By Jessica Eaglin
Sara Valenzuela’s strong work ethic has remained a mainstay throughout her life.
On July 31, 1924, Sara Frances Garcia was born in the small town of Edna, Texas – the first child of eight – to Henry Andrew Garcia, a mechanic, and Mary Cisneros Garcia, a homemaker.
"I was the leader of my family," Valenzuela said. "I had to be the example in my family and my role was to help my mother."
She grew up during World War II, a point in United States history that significantly changed American life, particularly for women.
She enrolled in school in a Catholic convent in Refugio, Texas, when her family relocated from Edna. Although some schools in Refugio were segregated, she managed to enroll in fourth grade in a racially integrated public school.
"Several of the other Hispanic students, mostly non-English speakers, were forced to attend a racially segregated school in the area," Valenzuela said.
In high school, her favorite subjects were bookkeeping, typing and history. She worked as a dental assistant, helped her father clean motors in his mechanic’s shop and worked for the Refugio County Press, setting type for printing and performing administrative duties.
She also enjoyed extra-curricular activities such as dancing, attending church events and playing baseball and volleyball.
"During the war, while I was in high school I worked at a newspaper company and helped my dad clean car motors," Valenzuela said. "I wanted to help my parents with money."
She received a full scholarship for bookkeeping and typing to Draughon’s Business College in San Antonio. But her parents refused to allow her to leave home alone; instead, she had to wait for her younger sister, Alberta, to go with her.
"My parents wanted me to be a teacher, I wanted to be a nurse and neither of the two happened," she said.
During her college years, she met Alfred Valenzuela. The couple married in February of 1947, just two years after the end of the war. Alfred worked at the Bexar County Courthouse as a court reporter.
"Times were hard but we never complained," Valenzuela said.
Valenzuela had her first child, Alfred, in January of 1948. Her second child, Debra, was born in 1951 and her third, Claudia, in 1954.
"I stayed at home until I had all of my three children. … Then, the convent offered to help watch them [in daycare and kindergarten] so that I could go to work," said Valenzuela, seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren later.
Valenzuela worked part time for five months as a business manager for a contractor of migrant labor, but she longed for a full-time position.
“I was looking for a permanent job to help my husband,” she explained. “He was going to law school at the time.”
In 1957, a job became available with the juvenile probation department, where she worked for 32 years; beginning in the clerical division she worked as a clerk-stenographer and eventually moved up to such positions as probation clerk and then records supervisor.
"I never missed a day of work," she said. "In fact, when I retired I lost some 100 days of time I hadn't taken off."
Valenzuela kept her records from her job with Bexar County, indicating that she lost her sick time, and that she was regarded as an exemplary employee. One 1971 supervisory evaluation said, “Sara Valenzuela… has a lot of initiative, works well under pressure and requires very little supervision.”
Valenzuela says she has taught her children the values she has learned throughout her life:
"Don't give up and always do the best you can. Never look back, continue to strive forward," she said.
Post-World War II, Valenzuela joined the Golden Eagle Chapter of the American Business Women's Association, serving as president at one point. She was named the chapter’s Woman of the Year in 1977.
"I wanted to better myself as a business woman and mother," Valenzuela said. "I also did it to better my children and teach them to always work hard to better themselves."
Valenzuela was interviewed in San Antonio, Texas, on Oct. 16, 2006, by Raquel C. Garza.