hen Gloria Alvillar started school in Columbus, N.M., she knew one word of English: spoon.
Maybe that was fitting, considering how hungry to learn the little kid was.
Her wise and supportive parents hired a woman to translate math and other assignments into Spanish, and Alvillar was the sum of learning bliss.
“They call that bilingual education,” Alvillar said, adding with a wink, “I think that’s against the law now, isn’t it?”
Whatever it was, it worked.
Alvillar speaks four languages and is the head of human resources for 670 University of Arizona employees. She has traveled the globe with her husband, economist Ted Earle, and is president-elect of the Hispanic Professional Action Committee.
Alvillar is a lovely woman, though hard to find in the combat zone of campus construction projects. Her second-floor office on Fifth Street is near the big trench beyond the wire fencing and impressive pile of dirt.
Essentially, you can’t get there, so if you need Alvillar, call her.
She comes from good stock. Her father, who died at 80 in Chihuahua, Mexico, was a business entrepreneur. Her mother is secretary of the Rotary International office in Columbus, N.M., where Pancho Villa crossed into the United States.
Alvillar was born in Deming.
“Our family came to New Mexico with the Spaniards in the early 1600s,” she said. “They settled at a place between El Paso, Texas, and Las Cruces, N.M.
“After the Gadsden Purchase there was a lot of land-grabbing and title-stealing, and one of my ancestors led a force involved in the fight.
“They lost. Part of the group fled to Chihuahua and the others to Arizona.”
Alvillar graduated from Deming High School in 1964 and said she took her own sweet time in getting a college degree.
She received it in 1993, in business administration. A plaque in her office says she was the outstanding graduating senior in human resources management.
Alvillar had three children (Dominique, Erik and Christopher) when she met Ted Earle – at a barn dance! – in 1984.
“I was dating a British anthropologist, and we went to this barn dance down near the railroad tracks, a place called Splinter Brothers & Sisters Warehouse,” she said. “And I remember the band, Titan Valley Warheads.”
Works by Dvorak and Mahler were not on the program.
Anyhow, Ted was there, they met, and bells rang. They were married and not long ago renewed their vows at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church. To which Alvillar added:
“How many Mexican Lutherans do you know? Well, there’s me.”
On a fantastic trip last May, the couple went to Segno in the Tirol Valley of Italy, where they met relatives of Father Eusebio Kino, founder of San Xavier Mission; visited Dresden, Germany; went down the Elbe in a paddle-wheeler; and went to Vienna, where they discovered – hold onto your seat – the feathered crown worn by the Aztec ruler Montezuma II.
This was the Montezuma who greeted (and some say should have sent away) the Spanish explorer Cortez.
“We knew the crown was in Vienna, but nobody seemed to know exactly where,” Alvillar said. “Finally, poking around pre-Columbian urns and stuff in a museum, I saw it and was overwhelmed.
“How did it get to Vienna? Well, the people will tell you they didn’t steal it, that it was bought from people who bought it from people who bought it. You know?”
Alvillar is a tiny woman with a big heart and a great sense of humor. She and her husband have overcome recent health setbacks but are doing well now.
“I believe in being optimistic about life,” she said. “I teach a class here called ‘Moving Ahead Professionally,’ and I encourage the students to live outside themselves, to reach out and help others.
“We all should ask ourselves, ‘How can I help? What can I do to make this a better university, a better city, a better world?’ ”
In addition to her work in human resources, Alvillar takes great pride in HPAC, the professional action committee.
HPAC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, Tucson-based organization that keeps track of issues that affect Hispanics at the local, regional, national and international levels.
When she becomes HPAC president next year, she’ll follow an impressive list of others who have served in that capacity:
John Huerta, Maria Elba Leon, Richard Gonzales, Jose Santiago, Edith Sayre Auslander, Celestino Fernandez, Jose Canchola, Lillian Lopez-Grant, George Barnett, Adela Artola Allen, Becky Martinez, Alberto Pina Moore, Jay Gonzales, Ernesto V. Portillo, Louis Hollingsworth, Marty Cortez, Mercy Valencia and George Garcia