On the surface, it seems as though Velma De Los Santos has it all. She’s a successful realtor who spends her free time pursuing her theatrical passions. Her beautiful and quiet home in San Benito overlooks the resaca giving her a place to relax and refuel.
Velma works hard to help find people their “American Dream” of home ownership. In the evenings, she heads to the theater, where her love for singing and acting take the stage and fill her heart with happiness.
She’s a busy woman, but clearly does it all with an inviting smile and positive attitude.
Velma is even quick to admit, some of her friends suggest life is easy for her. What they don’t know is Velma’s life hasn’t been easy at all. Tragedies marked her childhood and few would have blamed her if she would have chosen a different, darker path.
But nobody can measure a person’s strength, determination, heart and personality.
“Some people tell me, ‘life is easy for you,’” the lifelong San Benito resident says while sitting on her white sofa in her living room. “It is a perception, but it is about how you live your life. My mother taught me difficult times happen to everyone at different times.”
But when Velma was young, those difficult times seemed to happen more often for her and her family than for others. Within a two-month span of time before Velma was even 10 years old, her older sister and father died. He was only 46. Her handicapped sister had medical issues throughout her 11-year life.
“Difficult times always seemed to happen to us,” she says. “As a child, that was how I looked at it. I thought, who was going to die next.”
Although she didn’t realize it at the time, her family wasn’t exactly well off, either. She called it a humble life.
“I didn’t realize we were kind of poor – we never went hungry,” she says now. I” thought that’s what poor was. I just don’t know, you can’t miss something you never had.”
But, it’s those trials and others she had as a youth that has made her the person she is now. Instead of the struggles demoralizing her, each one actually made her stronger.
“Life isn’t easy and it wasn’t meant to be easy,” she says. “Once I wrapped my head around that, everything became so much better because I didn’t feel like a failure. I think that is what happens to people. They become disillusioned when things don’t go the way they want it. Immediately, they think it is their fault and they can’t do it.”
Velma is here to tell people they can do it. She is proof of that.
Career path takes turn
One way she coped with her youth was through music. Originally that was the career she intended to pursue.
“Music was always part of my life,” she says. “My father played the guitar and we always did that kind of stuff.”
Also knowing how difficult it is to earn a living in music, she turned to real estate to help pay her college tuition.
“I thought it would be just a job until I got done with my degree,” she admits.
Nearly 35 years later, Velma owns VIP Realty in San Benito and couldn’t be happier with her choice.
“I enjoy helping people attain their American Dream,” she says. “I didn’t think it would be a rewarding thing to help people get into a house. But then I saw how exciting it was for them, even if it was a $35,000 house.”
Now real estate is the biggest part of her life.
“I actually really enjoy my job,” she says. “There’s always something to do. I love what I do. I enjoy my music and it makes me happy, but it doesn’t pay the bills.”
However, had she not been in college playing the flute, she never would have realized her talent for singing. She had been a flute player for nearly four years in college when she had the opportunity to show off her voice.
“I was told by my professor, you are good flute player, but you are a great singer,” she says. “What are you doing? This is where you need to be. That’s when I got into the theater.”
So, why not a singing career? Velma has been a part of as many as 100 productions over the years, many at Brownsville’s Camille Playhouse. Her singing talent is evident as soon as you hear a few notes, which is why she has played such lead roles as Mama Rose in “Gypsy” and Eva Peron in “Evita.”
When some people hear her and see her passion for theater, they say “this is what you should be doing.”
“But I say I want to do something that makes a difference,” she says. “Real estate really does that. At first I thought it was just a job and it was flexible.”
Even though her first boss said she was too young and cute at the age of 19 to become a realtor, Velma didn’t listen and took the classes needed to attain that title.
“The first thing to make me want to do something is tell me I can’t,” she says with a smile. “Some people are just more stubborn than others.”
Her relationship with real estate has been a love affair ever since.
“People think realtors make a lot of money, but we don’t here,” she says. “We aren’t high end here. These people need my help and guidance. I tell them yes you can afford it. You deserve a home and you can have one. That’s what’s important to me.”
Velma admits she couldn’t be happier with her daily life of real estate and theater. As she heads to her theater productions, she practices her songs and lines during her drive from San Benito to Brownsville. She is a competitive person who wants to be ready when she arrives at the theater.
“This is the best of both worlds,” she says. “I am blessed to have wonderful opportunities and have done some things that are amazing in the theater. That feeds my soul and the other takes care of my needs.”
She no doubt has talent in both.
She was so good at real estate, Velma sold 31 properties in her first year on her own and years later founded VIP Realty in San Benito. There, she has two agents and her mother is the secretary.
Mother is inspiration
Velma’s mom isn’t just any real estate office secretary.
“I had a mother who told me I could do anything,” Velma says proudly.
Those simple words and belief has driven Velma throughout her life.
“Believe in yourself,” Velma says. “But I know how that can be hard if someone hasn’t told you that.”
That belief, along with her positive nature also has been a guiding star for Velma.
“If you throw positive, you get positive back,” she says.
Being an inspiration
When she was younger, Velma had some of those positives thrown at her. It probably changed her life. Now, she wants to do the same for others.
“I would like to mentor someone to continue my business with my work and ethics,” she says about eventually selling the business. “No one can be me and I can’t be someone else, but I would like one day to say, ‘here’s my baby now you keep going with it.’ We need to raise our replacements. We need to share what we know.”
She’s already started to do that when it comes to the theater.
“I think because people were so generous to me, I think I am more generous,” she says. “I am competitive and I want to be the best. But we have to raise our replacements in the theater, in our industries.”
Velma speaks proudly about personal letters she writes to those in the shows she is involved in. She says she writes notes like, “I am going to see your name in lights one day,” and “You have potential.”
“I wrote this note to a little kid,” Velma explained about the “Hello Dolly” show she did several years ago. “He is now a teacher, but he still has the note I wrote to him. He studied music and is a band director and he is way more talented than I will ever be. But, he said ‘you were the lead and I was nobody.’”
Velma admits “we just don’t know” when we will impact someone like that.
“He told me that every time he sees a student with potential, he remembers that note,” Velma says. “He said he just started writing notes, too.”
With Velma, everything seems to come full circle. She received inspiration and confidence from others despite the trials she faced at such a young age. Now she is trying to give back with that knowledge. She has a message to all young people and women.
“Pick yourself up and don’t give up,” she urges. “Anything is possible. Tragedies and stumbling blocks make everything possible. You have it in you. You just have to find it in yourself.”
Words of wisdom from Velma
“People don’t remember what you say or do, they remember how you made them feel,” Velma says.
That’s exactly how she runs VIP Realty in San Benito.
“Offer yourself, your time, your knowledge,” she says about working in real estate, and just about any business.
The key to success is “meeting your client’s needs first. If you do that, Velma says she is confident, yours will be met.
That’s even led her to answering her phone while she was, in all places, the emergency room.
“I was just waiting for the doctor,” Velma says with a smile.
But, she is quick to point out people need to keep a work-life balance.
“You can’t forget your family,” she says. “Women by nature are able to juggle it all. I think women are very powerful in this industry.”
Other qualities Velma says are keys to success – knowledge, staying focused, being diligent, informed and multitasking.
“Some people just focus on one thing,” she says. “I can’t do that. I think being able to multitask is very important.”
Another skill women have is listening – an important one to Velma.
“Some realtors get deterred when they can’t find a house for someone,” she says. “It is about listening. Women are more relentless. What went wrong, how do we fix it? That is just women.”
It is one quality that helped her through the tough times. She says three instances during her 34-year career in real estate, the market has “gone upside down.”
There’s only one response to that happening.
“You have to learn how to be resilient,” she says. “I tell people I am like a cat. I will land on my feet. I don’t know where or how, but I will.”
She believes you will, too.
Years ago, when Velma De Los Santos played Eva Peron in the musical “Evita,” her challenge wasn’t just learning 32 songs and being the lead character on stage during a lengthy production.
“I have had some great, great roles that I have really enjoyed,” she says.
Velma, who has been a part of as many as 100 shows in the past 29 years in three different theaters, has been known to throw herself completely into her roles.
However, when she played Eva, she would have preferred it not to mirror life quite as much as it did.
At the time of rehearsals and the show, Velma herself was battling cervical cancer. It was the same cancer that killed Peron in real life and portrayed in the production.
“In the last scene, she is dying and there is a sheet over her and then to hear the casket slam shut,” Velma says was emotional, even though she wasn’t in the casket.
It wasn’t easy, but Velma stuck it out through the final three performances after the diagnosis. Everything turned out OK.
“Two weeks after the show, I had surgery,” she says. “The show must go on.”