Prominent McHi Alumni

Prominent McHi Alumni

Actually, all McHi students, past and present, are very special to us, and on this page, we will be regularly featuring just a few of the many notable McHi grads who have achieved special recognition on the national, regional or state level. Below is our current list, followed by a short biography on each graduate. Click on the name of each person to go directly to their bio. This list was created by McHi Librarian Noe Torres, with assistance from McHi teacher Rolando Garza, McHi alum Pikey Rodriguez, and many others who also have helped out.
 
1937: Virgil Smith, One of America's First "Top Guns"
1938: McHi Graduate Survived Pearl Harbor Attack
1941: George Strohmeyer, Early Football Star for Notre Dame and the Pros
1951: Jim McKone, Award-Winning Author & Sportswriter
1951: Johnny G. Economedes - A True Texas Hero
1953: Wladimir Jan Kochanski (Robert Harvey) - "The People's Pianist"
1955: Miguel Nevárez, One of the First Latino University Presidents
1956: Colonel James Nicholas "Nikki" Rowe (1938-1989), Famous War Hero
1956: Ted Uhlaender: McHi Bulldog to Major League Star
1960: Mr. Charles P. Nemfakos, Former Undersecretary of the U. S. Navy
1963: Susan Elizabeth Norris (Moon), Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer
1964: Coach Teresa Casso, Historic Hispanic Basketball Coach
1965: Fortunado "Pete" Benavides, Famous U.S. Federal Judge
1967: Scott J. Atlas, Nationally-Recognized Attorney
1968: Pablo "Pikey" Rodriguez, Jr., Award-Winning Sports Writer
1972: Robert Roy Pool, Hollywood Screenwriter
1972: Dan York, Hollywood Actor & Screenwriter
1973: Catherine Hardwicke, Award Winning Hollywood Director
1976: Michael E. Fossum, Former NASA Astronaut, First Bulldog in Space
1977: Irene Hardwicke Olivieri, Renowned artist (painter)
1978: David Cowgill, Motion Picture and TV Actor
1982 Billy Savarino, All-Star Baseball Player
1984: Jose Angel "JoJo" Henrickson, Motion Picture Director & Actor
1983: J. D. Mata, Actor, Singer, Songwriter
1985: Toby Nivens, Professional Baseball Player
1993: Sergio "Keko" Guerrero, Professional Baseball Player
1993: Elizabeth "Liz" Ramos, Professional Dancer & Actress
1994: Tanya Saracho, Producer, Writer, and Actress
1995: Raúl Castillo, Actor
1995: Maximillian "Max" Decker, Television Actor
1997: Tommy Davis, Director & Cinematographer
1999: Rolando Cantu, Former National Football League Player
2001: Adrian Pena, Broadway Performer & Dancer
2005: Emer O' Callaghan, Casting Director for TV and Movies
 
 
 
 
 
 
1937: Virgil Smith, One of America's First "Top Guns"
Virgil SmithLockheed P-38 Lightning
World War II Service Photo (left) and Lockheed P-38 "Lightning" Aircraft
Virgil at McHi
McHi Yearbook Senior Photo, 1937

In 1942, during the height of World War II, McHi graduate Virgil Smith, of the U.S. Army's 14th Pursuit Group, became one of World War II’s first American fighter pilots to earn the coveted title of “flying ace” in the North African theater of the war. He was 23 years old and a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army. The “flying ace” distinction, which originated in World War I to highlight fighter pilots’ feats of bravery, honors military aviators who have shot down 5 or more enemy planes. Local and national news organizations of the time provided extensive coverage of Smith’s aerial victories, as he flew his sleek Lockheed P-38 “Lightning” in the skies over North Africa during a short, two-week span in November and December 1942.
 
Lieutenant Smith was shot down and killed during combat on December 30, 1942, and was posthumously awarded many military medals, including a Purple Heart.
 
An article in the McAllen Monitor newspaper on May 26, 2007 said, "For Virgil Smith — who shone in his years at McAllen High School as a varsity football player, yearbook editor, National Honor Society vice president and member of almost every club available, including the puppet club — chalking up aerial victories against the Nazi planes was just one more way to succeed, his family members say."
 
A Wikipedia article notes, "The air echelon departed for North Africa on 6 November 1942, and flew to Tafaraoui Airfield, Algeria from 10 to 14 November 1942. From bases in Algeria, and later Tunisia, the group flew escort, strafing, and reconnaissance missions from the middle of November 1942 to late in January 1943. In November, Lt. Carl T. Williams scored the first United States victory in the western desert over a German aircraft and Lt. Virgil Smith became the first American ace in the theater."
 
 
 
 
1938: McHi Graduate Survived Pearl Harbor Attack
John MillnerUSS Detroit
Left: Noyce Millner,1937 McHi Yearbook Photo. Right: Pearl Harbor Bombing 12/7/1941

John Noyce Millner, a 1938 McHi Honor Society graduate, was serving our country as a Radioman Third Class aboard the USS Detroit (an Omaha class light cruiser) on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese launched their infamous attack. Millner's ship, which was moored at Pier F-13 on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, was one of the few ships that was able to evade the Japanese torpedos and bombs.

Millner went on to serve another four years aboard the USS Detroit in the Pacific Theater of Naval Operations. After his military career, he worked for the Boeing Airplane Company from 1948 until 1983, when he retired.

In an e-mail sent to McHi in November 2001, Millner said, "My days at McAllen High School ... were the most formative as far as preparing me to meet the future uncertainties of life. In retrospect, I value them highly and consider myself indeed fortunate to have been surrounded by such an able and dedicated group of teachers. I lived with my grandparents in Hidalgo at the time and rode the bus to McAllen each day. My grandfather, Dr. John M. Hardy, was a U.S. Public Health Surgeon stationed at the International port of entry across from Reynosa." Among the classmates he remembers fondly are: Frank Glendenning, Bill Holmes, Richard Rowe, and Abel Longoria.

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1941: George Strohmeyer, Early Football Star for Notre Dame and the Pros
George Strohmeyer1941 MillnerNotre Dame 1946
L-R: 1941 McHi Yearbook, 1941 McHi Football Photo, 1947 Notre Dame Team Photo

A 1941 graduate of McHi and center for the Bulldog football team, George Strohmeyer went on to a stellar career with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. In 1946, he was named to the prestigious College All-America team, and he is believed to be the only Rio Grande Valley high school football player to ever be a first-team All-American.

According to Notre Dame football historian Cappy Gagnon, "George Strohmeyer, of McAllen, Texas, located on the Mexico-United States border, was the Notre Dame center on Frank Leahy's teams in both 1946 and 1947. Strohmeyer never lost a game in his starting role, as the Irish went 17-0-1 during that time and claimed two national championships."

After his career at Notre Dame, George was drafted in the 11th round by the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League. He played instead for two teams in the now extinct All-American Football Conference (AAFC) -- the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948 and the Chicago Hornets in 1949.

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1951: Jim McKone, Award-Winning Author & Sportswriter
Jim McKoneBook by Jim McKone
Left: Jim McKone, 1970 Photo. Right: Jim's book, Lone Star Fullback.

1951 McHi graduate Jim McKone began writing sports articles for the McAllen Monitor newspaper while still in school. He was so good at it that he became the sports editor for the newspaper. Later, after graduating from the University of Corpus Christi (now Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) he was a sports writer for several newspapers, including the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, the San Bernadino (Calif.) Sun-Telegram, and the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise. He later worked for many years as Director of Sports Information for Pan American University (now UT-Rio Grande Valley).
 
Yearbook
1951 McHi Yearbook Senior Photo

In addition to his vast experience as a sports journalist, Jim also authored two critically-acclaimed books, Lone Star Fullback in 1966 and To Win in November in 1970. He passed away in July 2014 at the age of 80.

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1951: Johnny G. Economedes - A True Texas Hero
John EconomedesBust of Economedes
Left: Johnny Economedes, McHi Senior Picture 1951. Right: Bust of Johnny at Economedes High School in Edinburg.

Many residents of McAllen, Edinburg, and surrounding cities remember Johnny G. Economedes as the first rescue worker to arrive at the scene of major tragedies and also one of the last to leave. As the Edinburg fire chief from 1977 until his untimely death in 1999, Johnny was known for agressively taking control of accident scenes in an effort to save as many lives as possible, utilizing whatever means were at his disposal. He was truly an "angel of mercy" to hundreds of local residents during moments of danger and distress.

A 1951 graduate of McHi, Johnny went on to get a degree in Physical Education at Pan American University and then served in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict. After military duty, he worked as Director of Parks and Recreation for Edinburg and was also a swimming instructor for the city. In 1955, Johnny joined the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department, where he served as volunteer chief from 1977 to 1982. He became the city's first paid fire chief in 1982 and kept this position until his death at the age of 65.

Johnny was a distinguished gentleman and was respected by Valley residents and nationally recognized for his many accomplishments. He was honored by Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock for his many contributions to the community while Edinburg's fire chief. He was nationally recognized for his efforts during the tragic 1988 roof collapse at the Amigo Store in Brownsville.

Johnny G. Economedes was a man of strength, sincerity, and generosity who gave unselfishly of himself to others and his knowledge, compassion, and valued counsel will never be forgotten by those who knew him.
 
 
 

1953: Wladimir Jan Kochanski (Robert Harvey) - "The People's Pianist"
Robert HarveyCD
Left: McHi Senior Picture 1953. Right: Cover Photo from his CD of Favorite Piano Classics.

Wladimir Jan Kochanski (1935 – 2015) was a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music and enjoyed a long career as a concert pianist. Throughout his career, the Texas-born virtuoso, a 1953 graduate of McAllen High School, retained a loyal following. Other pianists admired his musicianship, while several studied with him privately and/or attended his summer master-classes in Southern California. In an effort to tear down barriers that can exist between classical performers and their audiences, Kochanski's concerts mixed humorous stories with classical music selections. Kochanski advertised himself as a "classical music entertainer".

During his six years at Juilliard, Kochanski studied with Eduard Steuermann, and briefly with Rosina Lhévinne who was also Van Cliburn’s teacher at the time. Shortly before completing studies at Juilliard, Kochanski was stricken with chronic internal bleeding, which caused the pianist to be hospitalized for three years. With a financial inheritance from Dr. Della Pennington (the doctor who helped restore his health), Kochanski formed the Della Moser Pennington Foundation (a non-profit corporation founded solely for the purpose of giving financial aid to gifted young musicians), which was subsequently dissolved. Kochanski did not begin to construct a concert career until he was approaching forty-years old.
 
The guiding reference in shaping his professional persona and name was the legendary Polish pianist, Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941). Kochanski initially embarked upon a career using his birth-name, Robert Harvey. His first album, "Robert Harvey Plays Your Favorite Piano Classics" and a handbook for students, "The Magic Key to Keyboard Success," were produced under his given name. Although not of Polish ancestry, his sympathetic identification with Poland inspired Harvey to change his name in the 1970s. Thus, the pianist reintroduced himself as Wladimir Jan Kochanski with his autobiography, "The People's Pianist." Throughout the remainder of his concert/recording career, the pianist was known as Kochanski. He also converted to Mormonism, the religion of his manager, and thereafter played extensively for Mormon audiences.

On numerous occasions, Kochanski played for notables, including a private concert for Pope John Paul II, as well as performances on television shows such as The 700 Club, Hour Magazine, Good Morning America and Voice of America. His autobiography, The People's Pianist was published in 1981 by Crown Summit Books. Besides his music, he gained publicity by drawing attention to the welfare of needy Poles within Poland, for which he has received the Order of Polonia Restituta.
 
 
 


1955: Miguel Nevárez, One of the First Latino University Presidents
YearbookMiguel Nevarez
1953 Yearbook Photo (left) and 2005 Photo (right)

A 1954 graduate of McHi, Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez was appointed as the first Hispanic president of Pan American University (now the University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley) in 1981. He went on to become one of the longest tenured Hispanic college presidents in the United States, serving until 2004. During his more than two decades as president, he guided Pan American through a merger with The University of Texas System, and its evolution to a doctoral research university for South Texas. Prior being named president, he served the University as an assistant professor, associate dean of men, and vice president for Student and University Affairs.

Dr. Nevárez was named Outstanding Educator in 1985 by Ronald Reagan, named to the "100 Influential U. S. Hispanics" by Hispanic Business Magazine in 1986, 1987, and featured in the December 2000 issue of The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education. A native of McAllen, Texas, he has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from what is now Texas A&M University-Kingsville, a master’s in elementary education from Michigan State University, and a Ph.D. in science education from New York University.

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1956: Colonel James Nicholas "Nikki" Rowe (1938-1989), Famous War Hero
Nikki RoweGreen BeretBook
L-R: McHi Senior Picture 1956, Painting as Green Beret, and Front Cover of His Book.

James Nicholas "Nick" Rowe was one of only thirty-four American prisoners of war to escape captivity during the Vietnam War.
On October 29, 1963, after only three short months in the Republic of Vietnam, then-Lieutenant Rowe was captured, along with two fellow soldiers, by Viet Cong elements. Separated from his comrades, Lt. Rowe spent 62 months in captivity with only brief encounters with fellow American POWs. He escaped from his Vietnamese captors on December 31, 1968. Rowe had been promoted to Major during his captivity. He authored the book, Five Years to Freedom, an account of his years as a prisoner of war. Later promoted to Colonel, Rowe was assassinated by terrorists in the Philippines in 1989. For more information about Colonel Rowe, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_N._Rowe.

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1956: Ted Uhlaender: McHi Bulldog to Major League Star
Baseball PhotoUhlaender and Rowe
Left: Ted Uhlaender (center) in 1956 McHi Team Photo. Right: Uhlaender (right) with Nikki Rowe (left), Teammates in 1956

Ted Uhlaender played major league baseball from 1965-72 with Minnesota, Cleveland and Cincinnati. A sure-handed, fleet center fielder, he hit .263 with 36 home runs and 285 RBIs. He started out with the Twins, joining them too late in the 1965 season to be eligible for the World Series that October. He played five years on a team more noted for big hitters such as Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva. Uhlaender was traded with Graig Nettles and Dean Chance to Cleveland in a package for Luis Tiant after the 1969 season. He was traded to Cincinnati for his final year, and ended his career with a pinch-hitting appearance in a Game 7 loss to Oakland in the 1972 World Series. In later years, he worked for the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees. He spent two years with the Giants, became Cleveland's first base coach in 2000-01 and then returned to San Francisco.(Source: Associated Press). Sadly, Ted Uhlaender passed away on Feb. 12, 2009, at the age of 68.
 
Baseball cardDonated Baseball
Left: Signed baseball card. Right: Signed baseball donated to McAllen High School.


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1960: Mr. Charles P. Nemfakos, Former Undersecretary of the U. S. Navy
NemfakosNemfakos later
LEFT: 1960 McHi Yearbook. RIGHT: Photo while Undersecretary of the U.S. Navy

Charles P. Nemfakos was born in Athens, Greece on October 21, 1942. He was raised in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, and graduated from McAllen High School in 1960. He attended Pan American University (now University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley), graduating with a B.A. in History in 1964. He then attended Georgetown University, receiving an M.A. in Government.

In 1966, Nemfakos joined the United States Department of the Navy as a Management Intern, and after holding a number of increasingly more important positions, in 1995, he became Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy, at which time he was responsible for institutional management, strategic planning and assisting the Secretary and Under Secretary of the Navy with privatization, incentives, and further right-sizing.

From 1998 until leaving the Navy in 2001, Nemfakos held the office of Senior Civilian Official in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Upon leaving federal service, he became an executive at Lockheed Martin in the Naval Electronics and Surveillance Systems division. In 2003, he launched a consulting firm, Nemfakos Partners, LLC. In 2007, he became a senior fellow at RAND.

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1963: Susan Elizabeth Norris (Moon), Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer
Susan MoonElizabeth Moon recentInto the Fire
L-R, McHi Yearbook Photo, Recent Photo from Author's web site, Cover of her recent book Into the Fire.
 
1963 McHi graduate Susan Elizabeth Norris, now known as Elizabeth Moon, is a best-selling science fiction author who has written over 20 books, including The Speed of Dark (2003 Nebula Award for Best Novel) and numerous short stories for magazines such as Analog and Fantasy & Science Fiction. She has also collaborated with noted American science fiction author Anne McCaffrey on a number of writing projects. Elizabeth was in the final graduating class at the original McAllen High School campus in the downtown area. The current campus opened its doors in 1964.

On her web site, Elizabeth recalls her childhood in McAllen: "We lived in a little frame house on Hackberry Street, which flooded every time there was a two-inch rain--our area was known as 'Hackberry Lake' after rains. We had a Valencia orange tree in the back yard (the 1951 freeze killed the grapefruit tree), and bougainvillea in the front yard, along with a row of tall palms."

Elizabeth says that she became interested in science fiction while she was a student at Lamar Junior High in McAllen. She says, "When Mary Morell transferred from the local Catholic school to Lamar Junior High. We were in the same homeroom, and in one boring assembly we were sitting side-by-side far up on the bleachers in the gym. I'd already noticed her--she's smarter than I am--and we started talking about what we liked to read. She read science fiction. I turned up my nose. She slapped me down and gave me a reading list. Two days later, I was hooked."
 
After graduating from McHi, Elizabeth went on to get a History degree at Rice University in 1968 and a Biology degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1975. She also served in the U.S. Marines in the late 1960s during the height of the Vietnam War.

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1964: Coach Teresa Casso, Historic Hispanic Basketball Coach
YearbookTeresa Casso
Senior Photo from McHi Yearbook (left) and Recent Photo (right)

The dean of Valley girls’ basketball coaches, she was a hard-driving taskmaster who has always had great love for her kids. McHi’s Teresa Casso won 841 games in a magnificent career that ended with retirement after the 2009-10 season, following 33 years. She ranks in the top 10 statewide for victories and posted 29 winning seasons with McAllen. Her clubs went to the postseason 25 times with 15 district titles and an amazing nine separate seasons of at least 30 victories. Coach Casso was named Valley Coach of the Year numerous times and once was tabbed the FCA Coach of the Year statewide. The 2010 winner of the Robert Vela Lifetime Achievement Award from Valley Freedom Newspapers, she is the winningest Hispanic girls’ coach in U.S.

1965: Fortunado "Pete" Benavides, Famous U.S. Federal Judge
Pete BenavidesRecent
1965 McHi Yearbook Photo (left) and Recent Photo (right)

Currently a Senior United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Austin, Texas, Pete Benavides graduated from McHi in 1965 and went on to obtain his Bachelor's degree from Rice University in 1968 and his law degree from the University of Houston in 1972. He was appointed to the Fifth Circuit by President Bill Clinton in May of 1994 and officially took his oath of office on May 16, 1994.

In a 1997 article in the Austin American-Stateman, Judge Benavides shared some memories of his childhood in McAllen:
"Benavides, whose middle name is Pedro, got his nickname of Pete because a nun from Indiana could not pronounce his first name, Fortunato. He warned members of two Hispanic groups not to forget their heritage as they move closer to the center of American life. As a youth, he said, he went through a period where he tried to forget he was Hispanic. Asked after his speech for an example, Benavides laughed and said that as young boy his mother often made him tacos for lunch, but at school he would trade them as quickly as possible for ham sandwiches. In that case, he said, the Anglo kids got the better deal."

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1967: Scott J. Atlas, Nationally-Recognized Attorney
YearbookScott Atlas
1967 Yearbook Photo (left) and Recent Photo (right)

Scott J. Atlas, class of 1967, was valedictorian, National Merit Scholar, and a member of the McHi football team. He is currently a successful Houston attorney and has served as chairman of the American Bar Association's Litigation Section.

Scott was profiled in an article by Daniel Perry in the McAllen Monitor (8/31/2002), which read in part:

Atlas was born in Austin while his father, Morris Atlas, attended law school at the University of Texas. The family moved to Houston briefly before settling down in McAllen.

"I have very warm feelings and recollections about our time in McAllen," the younger Atlas said. "It was a very happy time in my life. We enjoyed it and people there made you feel welcome."

Atlas worked one summer while growing up in the library of his father's law firm, Atlas & Hall L.L.P., in McAllen. He also observed some of his father's work in trials and court hearings.

"I never tried to convince him to be a lawyer," Morris Atlas said. "Obviously, he was around lawyers."

The younger Atlas graduated from high school in 1967 as a valedictorian, National Merit Scholar and member of the football team. He graduated form Yale University in New Haven, Conn., in 1971 and from the University of Texas School of Law in 1975.

He worked as a clerk in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit before joining the Houston firm in 1976.

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1968: Pablo “Pikey” Rodriguez Jr., Award-Winning Sports Writer
YearbookRecent
1968 McHi Yearbook Senior Photo (left) and Recent Photo (right)
 
Pikey Rodriguez has been one of the most celebrated and highly-recognized sports writers in South Texas since shortly after graduating from McAllen High School in 1968. While at McHi, Pikey was a starting forward for the highly successful Bulldog basketball teams of that time. In his Senior year, the Bulldogs finished the season with a 28-5 record and won their zone, playing against teams from all over South Texas, including Corpus Christi, Laredo, and San Antonio.
 
In addition to covering all the sports news for the McAllen Monitor newspaper for decades, Pikey was instrumental in creating the Rio Grande Valley Sports Hall of Fame in 1985. He has been honored as "Sports Writer of the Year" several times during his many years of writing.
 
Pikey 2
Pikey Rodriguez basketball photo from 1968 McHi Yearbook
 

1972: Robert Roy Pool, Hollywood Screenwriter
Recent
1972 McHi Yearbook Photo (left) and Recent Photo (right)

Robert Roy Pool is a successful screenwriter in Hollywood. His credits include the story for Armageddon (1998), the screenplay for Outbreak (1995), the screenplay for The Big Town (1987), and the teleplay for Donato and Daughter (1993).

Robert's original story idea resulted in the movie Armageddon, about a group of oil drilling experts sent by NASA to destroy an asteroid before it collides with the earth. The movie starred Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thorton, and Ben Affleck. It was nominated for four Academy awards and also won the "Best Science Fiction Film of 1998" award from the Academy.
 
Armageddon
Poster from the movie "Armageddon"
 
 
 
 

1972: Dan York, Hollywood Actor & Screenwriter
Dan YorkDan York, recentDragon
L-R: 1971 McHi Yearbook Photo, Recent photo, and poster for the movie "Dragon"

Dan York works as a producer and writer for television and films. He was executive producer of the 1993 motion picture Dragon: the Bruce Lee Story and associate producer on the 1988 film Midnight Run. In addition, he wrote the screenplay for the 1993 film Flashfire and was a writer on the 1998 TV series Seven Days: the Series. Dan served as co-producer for the motion picture La Cucaracha (1998). He was also a production assistant on the 1974 movie filmed in Mexico, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.

Dan York has also done some acting, including an appearance as an FBI agent in the movie Midnight Run and a guest shot in the 1981 episode "Welcome to Sweetwater" of the television show Brett Maverick.

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1973: Catherine Hardwicke, Award Winning Hollywood Director
McHi CheerleaderRecent Photo
Left: McHi Yearbook Photo. Right: Recent Photo Courtesy IMDB.

Former McHi cheerleader Catherine Hardwicke has worked her way up through the ranks of the film industry, becoming a successful director of major motion pictures. Her directorial credits include the blockbuster movies Twilight (2008), The Nativity Story (2006), The Lords of Dogtown (2005), and Thirteen (2003). Catherine was awarded the 2003 Director's Award at the Sundance Film Festival for her work on Thirteen, for which she also wrote the screenplay.

Catherine has been a production designer and assistant director on many other films. After graduating from McHi in 1973, Catherine earned a degree in architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, and she returned to South Texas, where she designed and built homes and office buildings. She later attended the prestigious UCLA Graduate School of Film and began her career as a production designer in 1987.

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1976: Michael E. Fossum, Former NASA Astronaut, First Bulldog in Space
Mike Fossum
Official Astronaut Photo

Michael Fossum is a former American astronaut and currently the Chief Operating Officer of Texas A&M University at Galveston. He flew into space on board the NASA Space Shuttle missions STS-121 and STS-124 and served as a mission specialist on Expedition 28 and commander of Expedition 29 aboard the International Space Station. Fossum was involved with the United States Air Force during his undergraduate years at Texas A&M and served as commander of Squadron 3 in the Corps of Cadets. He graduated in mechanical engineering in 1980. He received his master's in physical science from the University of Houston. He was selected to attend Air Force Test Pilot School from which he flew 34 different types of aircraft. He left active duty for the Air Force Reserve in 1992 to work for NASA and retired as a Colonel in the USAFR in 2010.
 
The first time Fossum became interested in being an astronaut was at age 12 while watching the Apollo 11 moon landing. He rekindled this dream while he was assigned by the Air Force at Johnson Space Center during the early 1990s. In January 1993, Fossum was employed by NASA as a Systems Engineer. He served at NASA for many years in various capacities, including as Test Flight Engineer. He was selected by NASA as an Astronaut Candidate in June 1998 and reported for training in August 1998. A veteran of three space flights, STS-121 in 2006, STS-124 in 2008 and Expedition 28/29 in 2011, Fossum has logged more than 194 days in space, including more than 48 hours of Extravehicular Activity (EVA) in seven spacewalks.

Michael Fossum
Michael Fossum during one of his many space walks (NASA Photo)
 
1976 Yearbook
1976 McHi Yearbook Senior Photo of Michael Fossum
 

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1977: Irene Hardwicke Olivieri, Renowned artist (painter)
OlivieriBeguiling Plumage
Recent photo (left) and a sample of her art work (right).

1977 McHi graduate Irene Hardwicke Olivieri is a well-known painter whose artwork has been exhibited in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and elsewhere. Her work has received great reviews in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, New Yorker, and other nationwide publications.

After graduating from McHi in 1977, Irene attended Escola das Artes Visuais in Rio de Janiero and Insituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She received a Bachelors of Fine Arts from the University of Texas at Austin in 1983 and a Masters of Arts from New York University in 1985.

In 2000, a collection of her most famous paintings was published in book form. George Melrod of Art and Antiques magazine commented: "Dreamlike and delicate, [her] paintings recall outsider art in that they represent a fanciful private vision." David Pagel of the Los Angeles Times said: "The hours of devotion [she] lavished on her paintings is hinted at in the time it takes to read them."

Irene's Web page is at: irenehardwickeolivieri.com.

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1978: David Cowgill, Motion Picture and TV Actor
David CowgillDavid Cowgill
1978 McHi Yearbook photo (left) and recent photo (right).

David has performed in numerous acting roles both in motion pictures and on television. He played Odell on the cable TV series Sordid Lives (2008) and also played Slammin' Sammy on Friday Night Lights (2007). From 1993 to 1996, he played Cliff Wilson on the award-winning television soap opera Young and the Restless.

He has also had roles in the following movies: Route 30 (2008), Kiss the Girls (1997), Invader (1996), Same River Twice (1996), and Star Trek: First Contact (1996).

madagascar
Poster for the movie "Madagascar," which featured David's voice work.

In addition, he has done voice work on numerous animated movies including Shrek (2001), Madagascar (2005), The Wild (2006), Open Season (2006), Meet the Robinsons (2007), and Hunchback of Notre Dame II (2002). He has also done voice work on video games, including Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014).

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1982 Billy Savarino, All-Star Baseball Player
SavarinoSavarino 2
McHi Yearbook Photo (left) and Modesto A's Baseball Card

Coming from an impoverished background and having no home of his own, Bill Savarino achieved great success, graduating from McHi in 1982 and going on to a standout college baseball career at the University of Houston, Alvin Community College, and Pan American University (now University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley). After college, he played primarily as a catcher in the Oakland A's organization for Medford and Modesto (1986-1988) in the California League. He was selected as a California League All-Star in 1989. He left organized baseball after the 1989 season.

Savarino card
 Bill Savarino 1989 California All-Star baseball card
 
During high school, a guiding force in Savarino's life was Sharon Uhlaender of McAllen. Uhlaender and her husband, Mickey, took in Billy and helped him throughout his high school years. "Sharon Uhlaender to me was the mother that I never had, and the mother I always wanted to have," Savarino later said.

"She always said I can do it," he said. "She always gave [me] the confidence and she always thought that I would be successful in whatever I wanted to do." At last report, Savarino was a successful sales representative.

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1983: J. D. Mata, Actor, Singer, Songwriter
YearbookJ. D. Mata
1983 Yearbook Photo (left) and recent photo (right)
 
J.D. Mata is a musician, actor, director. A 1983 graduate of McAllen High School, he is currently based in North Hollywood, California. He directed and appeared in the movies Pan Dulce (2004), From Behind the Sunflower (2005), and The Divorce Ceremony (2006). Additionally, he appeared in the television series "True Blood" in the role of Luca. He is also a musician, having independently released a number of songs. He was also nominated for "Best Directing (Comedy)" at the 3rd Indie Soap Awards.
 
 

1984: Jose Angel "JoJo" Henrickson, Motion Picture Director & Actor
1984 YearbookJo Jo
1984 Yearbook Photo (left) and Recent Photo (right)

Actor, writer, producer, and director Jose Angel (JoJo) Henrickson graduated from McAllen High School in 1984 and moved to Los Angeles shortly after turning nineteen. During his first year in Los Angeles he performed stand-up comedy and continued doing so for about six years. Since then he has studied improvisational comedy as well as dramatic theater.

He says that the four-year KMAC broadcasting class he took in high school allowed him to pursue work as a cameraman and editor for several years before landing a directing job on PLACAS, a Spanish language reality television show which aired on Telemundo in the late 1990's.

Barrio Murders
Poster for his movie "The Barrio Murders"
 
In 2001 he acted in the cult classic Space Banda as well as wrote, directed and acted in the feature film Barrio Murders. Both of these films were part of the 2002 CineSol Film Festival.

Since then, Henrickson has been involved in numerous film and TV projects, including directing and acting in the 2008 science-fiction film GB: 2525.

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1985: Toby Nivens, Professional Baseball Player
Toby Nivens1987
1985 McHi Yearbook & 1987 Baseball Photo

1985 McHi grad Toby Nivens, a right-handed starting pitcher. He was drafted right out of high school by the California Angels in the 24th round of the 1985 MLB June Amateur Draft. Then, he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 1st round (1st) of the 1986 MLB January Draft-Secondary Phase.
 
He went on to play in the minors with the Twins and the New York Mets. Playing in the Mets organization from 1989 to 1991, Toby compiled a 22-30 pitching record with a 4.03 ERA. He retired from organized baseball after the 1991 season.
 
Nivens Card
1991 Baseball Card

Toby was involved in a controversial trade that sent Wally Backman and Mike Santiago from the Mets to the Twins for Nivens, Steve Gasser and Jeff Bumgarner on December 7, 1988.

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1993: Sergio "Keko" Guerrero, Professional Baseball Player
KekoSergio
1993 McHi Yearbook Photo and his Brewers rookie card

Keko was a three-sport standout for McAllen High School, but it was on the baseball diamond where he earned All-Conference, All-District and All-Valley honors.

After high school, Keko attended Laredo Community College in Laredo, Texas and since then, has played professionally for the Milwaukee Brewers organization, several teams in the Mexican Professional Baseball League, and the Edinburg Roadrunners of the Texas-Lousiana League (now defunct).

Keko 3
Sergio (in gray / green) playing second base for the Reynosa Broncos, ca. 2009

Playing in 2001 for the Texas-Louisiana League champion Edinburg Roadrunners, Keko hit .312 and led the team in hits and doubles, while making the league's All-Star team at second base. In an interview with the McAllen Monitor newspaper after the season, Keko said, "When I won those rings (playing with the Milwaukee organization), I was injured. So this is one of the special ones because I played the whole year and I was able to contribute. Plus, it was in front of the home crowd, so you couldn't ask for anything else."

After his days with Edinburg, Keko continued his career in the Mexican League, playing for several teams. In 2007, playing for the Veracruz Reds, he appeared in 82 games and had a .262 batting average. He retired from baseball after the 2010 season.

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1993: Elizabeth "Liz" Ramos, Professional Dancer & Actress
LizEnchanted
Recent Photo (left) and poster for her movie "Enchanted."

1993 McHi grad Elizabeth Ramos, who trained under Melba Huber at Melba's Dance Studio in McAllen, is now a successful professional dancer. She has appeared in television and video productions with celebrities including Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias, Paula Abdul, and the musical group Earth, Wind, and Fire. She has danced on the Academy Awards show, Oprah, numerous music videos and television commercials and has also appeared in the motion pictures Enchanted, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights, Austin Powers 3: Goldmember, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Oxtails, Urban Pill, and Pan Dulce.

The Web site Hollywoodvibedance.com says, "Liz is one of the busiest dancers in Hollywood with many wonderful appearances to her credit. She has danced on Television shows such as The Academy Awards, The American Music Awards, Soul Train, Oprah, Rosie O'Donnel, to name just a few. Some of the stars she has worked with include Enrique Iglesias, Jennifer Lopez, Brandy, Will Smith, and Toni Braxton."

1993 Yearbook
1993 McHi Yearbook Senior Photo

Becky Gomez, a friend of Elizabeth's, remembers, "I used to dance with Liz at Melba's for many years and we all knew that Liz had a wonderful gift. The gift and drive for becoming a famous dancer. Liz has gone on to pursue her dream of becoming a succesful dancer and has mastered it the fullest potential. She is an inspiration to us living in the Valley that if we really want... anything is possible."

More information about Liz is available at her official Web site: http://www.lizramos.com.

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1994: Tanya Saracho, Producer, Writer, and Actress
Tanya Saracho
Recent Photo Courtesy IMDB
 
1994 McHi graduate Tanya Saracho is currently a Chicago playwright who writes for Television (HBO's "Looking," "Girls," and "Devious Maids."). Named "Best New Playwright" by Chicago Magazine, Saracho has had plays produced at: Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Goodman Theater, Steppenwolf Theater, Teatro Vista, Teatro Luna, Fountain Theater, Clubbed Thumb, NEXT Theater and 16th Street Theater. Saracho was named one of nine national Latino "Luminarios" by Café magazine and given the first "Revolucionario" Award in Theater by the National Museum of Mexican Art. She is currently in development with HBO and has commissions with the following theatres: Goodman Theater, Steppenwolf Theatre, Two Rivers Theatre, Denver Theater Center, South Coast Rep. Tanya is also a successful Spanish Voice-Over artist and a SAG/AFTRA actress. (Source: IMDB)
 
In the 1994 McHi Yearbook, Tanya predicted, "I will find myself in the wings of some theatre, watching my new play on opening night. After, I'll walk the thick snow to my apartment, where I'll get ready for my 10 o'clock class."
 
High School
From 1994 McHi Yearbook "Senior Hall of Fame"


1995: Raúl Castillo, Actor
YearbookRaul Castillo
1995 McHi Yearbook Photo (left) and Recent Photo (right)
 
Raúl Castillo, Jr. (born August 30, 1977) is an American stage and film actor and playwright, born in McAllen. After graduating from McHi in 1995,  Raúl attended the Boston University College of Fine Arts. He is known for his acting roles in Amexicano and Cold Weather and his role as Richie Donado Ventura in the HBO series Looking and its subsequent series finale television film, Looking: The Movie. His notable written plays include "Border Stories" and "Between Me, You, and the Lampshade." His works are associated with the LAByrinth Theater Company and the Atlantic Theater Company.
 
According to Wikipedia, "Castillo states that he started acting when he was 14. Seeking an elective when entering McAllen High School and a way to make friends, he turned to theater, which was popular at the school. He became deeply involved in his high school drama department, which he says looked fun. His background playing music for audiences since age 11 made performing on stage feel natural for him. His first acting role was subsequently in high school in a production of Paul Zindel's play "The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild." He also performed in his high school production of "I Remember Mama." It was then, at age 14, that he met and became friends with future staff writer for Devious Maids, Girls and Looking, Tanya Saracho, who also attended McAllen High School. Saracho influenced Castillo greatly, introducing him to playwrights and encouraging to develop his own tastes in drama." 

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1995: Maximillian "Max" Decker, Television Actor
Decker in HSRecent
Max Decker in 1995 McHi Yearbook Photo (left) and Recent Photo (right)

Max (billed as "Maximillian Alexander" and "Maximillian Alejandro") made his television debut February 4, 2003 on the long-running daytime drama All My Children. He played Carlos Reyes and went under contract to ABC Television. Since then, he has appeared in numerous TV series.

In an interview with TV Guide.com (6/10/2003), Max said, "When I was young I was always singing and dancing around the house. I really didn't want to do anything else. I would never go out to play. I was really bad at sports. I would look at the TV all day; just rent videos and watch and get all caught up in their world. My first high school play I was in Alice in Wonderland, and I was Humpty Dumpty. I had to fall off the stage, and it was really painful."
 
Regarding his early career, Max said, "I originally moved to New York in 2000, and it was really tough. I was personal training and waiting tables, and I was so consumed with paying rent, I couldn't do anything else. I gave up and went back to Texas. A friend told me, 'You shouldn't give up.' I got a friend to sponsor me in the International Model and Talent Association, and I was named Actor of the Year."
 
"My mother tells me that every time [my dad] sees me on the TV, he starts to cry because he knows I've gone through a lot. I know how it is to sleep on couches and move many times and still to this day wonder if your job is there tomorrow. One day you're hot, the next, you're not."
 
"I know I'm not the only Latino actor on the soaps who speaks Spanish, but I do have a lot of Latino viewers come up to me and say, "Thanks for representing."

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1997: Tommy Davis, Director & Cinematographer
Tommy DavisMojados
Recent photo from IMDB (left) and poster for his movie "Mojados: Through the Night" (right).
 
1997 McHi graduate Tommy Davis is a producer and director, known for Mojados: Through the Night (2004), One Minute to Nine (2007) and Black Rock Blues (2017). One web site said the following about him and his movie Mojados: "Tommy Davis grew up in a Texas town close to the border, and became concerned about the growing fatalities among the immigrants. He traveled to the town of Michoacan, Mexico and returned to Texas with four Mexican men who were making the illegal journey across the border into the US. Davis filmed this documentary during a 120 mile trip through the desert as a one-man camera and sound crew. All of the men that he traveled with, like most immigrants, were trying to find work to bring better support to their families."
 
Yearbook
1997 McHi Yearbook Senior Photo
 
 
 


1999: Rolando Cantu, Former National Football League Player
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Rolando Cantu, Class of 1999

Rolando Roel Cantú (born February 25, 1981) is a former American football player for the Arizona Cardinals. He was the first Mexican football player who played college football in Mexico (Monterrey Tech) and then went on to become an active player in the National Football League. Currently, he is a broadcaster and promoter of the Arizona Cardinals and the NFL in Mexico and U.S. Spanish media, also working to develop talent in Mexico with camps and clinics for young people.

Rolando was born on February 25, 1981 in Monterrey, Mexico, the youngest of seven children. The family moved to the border town of Reynosa when Cantú was young, and attended grade school in McAllen by being driven across the border every day. He grew up a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, watching games with his father on television. He played various sports including American football with neighborhood friends. He always was bigger than other kids his age and had to show his birth certificate when signing up for baseball and football teams because of his size.
 
Yearbook
1999 McHi Yearbook Senior Photo

Because of age and talent, he did not have to work at his father’s meat market like his siblings. In school, he was on the football team in junior high but did not originally plan on a career in sports, figuring to work for his father. During his first day at McAllen High School,one of the football coaches persuaded him to join the football team. Originally a defensive lineman, when he was a junior he moved to the offensive line.
 
He went on to play college football at Monterrey Tech from 1999 until 2003. He played professional football from 2003 until 2006, with NFL Europe and with the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL.

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2001: Adrian Pena, Broadway Performer & Dancer
Pena 1Pena 2
Adrian Pena shown in two recent photos.
 
A 2001 McHi graduate, Adrian Pena is currently active on the New York theater circuit, having appeared in or been the stage manager for a number of plays, including "Hey Jude" (2015), "The Religion Thing" (2014), "H.M.S Pinafore" (2011), "A Wonderful Life" (2006), The Awesome 80s Prom (2004). In 2008, Adian appeared in Richard Stafford's Westchester Broadway production of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," playing the character "Carpet." One reviewer wrote, "Most surprising of all, Adrian Pena makes Carpet fly, spin and somersault with amazing speed and agility."
 
Yearbook
From 2001 McHi Yearbook "Senior Hall of Fame"
 


2005: Emer O' Callaghan, Casting Director for TV and Movies
EsmerMindhunter
Recent Photo
 
2005 McHi graduate Emer O' Callaghan is an associate casting director, primarily for television. A casting director organizes and facilitates the casting of actors for all the roles in a show or film. This involves working closely with the director and producer to understand their requirements, and suggesting ideal artists for each role, as well as arranging and conducting interviews and auditions. Emer has been responsible for helping to cast the following productions: "Mindhunter" (2018 Netflix series), "House of Cards" (2017 TV series), "Orange is the New Black" (2013-2016 TV series), Girls (TV series), and more.
 
Yearbook
Photo from 2004 McHi Yearbook