HARLINGEN — Friends yesterday remembered Juan Villarreal as a loving family man who served as a city and school board leader to give back to his community after building one of the area’s biggest dental clinics.
Villarreal, 66, died Sunday at Harlingen Medical Center.
Born and raised in Harlingen, Villarreal opened Harlingen Family Dentistry in 1983 after graduating from the San Antonio School of Dentistry following a stint in the Army, where he climbed the ranks to sergeant.
During the 1990s, Villarreal served as president of the Harlingen school board and the city’s Economic Development Corporation.
Villarreal helped launch Dentists Who Care, the mobile clinic offering free services to poor children, and pushed to open Texas State Technical College’s dental hygienist program.
“Materially, he was successful, but he gave back,” former longtime school board member George McShan said. “It was all for the children.”
From 2001 to 2008, then-Gov. Rick Perry appointed Villarreal to the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners.
A fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry, he was named dentist of the year in 2015.
At the time of his death, he was serving as president of the Rio Grande Valley District Dental Society.
“He was just a great role model and a great asset to the community,” Mayor Chris Boswell said. “There were so many great things about him. His personal story — a kid from Harlingen who did so well professionally and supported the community.”
In 1989, Vivian Teegardin joined his dental practice, which he built into six Rio Grande Valley clinics, expanding as far as Austin with 165 employees.
“He was a person with the biggest heart — very loving,” she said. “He loved and cherished his family, his staff members and his community and mankind. He was a wonderful boss, mentor and leader. He was family.”
Villarreal stood against drugs, championed human rights and helped victims of natural disasters, she said.
“He helped people beyond the community,” she said. “He made contributions throughout the world helping to improve the universe.”
In the 1990s, Villarreal was serving as president of the Harlingen school board when he visited Gerry Fleuriet’s office to congratulate her on her election to the board.
“He was the first person on the board who came personally to me and explained what service on the board consisted of,” she said. “He was so genuine, very respectful — very quiet. He brought such a profoundly sincere interest in student welfare. He was committed to students’ personal development and achievement. He was always generous with his own personal time and his own personal resources. Even after he retired from the board, he contributed in every way he could.”
On the school board, McShan remembers Villarreal as a “strategic visionary.”
“He had the entrepreneurial outlook in education,” McShan said. “He brought a business model to our district. He was a ‘difference-maker.’ He believed in choice in school — that students should have choices.”
As he helped oversee the school district, Villarreal pushed for staff training, McShan said.
“He was a person who believed in developing staff and personnel to grow to reach their full potential,” he said. “He was focused on training — how can we be better.”