Irma Lozano Gawenda and Peter Gawenda
From the day he first spotted her at a McAllen hamburger stand, through 46 years of marriage, to her death in 2006, Peter Gawenda was in love with Irma Lozano.
Together, they traveled the world, raised two children and believed in the power of education. Through her work at a local bank and the Port of Brownsville, Irma met and encouraged many hard-working young people to continue their education. Even before he became dean of the College of Applied Technology and General Studies at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, Peter was a creative force behind the innovative Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences and Bachelor of Applied Technology programs, which help students turn their technical and work training into a college degree.
When Irma died, Peter decided to honor her memory with scholarships, especially for students working toward their BAAS or BAT degrees. He launched the Irma Lozano Gawenda Scholarship Endowment with the cash he found tucked in her handbag - saved up for their next trip together. Many friends and family members also helped with donations.
"She would have loved it. My wife was always very supportive of graduates from career technical programs," he said. "Many of those individuals have been out of school for several years and don't have access to funds. That's what this endowment will do: give them scholarships to help them finish their degrees."
Peter was a young pilot trainee in the German Air Force when he first met Irma, then a recent high school graduate working at an insurance company in McAllen. The young couple began dating and married soon after, heading off to a military life with frequent moves between Germany, France and the United States. Peter eventually earned his doctorate in educational administration from the University of Houston and joined what would become UTB/TSC in 1981.
An avid reader and painter in the primitive style, Irma valued education throughout her life. She came from a family of storytellers and spoke several languages, including German and French. She was a "self-starter" who attended seminars and took numerous educational courses wherever the family was stationed. While she did not have a college degree of her own, she pushed her husband to continue his education and encouraged both their children, Brigitte and Philipp, through advanced degrees.
"She had plans to earn a degree. She would wait until her chance came, but it never did come," said Peter.
Through the Irma Lozano Gawenda Scholarship Endowment, however, other students will get their chance, he said.
"I think she would love the idea because I didn't waste the money," said Peter, who regularly deposits his "pocket money" into the endowment. His goal is to reach $1,000 for every year of her life - $66,000 - and then keep right on going.
"I am using the money for a purpose that we both love: education. She would have loved that I did this."