Denton is poised to name a planned soccer complex at North Lakes Park for G. Roland Vela, a retired microbiology professor and the first Hispanic elected to the City Council.
Residents came out in force this week to testify in favor of a proposal submitted to the city last month. Current Denton ISD board member Rudy Rodriguez told the council during its regular meeting Tuesday that many in attendance were members of the Denton League of United Latin American Citizens chapter who stood in solidarity with the proposal.
Vela’s son, Jerry Vela, was the first of several speakers who described Roland Vela’s sense of family and community responsibility.
Jerry Vela said his father modeled that sense with his actions and his deeds.
The younger Vela learned later as an adult how exceptional those deeds were and what they meant to others.
“One of the best compliments I heard was that he was a Renaissance man in his work and his involvement in the community,” Jerry Vela said.
Resident Dorothy Damico, who served as Roland Vela’s campaign treasurer when he was first elected in 1979, told the City Council that the request was appropriate. She cited the naming of Lillian Miller Parkway and Fred Moore Park, and the renaming of Civic Center Park to Quakertown Park, as similar examples.
Fellow University of North Texas professor Don Smith also testified in favor of the proposal, reminding the council of Vela’s service helping Denton in its partnership with the Texas Municipal Power Agency.
“He is an extraordinary citizen,” Smith said.
In an interview Friday, Vela, 84, said he considered it his duty to serve, and he never did it for the acknowledgement. He served one term on the council, from 1979-81, and then looked for something else he could do that would interfere less with his teaching responsibilities.
He served for more than 11 years as Denton’s representative on the Texas Municipal Power Agency board during a tumultuous time. The group had been told it needed to shut down its four natural gas-fired power plants because of a nationwide decline in natural gas and build a coal-fired plant. TMPA also bought a share of the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant. Coal and nuclear would cost less, he said, but soon costs at Comanche escalated. Eventually, TMPA filed a friendly lawsuit, Vela said, to get free of the contract for its share. The power company agreed to buy back TMPA’s 6.5 percent ownership for more than $800 million.
Vela and another board member pressed for that money to pay back bonds TMPA used to finance the coal plant — back then, interest rates were in the double digits. But that never happened.
“The board had changed its character by then,” Vela said.
Vela, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas in 1962, wrote textbooks and lab manuals for his microbiology classes and wrote two books about important figures in Texas history, Antonio Lopez de Santana and Bernardo de Galvez — the man for whom Galveston is named.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Emilio “Popo” Gonzalez called Vela a role model for the community.
“He puts the needs of people ahead of his own — in love and in service,” said Gonzalez, a longtime community volunteer and activist. “He is the best example of a friend of family men.”
The Denton LULAC chapter had previously proposed to rename South Lakes Park after Vela, to the G. Roland Vela South Lakes Park, but the council-appointed Parks, Recreation and Beautification Board denied the request.
While Vela’s personal experience with soccer ended in junior high school, his son, Jaime, was among those who first played the sport in the city, Roland Vela said.
Denton has proposed a purchase of 26 acres bordering North Lakes Park that would add four new soccer fields and a tree preserve to the park. The city plans on using a mix of funds to pay for the purchase, including revenues from tree mitigation funds and natural gas drilling under city parks.
At the end of the meeting, several council members asked the city staff to prepare a resolution naming the soccer complex for Vela at a future council meeting.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.