Seventeen years ago, Julie Guerra-Ramirez became the Progreso International Bridge operator. But, few probably knew at the time, she had no idea what her job even entailed.
After all, she had spent the previous 25 years in the banking industry.
Now, she confidently strolls into her office, and takes a peek at the large television showing several black and white feeds from cameras positioned in all areas of the bridge.
You don’t come into this world knowing things. I tell my children with their own Children, you learn lessons along the way. I am still learning.”
For Julie, there was a time when she didn’t know what she wanted. She was young and working at a boutique at the old Sun Valley Mall in Harlingen. Julie, who was born and raised in San Benito, had just decided college wasn’t for her.
“I learn things by doing rather than studying,” she says. “That has always been me. Show me, don’t make me read it. College isn’t for everybody, so at the end of two years, I told my parents I wasn’t going to waste any more of their money and my time.”
She would make the boutique’s bank deposits. One day, the bank president had an application in her hand and asked Julie if she wanted to become a teller. Her reply was quick.
“The next thing I knew, I was a teller,” Julie says.
For 25 years, Julie loved every minute of her banking career.
Julie’s strong ethics and determination come from two important people – her mother and father.
“My parents are my biggest support system in anything and everything,” she says. “I am the oldest of three girls, so I always have to set the example.”
That’s what she’s tried to do over the years. Despite differences in the Hispanic culture, especially when she was growing up, focused on the wife staying home and the man working, that wasn’t the case in her younger days.
“My mother worked part time as we were growing up,” she says. “It was rare. So, when she worked, he took care of us. I learned that it was OK for women to go to work.”
It was that example, along with their focus on honesty and integrity, that made an impact on a young Julie.
Julie uses those qualities, which also include hard work and full focus on her position, to lead a staff of 17, who run the tolls, parking and maintain the bridge. She calls them Team Progreso, which works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year manning the bridge. And the Progreso International Bridge has quite a future, according to Julie.
All crossings on the bridge are on the rise. There are nearly 800,000 southbound pedestrian crossings each year. About 530,000 personally-owned vehicles cross each year and 45,000 commercial trucks.
“We have seen big growth and we are expecting more,” she says.
Julie and the bridge are in the “business of going south.” The Mexican government receives the revenues from the vehicles and pedestrians headed north.
Her mission is to promote usage of the bridge headed to Mexico. That fits with the “touristy” nature of the bridge. But Julie wants to expand in order to be known as a trade and commercial bridge as well.
She’s recently been working with architects and engineers preparing for the bridge’s expansion projects. The future is bright for the bridge and continues to shine for the determined, hard working leader of the facility.
The vision of Spark continues, and so does Julie’s love for what she does.
“I feel as good as I did when I was in banking,” she says. “It took me awhile to say that, but I do.”
Julie Ramirez has excelled in two careers during her 60 years of life, so she knows what she’s talking about.
Three qualities have led her throughout – strength, stamina and determination.
The first may not be what you think. For Julie, she admits she has long worked with men and says she has obtained strength from them.
She watched how they worked and what they did. Even though men and women are different, she kept a close eye on how men did things in order to improve her own leadership abilities.
The second quality – stamina – relates to what is needed to lead a team made up of people with different personalities living in all types of situations.
The third may be the most important – determination. Julie still remembers a message written in her yearbook from a neighbor girl she looked up to many years ago.
“Determination is the key to many of life’s challenges,” Julie repeats the message from memory. “Keeping this in mind can and will help you accomplish your desired goals. That has stayed with me forever and I have passed that on. I can still see it in my yearbook.”
Julie says that girl was right.
“You have to be determined,” she says. “I would say to any girl – you want to do something, do it. What is to stop you?”
You probably didn’t know when Julie Ramirez’s cell phone rings, and it rings often, the tone sounds the lead-in music for the popular TV show “Law and Order.” Not Only does Julie love that show and could watch it all day long, at one point, she considered becoming an attorney.
“I thought about going to law school,” she says.
One of her uncles is a lawyer and she looked up to him. But Julie admits, college and school were not for her. After finding out how many years it would take to become a lawyer, she changed paths. That doesn’t mean she still can’t be interested.
“I can marathon it, telethon it, whatever,” she says about watching the show.