RIO HONDO — It was only a T-shirt with some words on it.
But that piece of clothing left a mark on Isabel Gil Rios’s heart that will never be erased.
On the front, it read, “Blessed and beautiful.”
On the back, “Because I belong to Jesus.”
It was given to Isabel by her coworkers at Rio Hondo Independent School District at the end of May, the day before her official retirement as the superintendent’s secretary — a position she held for 30 years.
“Whenever I was asked how I was doing, that was my response to my coworkers,” she said. “When I saw that T-shirt, it touched my heart. They were listening. It meant a lot to me.”
It also meant a lot to Isabel to give her all in her job as the secretary to the superintendent. While she served under a total of five different leaders, she said she always kept the same commitment to the job.
“I would do everything as if I was doing it unto the Lord,” Isabel said. “That, in itself, makes a difference.”
Among her main duties as the superintendent’s secretary was answering the phone in the administrative office.
Keeping tabs on the superintendent’s calendar, helping create the agenda and packet for school board members, keeping track of the minutes of the meetings and travel arrangements for board members, were just a few of the other duties she performed on a regular basis. She says talking to parents or those who called the office, was probably the most important.
“When the parent is calling the superintendent, they are upset or have an urgent matter,” she said. “I always tried to do as much as I could to help. The most important thing for them is to know you really care and are concerned about the concerns they were expressing. When you communicate, how you communicate with people, that makes a difference.”
Not even Isabel could have predicted her 30-year stint in the public school system as the superintendent’s secretary.
A Rio Hondo native, she and her family were migrant workers since the time she was younger all the way until she was a sophomore.
She graduated from Rio Hondo High School in 1972. She has been married to her high school sweetheart for 41 years. They have two daughters and four grandchildren.
Just more than 30 years ago, she was looking for work after the credit bureau office she worked at in Harlingen closed. She tried the school district.
Although she wasn’t sure about applying and interviewing for the superintendent’s secretary job, she did so anyway.
“Really, if I had been in my old way of thinking, I wouldn’t have even applied,” she said. “The Lord gave me that job. That is why I give all the glory to God.”
And on June 16, 1986, she took on the position and has never looked back, serving in that role since.
“The 30-year journey with our school district has been amazing,” she said. “All the honor and the glory I give to my God for His faithfulness, mercy and grace. Because of God’s goodness, the desire of my heart was to always do my job as unto the Lord.”
But, now it’s over, even though she admits her retirement hasn’t necessarily sunk in yet. She also knows it was done with mixed emotions as nothing will be the same again.
In retirement, she is looking forward to accomplishing more around the house, finishing some projects and spending more time with the grandchildren.
There’s no question, she loved what she did during the past 30 years — communicating with and serving people.
“The Lord has blessed me with awesome superintendents, coworkers, board members and staff,” she said. “It was a very enjoyable atmosphere and that all contributed to the reason why I loved my job at Rio Hondo ISD so much.”
Her advice to her replacement … “Do everything as if you are doing it unto the Lord and do it with a good attitude,” she said. “That makes your service to the district very, very valuable. It is as simple as that to me.”
That’s also what it means to be proud of the district in which you work. She continues to think about Rio Hondo ISD.
“My prayer for the district is that they would work in unity because there are blessings,” she said. “God’s blessing is in unity. That is my prayer for everyone in the school district, that they would allow the Lord to prosper them and our children.”
She believes Rio Hondo is a special district.
“I truly believe Rio Hondo is a blessed district. I am so proud of our school district. It is because I see our superintendent and everyone that I served with, I saw how much they cared. I know that all of that it done because of our children.”
Those are all the reasons why she will always hold Rio Hondo ISD in her heart.
That, and, the message on the T-shirt.