Pictured: As part of her receptionist duties, Margaret Ruiz has to man the phone lines at the front desk, which often means taking more than one call if necessary. Photo by MAURICIO JULIAN CUELLAR JR.

Rio Grande City native loves her work

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

Before there was an Alice High School, there was Margaret Ruiz.

Starting at William Adams High School in 1968, Ruiz began a long and colorful history in Alice ISD.

This year she was honored by the district for her 40 years of service, all of which were spent at the high school main office. With her optimism and positive demeanor, Ruiz is looked up to by her peers and the students as someone who is patient with both parents and students, and someone who can always be counted on.

In those early days of Alice High School, the work was still done by hand. Attendance, grades, filing school forms; there were no personal computers back then to assist the ladies in the office.

"Up till '87, we did everything by hand. We'd write down the grades, pack them up and send them to Brownsville. A bank there would do the report cards. Then we would go over to the Education Service Center in Corpus Christi to bring them back," Ruiz said.

In those early days, Ruiz was a newlywed, starting a family with her husband, Candelario, who would eventually become a principal in Alice ISD.

Ruiz was raised in Rio Grande City, and spent her time after high school there going to business school in San Antonio and eventually working in accounts payable and payroll. She would travel on the weekends to see her future husband, but life in San Antonio and life in Alice were two very different things.

"The way they dress is so different there. I used to go to work in high heels, with an umbrella and wearing gloves to work, and here, none of that," Ruiz said. "There was so many things to do in San Antonio, like go to concerts, and dress up and go to the opera, and then when I came here, there was nothing. That was a big adjustment, but my husband wouldn't go anywhere else, his family and the ranch were here, so I changed my ways."

Day-to-day activities as registrar included keeping track of attendance, taking in all the money for the clubs to pay bills and make deposits. She also handled funds for the athletic director, because at the time there was no secretary for that office, Ruiz was it.

"I also maintained and changed combinations on the lockers, sent records to other schools and received copies of records for incoming students. There were long hours, but we took pride in the Alice High School. It was our home," Ruiz said.

As her daughters Cilia and Silvia grew up, Ruiz continued her services at the high school, seeing the faces of the students and teachers change every year. There were meetings and new friends, graduation parties and good times as the years passed.

Although the job in the front office takes its toll, Ruiz always manages to put her best foot forward.

"I have a lot of patience, I control myself, and I smile, and I take a deep breath. When parents or students come to me upset, I have to put myself in their shoes, 'why was he or she upset,' and try to calm them down before they go to see who they need to see. Patience helps. I just smile and think happy thoughts, and that puts me through the tough days," Ruiz said.

Her work now as the AHS receptionist means she doesn't have quite as much to do as in the past, but what she does accomplish, on the phone and for those who walk up to her counter, takes a great deal of delegation when it comes to time and attention.

"When I'm here in the office, I do what needs to get done," she said. "When the principal calls, and then a parent calls, and then a student is at the window, you have to learn to do several things at one time. You cannot be upset at other people, even though they all need your attention at once. In this job, you have to learn to do several things at once. I just do my work with a smile."

The part she enjoys most, the reason she keeps working year after year, is the contact with the children and the parents.

"For those parents or students who come in upset, I ask them what's wrong and try to calm them down. Obviously they don't know what's going on sometimes, because students don't let them know what the truth is," Ruiz said.

"Sometimes when they call though, I get it. They start rattling off their complaints and I can't get a word in. I let them know that I can direct them to someone who can help them, but when they're excited like that, they usually slam the phone down. It's not that I can help them all the time, I can't. But I enjoy dealing with people, and helping as much as I can."

When she is busy around town, going to the store or to church, she sees first hand the impact her job has had over generations in the lives of former students.

"When they see me or come by, people say hello. I don't know all their names, but I go along with the conversation till something clicks, and then I remember them and their parents and grandparents and I ask them questions," she said. "When I go to church or the store, they're very nice to me. The men take off their hats and say hello, and the ladies say hello and give me hugs. I'm very much a people person.

"I like the interaction with people. Being home, there's nothing to do, except housework and the TV. No, no, no. I enjoy being here. You come in here every morning, and it's a different world. You smile and enjoy interacting with people," Ruiz said.