suzanne said.
David graduated from UIW in 1985, and Suzanne graduated in the fall of 1984. They live in Corpus Christi.
Suzanne, a nurse manager of In-Patient Rehabilitation with CHRISTUS Spohn Health System, feels blessed to be associated with the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word once again, not only through her work, but through her daughter, too.
“I feel like I’m giving back to nursing what was given to me,” she added.
Both parents feel indebted to the university and the nursing program for their success today.
“Dr. Kathi Light, who is now the dean of the School of Nursing and Health Professions, was one of our role models during our time at UIW,” David said. “She has played an instrumental role in both our lives, and we consider her a dear friend and mentor, too.”
Although the couple’s two adopted children, Jonathan, 10, and Mercedes, 9, still have plenty of time to decide on the future of their higher education, the Pedrazas hope they will choose UIW.
Suzanne’s aunt, Adrienne Uviedo Campos, is also a graduate of UIW, as is her uncle, Gilbert Gomez. Gomez is currently a laboratory coordinator in UIW's chemistry department and obtained both his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the university.
100 years of history
Viola Gallagher and Charles Collins
Charles Joseph Collins arrived at the door step of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in the late 1890s as a child. More than 10 years later, Viola Brigid Gallagher, also came into the care of the Sisters as an orphan. Their relationship with the Sisters began a family connection that continues today.
“One story I remember about my grandfather is that sometime in the early 1900s, he traveled by horse and buggy with a couple of the Sisters from San Antonio to San Angelo. One of the Sisters carried a six shooter to help protect them on their travels,” said Charmaine Reininger Williams, granddaughter of the legendary pair.
Her grandfather, also known as Cy, married Viola in 1915. Viola had become an accomplished seamstress thanks to the Sisters, while Cy worked on campus for the Sisters all his life. Their five children, Mary Margaret Collins Reininger and her four brothers, Patrick, Charles, Msgr.
Thomas and John, grew up in a home on campus located between the Chapel of the Incarnate Word and what is now H-E-B Central Market.
“My grandmother lived in that house until she retired to the Sister’s care facility, where she lived until her death in 1991,” Charmaine said.
The Collins family became extended family to the Sisters.
“Some of my earliest memories include visiting the Sisters in the basement level kitchen of the Motherhouse where they showered us with all varieties of sweets,” Charmaine recalled with fondness.
Celebrating midnight Mass in the Chapel of the Incarnate Word and then visiting with family members afterwards is a tradition to this day.
“Today, we designate the day after Thanksgiving for a family walking tour of the Chapel and university grounds for the grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren of Cy and Viola Collins,” Charmaine said.
Marvin Reininger married Mary Margaret Collins (daughter of Cy and Viola Collins) in 1939. They had eight children: Charmaine Reininger Williams, Nancy Reininger Biggs, George, Peter, Thomas, Marvin, Margo Reininger Stiffler and Brigid Reininger Gillock.
“My father, Marvin Reininger, also worked at the university as the director of facilities from 1962 until he retired in 1984,” Charmaine said.
The relationship the family started with the Sisters before 1900 still continues today through the descendants’ graduate and employee statuses.
Charmaine ’80 and Brigid ’82 are graduates of UIW. Brigid’s husband, Patrick Gillock, is also a graduate, as is Peter’s spouse, Nancy Stichler Reininger, and their daughter, Heather Reininger Kelley. In 1998, Charmaine became the UIW Alumna of Distinction for Service in Mission.
Today, Peter Reininger is employed by the university as director of HVAC. His wife, Nancy, is an adjunct professor in fashion management.
“Of the many blessings in our lives, we give special thanks for our relationships with the Sisters,” Charmaine noted. “The Sisters helped us all understand what it means to build thekingdom of God, today and into the future.”
Brigid and her husband, Patrick, are generous supporters of the university’s annual campaign. Patrick even served on the Development Board from 1997 to 2000.
“We’ve really enjoyed seeing all the significant growth on campus over the years,” Brigid said.
“Dr. Agnese has really taken the campus to the next level, and we believe wholeheartedly in supporting that growth in whatever capacity we can. We also have a special appreciation for the legacy the Sisters have created. The university holds many special memories for our family that will be cherished forever.”
Three generations of tradition
When marketing major Casie Moler graduates from UIW in December, she’ll be the third generation from her family to receive her degree from the university. Casie's grandmother, Edith Cloud Dossmann, her sister Ethel Cloud, and their aunt, Cecile McFadden all attended Incarnate Word High School and Incarnate Word College (now UIW).
Casie’s mother, Diane Dossmann Moler, also graduated from the college. Her grandfather's brother, Sterling Dossmann, worked in the college’s financial aid department for many years.
“Also, my grandfather's sister, Sr. Anne Dossmann, attended the high school and joined the convent at 18. She taught and held various administrative positions, such as dean of students at the high school and director of admissions at the college. She also started the first Incarnate Word newspaper,” Casie said.
Sr. Anne received her bachelor’s degree in music from Incarnate Word in 1965. She went on to pursue her master’s degree at Loyola University in New Orleans six years later. For seven years in the 1980s, she was the director of communications for the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.
“The Sisters all used to come out to my great-grandmother’s ranch quite often to enjoy themselves,” Casie recalled. “Also, my mother graduated from UIW in 1985 with a degree in nursing, and my uncle Jean Philippe attended and studied music.”
Casie, who has earned a 3.9 GPA while at UIW, hopes to study abroad for graduate school.
“Eventually I’d like to incorporate my major into something in fashion or event planning, but I would hope to incorporate that into some sort of humanitarian cause; or at least do volunteer work,” she added.
She strongly believes that the religious component at the university makes a difference in the lives of students and hopes her 2-year-old daughter will decide to continue the UIW familytradition someday.
“UIW, I believe, stands out because of its well-rounded religious education, affiliation with the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word and the small, private university environment. I still believe it holds a very high reputation.”