The Shary Memorial Chapel, one of the Rio Grande Valley’s most prominent landmarks, has been in the care of The University of Texas-Pan American Foundation since the grandchildren of the prominent entrepreneur donated the nearby John H. Shary Estate to the Foundation in 1998.
Though the estate was sold to a private developer in March 2012, the chapel, the final resting place for both Shary and his wife, Mary O’Brien Shary, remains entrusted to the care of the UTPA Foundation. Designated as a perpetual care cemetery, the chapel and the surrounding grounds are supported by the Shary Memorial Chapel Preservation Trust, and the Foundation is seeking funds to increase the corpus of the trust to ensure that funds are available to appropriately maintain this heritage site in perpetuity.
A prominent land developer who is considered “the father of the Texas citrus industry,” Shary and his wife built the home in the late 1920s and lived there until their deaths in 1945 and 1959, respectively. The property, located in Palmhurst, between the cities of McAllen and Mission, Texas, was then inherited by their only child, Marialice Shary Shivers, for whom the UT Pan American Administration Building is named, and her husband Allan Shivers, who served as governor of Texas from 1949 to 1957.
From 1965 to 1978, Mrs. Shivers served on the Board of Regents of what was then Pan American University before it merged with The University of Texas System. She chaired the Pan American University Board of Regents, and her husband chaired The University of Texas Board of Regents.
Though Gov. and Mrs. Shivers and their four children lived in Austin, they spent most holidays at their Rio Grande Valley home over the years. After Mrs. Shivers died in September 1996, her children – John Shary Shivers of Fort Worth, Allan “Bud” Shivers Jr. of Austin, Marialice Sue “Cissie” Shivers Ferguson of Austin and Brian McGee Shivers of Dallas – decided to donate the home to the UT Pan American Foundation.
The house, known as the Shary-Shivers Estate, was built by Shary in 1917, five years after the Nebraska native arrived in the Rio Grande Valley with a dream of developing the fertile river delta and turning the ornamental citrus trees he found there into a major new industry.
Shary’s success in helping Texas’ southernmost region develop into one of the nation’s leading agricultural areas is chronicled in his papers, which have been donated to UT Pan American’s Rio Grande Valley Historical Collection. The John H. Shary Room in the UTPA Library houses the Shary Collection, John Shary’s office furniture and other memorabilia.
The Chapel was added to the estate by Mrs. Shary to honor her husband’s wish to be buried among his beloved ebony trees just east of their home. The chapel’s bell tower, which reaches high above the famous Shary citrus groves, has been a Valley landmark for the last 50 years. Mr. and Mrs. Shary are entombed in matching marble vaults inside the small chapel.
Gifts to the Shary Memorial Chapel Preservation Trust will help maintain the property and the important legacies of the Shary and Shivers families in the Rio Grande Valley.