On a recent Friday, Edna Pena walked into the Dustin M. Sekula Memorial Library in Edinburg and seemed to know everyone and everything before making her way to the office of the director.
“I’m a social butterfly and a free spirit,” said Pena, the president of the Edinburg Arts Foundation and a former president of the local chamber. “I never start at zero. I start at 100 percent and go from there.”
Pena has spent nearly all of her life in and around Edinburg. Her passion and commitment to the city runs strong, as does her energy for community events.
Pena’s foundation for her community involvement began during her three-decade career in education. She taught nearly every grade level from kindergarten to fifth grade before becoming a middle school teacher. She would eventually open E.B. Guerra Elementary in Edinburg as the school’s principal in 1999, using her energy and enthusiasm to take in 29 teachers new to the field and train them under her watch.
“Everything is a stepping stone to something else,” Pena said.
When her long career in education ended in 2006, the self-described free spirit moved into the world of business, becoming a realtor and learning how to sell and market properties from the ground up. She thought her life in education had brought her many friendships, and it had, but Pena said she realized how limited her circle of friends was when she became active in local business and the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.
“I was retired (from education),” she said. “So it was like, ‘what am I going to do when I group up?’”
She quickly became active in chamber activities. Pena was accepted into the Leadership Edinburg program and learned things about her community she had not been aware of as an educator. “That’s why I say you should not limit yourself to your comfort zone,” she said.
Pena rose in the chamber’s leadership and became its president in 2011 for the customary one-year term allowed in the organization for the top leadership post. She recalls during that year, speaking at the Echo Hotel and looking out into the audience and realizing that she knew every single person in a crowd of about 300 people. “It told me just how much I had widened my circle of friends and contacts,” she said. “I had enriched my life.”
Pena would later operate and own a boutique for seven years near downtown Edinburg, giving her an additional business perspective in addition to real estate. Her passion now is further developing the arts and cultural activities of Edinburg. As president of the Edinburg Arts Foundation, she is at the forefront of fundraising to improve the city’s current art offerings and develop new ones.
In recent years, Edinburg has been on an arts renaissance. The crown jewel is the South Texas International Film Festival, which attracts hundreds of participants from industry professionals to film producers and productions companies, all of whom view the work of local and regional filmmakers and actors trying to make their mark.
There’s also Frida Fest, an art, theater and dance celebration that honors renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Other arts events include the Festival of International Books & Art and Los Muertos Bailan festival.
“Cities sometimes confuse points of interest with points of attraction,” Pena said. “As a traveler, you’re looking for attractions.”
Another piece of wise advice she has picked up in her business training is “don’t fire them (employees), fire them up.” Drawing upon that, Pena said, “that’s what I’m trying to do for my community. I’m firing it up!’’