There must be a connection between Christina Armijo’s very first employer and her current position as an attorney in Las Vegas.
“When I was very young I worked for my grandparents,” Christina relates. Her grandfather was Luis E. Armijo, licensed as an attorney in 1915 in New Mexico and elected District Judge in the 1920’s, so a career connection between him and his granddaughter seems natural. Here’s what it was:
“I was paid 25 cents a day to pull weeds in my grandparents’ garden,” laughs Christina, “but I remember my grandfather specifying I would only get the money if I could produce the roots! That was probably my first lesson that any job worth doing is worth doing right.”
Now with her own active law practice in the city in which she was born, Christina is indeed living her heritage. Along with her grandfather’s position on the bench, Christina’s father served as Clerk of the District Court and four other family members are active in the Bar.
Christina encourages people who are considering a law degree and offers this in the way of advice: “Get your bachelor’s degree in something you’re really interested in – it’s not necessary to major in political science. I believe the more diverse your background, the more well-rounded an attorney you’ll be. Allow yourself the opportunity to learn new and different things, even the arts and sciences. It’ll work for you later on.”
She speaks from experience. For several years Christina’s been an active member of the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities. Her own undergraduate degree is in Asian History with a minor in English. The culture of the Far East, especially China, has always fascinated her.
And if Las Vegas wasn’t so fortunate to have her practicing law here? She might be far away. Guesses Christina, “I probably would have pursued Asian History and studied at the East-West Center in Hawaii – I almost chose it over law school. Who knows where I would be right now?”
Sitting behind her vice president’s desk at The Bank of Las Vegas, Marie Burns recalls a certain 1962 Cadillac with a twinkle in her eye.
“It was the first loan I ever made and it was against my better judgement. But the higher-ups approved it, and the loan was paid off right on schedule.”
When meeting Marie for the first time, and hearing this story, one has the feeling that here is a banker who makes very few bad loans.
“I look over a situation and I tell people what they need. If it’s not a good decision for them I won’t make the loan,” she says simply. But it’s not always easy. While she treasures her position with the bank because of the opportunities it affords to work with people, her least favorite activity is “telling people no.” That’s why Marie’s made it a point during her 38-year banking career to learn all she can about her business and the situation in her hometown.
She was born in Las Vegas in 1917. Her father was an Austrian immigrant who came to New Mexico for his health and died before his daughter could know him. Marie was extremely aware as a child of how difficult it was for her mother to make ends meet as a single parent.
“My mother worked all the time. I didn’t actually think about our situation much – I just knew we were poor.”
Reaching adulthood, Marie left behind a childhood wish to become a nun, and opted for a first job with New Mexico Power Company. She hand-wrote bills for all Las Vegas customers for three and a half years. After that she worked sporadically, married John Burns in 1937 and had one son. In 1953 her sister helped her get a job at The Bank of Las Vegas as a secretary.
“After that it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I was made assistant cashier, then loan officer, assistant vice president and vice president in 1969,” Marie says with modest pride. She was the first woman to attain such heights in banking in Las Vegas.
Banking is traditionally a man’s field, notorious for not advancing women to top positions. Marie asserts she is exactly where she wants to be – just the right amount of helping people with the right amount of responsibility.
Part of that responsibility, Marie believes, is setting a good example of financial practices, especially for young people. She welcomes the opportunity to speak with some authority on this subject.
“We need to teach good money management. Credit cards cause an awful lot of problems that needn’t occur if people learn to live within their means.”
“I’m a firm believer in ‘saving for a rainy day.’”
Or, perhaps, a 1962 Cadillac.
Robin Carlson became a building contractor almost by accident.
Her education had prepared her for things like explaining fair play and sportsmanship to six-to twelve-year-olds, how to inventory sports equipment and what to do when somebody gets a little too rough in the gym.
Robin was an elementary P.E. teacher for four years when she quit to go to vet school. When that didn’t work out she got a degree in animal sciences and began to work at a horse ranch with construction as part of her job description. That kind of work was not entirely new to her, however, because she’d grown up watching her father’s frequent remodeling projects at home. She eventually began making and selling children’s furniture and was doing well with it when her brother suggested she switch to adult furniture. She did and she loved it and soon her full-time job was cabinet-making and furniture building.
“Then a woman called me to work on her house,” says Robin of the turning point in her career. “I hadn’t considered doing anything like that but it appealed to me. I decided to go after my contractor’s license.”
That particular job never panned out, but Robin’s license did, after some additional preparation.
“I just got a good book and read it. I took a workshop on estimating. I asked for a lot of advice and kept working,” she says. “I knew I could learn to do almost anything.”
Business has been steady ever since and Robin’s pleased with her career choice.
“I really listen to my clients and try to deliver what they want done. It’s a job that requires a lot of thinking ahead. I also like working for myself. I don’t want to be dependent on anyone else to survive.”
When asked if gender ever played a part in her work, she responds, “A lot of clients ask if I really do the work myself. But I haven’t personally had a problem as a woman in this field. In fact, being a woman has sometimes brought me extra attention that can be good for business. For example, a woman I’m doing some remodeling work for now told me she called me because she specifically wanted a female contractor. In her opinion, women pay more attention to details and that’s what she wants. But the bottom line in my work, and in most careers, is capability regardless of sex.”
Robin pauses a second then adds, “But there are little things we all need to be aware of and try to change – little inequalities that can make women feel like they’re less – things like men being required to sign for a loan or when it’s automatically assumed a person is a man just because of the profession they’re in.”
Listen up those of you who missed having Cecilia Gallegos for Home Ec in high school. She’s got a formula telling women how to “have it all” and it’s free, it’s not copyrighted, it’s not even too difficult to follow. Here it is:
“Take care of your health. Take care of your family’s health. Eat right. Use common sense.
Communicate with your spouse. Communicate with your children. Family meetings are good because children need to know what’s going on.
Have a good spiritual life. Pay attention to what’s happening inside.
Then assure yourself you’ve done all those things, that your family is okay, and go after what you want and don’t feel guilty.”
Cecilia Gallegos practiced what she taught and thought what she knew to be true and necessary in daily living. In her classroom at West Las Vegas High School, philosophy met need for 37 years.
“I taught what everyone should know: the basics. I taught my students how to make a long distance phone call, how to write a check, open a savings account, buy an airplane ticket, understand insurance. I taught them how to take care of themselves,” she says.
Cecilia’s quick to give credit for the inspiration she had to become a teacher. Her mother, Margarita Gurule Sena, now 94, schooled Cecilia and her sister at home until Cecilia was nine. She continued to encourage the young students by providing a well lit, well-supplied “special place” for study, and Cecilia developed a life-long love for education.
Later, Cecilia was also inspired by one of her teachers in New Mexico Highlands University’s Home Economics Department. Cecilia claims Mrs. Opal Moore as an invaluable mentor in her teaching career.
“She was a good teacher – very strict but very caring. She had a real interest in seeing students learn the right way of things,” says Cecilia. Through Mrs. Moore’s example and her own experience, Cecelia came to define a good teacher as “someone who hates to leave the classroom at the end of the day.”
After retiring from teaching in 1980 Cecilia used her knowledge of cooking and canning to begin a business venture called “Cecilia’s Kitchen,” selling jams, jellies, and baked goods at local crafts fairs. Now she’s retired from a large part of that as well, limiting herself to the jams and jellies and attending fewer fairs. However, as it was intended from the start, all proceed from Cecelia’s Kitchen go into a trust fund to finance her young grandchildren’s education.
Though she’s now 66 years old, Cecilia intends to stay busy, continuing her work with Cecilia’s Kitchen part-time and traveling New Mexico with her husband. She’ll undoubtedly be happy as long as what she’s doing fits the following career criteria she’s developed as advice for her children and grandchildren (and anyone else in need of a little vocational counseling):
“Do something you’re interested in, something you enjoy.
Do something that contributes to your community.
Make sure your job provides sufficient income,
then give to those who are less fortunate than yourself.”
If Sara Harris could someday excavate the historic artifacts of an ancient civilization in the countryside of France, she just might be even happier than she is now digging new French and Spanish words out of hesitant beginning language students in a classroom at Highlands University.
Not that teaching isn’t her first love. Actually, a career as a trapeze artist in a circus was Sara’s earliest career goal. “I even took an acrobatic class!” says Sara in mock horror, her eyes twinkling. “but now I see that teaching may be the second best thing to performing – being in front of a class every day.”
For a student who’s reciting halting sentences in a mysterious tongue in front of teacher and fellow classmates, the performance analogy is probably not unrealistic.
“I try to get my students to overcome their shyness,” Sara explains. “And to know that it’s okay to make mistakes. Those are barriers to learning and practicing a new language and if I see a student overcome those barriers it really makes me feel good about the teaching I’ve done.”
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