Vara hopes to be inspiration for others


By Kyle Mooty

LPR Editor

Bexar County Judge Melissa Vara said she always wanted to be a judge, even when she was 7 or 8 years old and was taken by her elderly grandmother to a local fast food restaurant in San Antonio. Her grandmother didn’t speak English very well and was treated rudely by the cashier.

“I asked to speak to a manager,” Vara said. “I knew at that young age I needed to stand up for her.”

Vara was the Keynote Speaker at Saturday’s 35th annual Gala for the Greater Caldwell County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce held at the Lockhart Evening Lions Club.

Vara said her cousin had found something she had written when she was about 8 where she had said, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a judge and I’m going to put bad guys in the slammer.”

“The verbiage wasn’t too politically correct back then, but the dream was always there,” Vara said, who years later was a freshman at the University of Texas when she had brief dreams of becoming a doctor. However, realizing she was “squeamish” at the site of blood made her look for a different career path.

Vara told the audience that representing the resilience and determination if the Hispanic community made her proud to be at the Gala Saturday night.

Vara was presented by Rob Ortiz, who said his friend had always been considered a voice for the underrepresented.

“My journey to this position has been marked by challenges and triumphs that have shaped me into the person I am today,” said Vara, who was born and raised in San Antonio. “It’s where I am committed to make a difference. I had two hard-working parents who instilled in me the importance of education. Growing up, it was a perfect mix of good cop, bad cop. Everything good I have in me is because of them.

“I campaigned for eight months, and I’ll tell you that, second to taking the bar exam, campaigning is one of the hardest things I’ve done in my career.”

In November 2018, Vara was elected as a Court of Law judge in Bexar County. At that time, she was the youngest judge in the entire county, and prior to her arrival there were no Latina judges serving on the bench there.

“It matters for the sake of representation and cultural understanding,” Vara said, adding, “Now, in 2024, the makeup of the judiciary in Bexar County is significantly different with 100 percent of the Court of Appeals judges women, predominately Latina; 100 percent of the Civil District judges women, predominately Latina; and now 75 percent of the County Court at Law judges are women, predominately Latina.”

Vara has been voted in by her peers as the administrative judge for the County Courts of Law.

Lockhart Mayor Lew White gave a brief State of the City address, Lockhart ISD Superintendent Mark Estrada gave a State of LISD, and Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area CEO Paul Fletcher gave a State of the Economy in the area. Afterward, there were five awards handed out by the Greater Caldwell County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“No discussion about Lockhart can be had unless you mention the word growth,” White said. “The growth that we have planned for many years is here among us. You really don’t appreciate it until you see the empty fields around you start to go vertical. We’ve been very concentrated on recruiting new businesses to town. We recently sold out a 75-acre industrial park. We’ve recently broken ground on a cold food storage facility on 2001, a multi-million-dollar development with over 100 jobs. And we’re starting to see more development along 183. People are really excited about McCoy’s Building Supply.

“The entire philosophy of the council is to try and recruit these businesses and try to increase our tax base so that we can pay for the ever-increasing cost of services that you want or that you need. It also gives a lot of people in town the opportunity to work and shop locally.”

White said among the first questions asked by possible business owners regards where his workers will live.

“It really doesn’t help us when they work in Lockhart and live in Buda or San Marcos,” White said. “They take those sales tax dollars back with them when they go home. We’ve probably created over 400 jobs here in the last year or year and a half and there are more to come.

“The County has offered a data center on 2720, which will bring another 100 jobs. That 2720 area has really been identified by the state as a potential for mega-sites and they have committed by 2026 to expand to four lanes from (SH) 142 all the way to (SH) 21.”

White said there are about 1,000 living units either in town or near the city’s ETJ that are either currently under development or starting soon.

White also noted several landmark events that occurred last year, including the formation of Emergency Services District No. 5 that will allow Caldwell County to provide ambulance service county-wide.

One of the largest ovations of the evening was when White discussed the city’s current negotiations with a “major hospital corporation” that would provide emergency rooms, the staffing of doctors and nurses, as well as labs and X-ray services.

“We hope to make an announcement on that in the very near future,” White said. “It’s the first step on getting a hospital back in this area.”

Among other issues, White said a new swimming pool was in the discussion stages and once it’s here, the city and LISD have discussed a program where every student, by the time they are in the second grade, can swim.

Estrada said he was very excited about the second year where a Lockhart High School graduate – maybe even two — will be awarded a scholarship for starting a business in Lockhart. The first one awarded $12,000 last year was for a local beekeeping business. This year’s winner will be announced in May.

There is current construction at Lockhart High School and soon the sixth elementary school in the district will be underway.

“Next school year, we are starting an early college high school program,” Estrada said, where 150 students start as freshmen, and by the time they graduate from Lockhart High School they will graduate with 60 hours and an associate degree from Austin Community College. That is a huge opportunity for our kids.”

Also, thanks to a donation from Kinder Morgan through Caldwell County, there will be a Mariachi program at LISD.

“We continue to grow,” Estrada said, adding almost half of the students at ISFD come from homes where Spanish is the first language and 80 percent of the district’s students are Hispanic students.”

Fletcher, whose Workforce group represents a nine-county area, said Estrada was “one of the best superintendents in the state.
Fletcher said Caldwell County had remained steady with 3.1 percent unemployment, noting there were 2,700 jobs posted recently in the area from 894 employers.


The Greater Caldwell County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce handed out five awards at its Gala.

Businesswoman of the Year was Celia Magallanez-Martinez of Mr. Taco Mexican Restaurant.

Born in Luling, the oldest of 10 siblings, Magallanez-Martinez began working at 12 in the family business, which was established in 1979. She dedicated the award to her father, who passed away last year. A fire also destroyed the Luling restaurant, although its Lockhart location is still running strong.

Businessman of the Year was Tim Clark, owner of Lockhart Motor Company and president of the Education Foundation for Lockhart ISD.

Born and raised in Lockhart, Clark thanked the boards at both the Greater Caldwell County Chamber as well as Lockhart Chamber.

“It’s volunteer work,” Clark said. “I know you don’t do it for the pay. You do the work you do because you love the community and want it to go the right way. You want it to be better for our kids.

Lockhart Motor Company will celebrate its 100th years in the community in 2026.

Business of the Year went to the City of Lockhart Electric Department, which was accepted by Assistant City manager Joseph Resendez.

“Rain or shine, linemen are ready,” said Resendez, who added he had seen linemen return from their buckets up high with frost on the beard but making sure they got the job done to keep the lights on.

The Fermin T. Islas Service Award went to Tommy Barron, owner of Johnny & Son’s Paint & Body Shop.

Born in Lockhart, Barron is a second-generation owner of the business. He is also a local rancher and farmer.

“Lockhart and Caldwell County have blessed him and his family, which is why he gives his time and resources back to the community,” said presenter Alfonso Sifuentes of Barron. “He is a consummate professional.”

Barron added, “I give back to my community because I had people teach me. It’s why I do what I do for the community. I had people helping me.”

The Orqullo Award was presented to the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce.

“This is a very special award,” said presenter Jonathan Gonzales, chairman of the Greater Caldwell County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “Community involvement is not a choice, but a responsibility.”

Kim Clifton, Director of Operations for the Lockhart Chamber said the Chambers had developed a strong partnership “over the last many years.”


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