Roy Mitte grew up in Brownsville with a favorite spot by one of the city’s many resacas.
Ringgold Park lay nestled next to one of Brownsville’s oxbow lakes. In the 1930s and 40s, a young Roy loved being at the park, forming memories of his hometown that would never leave him.
He would grow up and go on to success and wealth in the insurance industry. He and his wife, Joann, traveled the world and lived elsewhere in the United States, but Mitte never forgot where he came from and his beloved park in Brownsville. Before his death in 2007, Mitte made sure a foundation named in honor of him and his wife would invest in Brownsville.
Even more specifically, the Mitte Foundation would invest funds toward improving the old park – now named Dean Porter Park – and the surrounding area on 5th and 6th streets in Brownsville. The foundation reached a milestone recently in announcing that it has now invested $5 million in the city – and there’s more to come.
The community improvements in Brownsville funded by the foundation are evident when motorists take the 5th-6th streets exit off Expressway 77/83, and see the façade and arches announcing the entrance of the Mitte Cultural District. It’s a 1,180-acre district that features the arts, history, museums and a linear park. It also encompasses one of the best designed green spaces in the Rio Grande Valley.
“It all shows that Brownsville is where his heart was,” said Coleith Molstad, the executive director of the Mitte Foundation. “As Mr. Mitte traveled the world, he began to appreciate the culture he grew up in.
“Growing up in Brownsville, Mr. Mitte understood the need to embrace diversity,” Molstad said. “He embraced diversity before many others began to realize the need to do so.”
Shining Up A Jewel
The Mitte Foundation began its Brownsville focus in 1998. It started with a multiyear $3-million grant to refurbish Dean Porter Park. From there, the development of the Mitte Cultural District began. It has blossomed in the years since its inception. The Brownsville Museum of Fine Arts sits within the district. There is also the palm-lined start of the 10-mile hike-and-bike trail that runs north to the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park.
There’s also a look at the city’s railroad history with a Southern Pacific Scale House from 1929. The sprawling federal courthouse is just up ahead at the trail’s start with a huge statue of a Mexican cowboy – a charro – to reflect Brownsville’s bicultural history.
“We see Brownsville as a jewel in Texas that a lot of people don’t know about,” Molstad said. “We see all of the enhancements as bringing in more tourists to the area.”
More improvements are on the way. An outdoor concert venue with spaces for local food tracks will be added in the coming years. There will be $2 million in further landscaping improvements at the district’s entrance. More space will be provided for the popular weekend farmers market that is sure to return.
The foundation is also working with the Children’s Museum of Brownsville, which is located at Dean Porter Park, to expand its facilities and educational program. It all fits in nicely with the Gladys Porter Zoo, which is located across the street on Ringgold Street from Dean Porter Park.
The park area that Roy Mitte enjoyed in his youth is flourishing with a renewed vigor, living on decades after he first enjoyed it, with his foundation playing a lead role in shining up a jewel.