Lord, lead me where You need me.
For years, this has been the daily prayer of Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramon. It is the prayer that led her from an administrative position with McAllen ISD to an administrative position with the county.
Yvonne’s story begins in McAllen, where she was born Yvonne Perez. She graduated from McAllen High School in 1972 and headed to University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. After two years there, Ramon couldn’t wait to transfer to The University of Texas, but her life’s road suddenly diverged, and she had to choose which path to take.
“For years I had known George and Jaime Ramon,” Yvonne said. “And then I met their brother, John. Just as I was preparing to transfer to UT, he asked me to marry him. I had to decide if this was what I wanted for my life.”
She answered, “Yes” and transferred to what was then Pan American University. John became her husband. Once again, the road diverged.
“Life always takes us through different turns,” Yvonne said. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Yvonne, now 21 years old, needed to stop taking classes and work full time. She found a job at McAllen State Bank and worked her way up to administrative officer under Glen Roney, who she counts as one of her greatest mentors. Yvonne enjoyed her job and the people with whom she worked, but she couldn’t fight the nagging feeling inside.
“I had lost my way,” she said. “I had only a year left to finish my degree, and I knew I had to do it.”
Yvonne and John found a way for her to return to school in 1982, and she graduated with a double major in sociology and education, a minor in English and certification as an English as a Second Language educator. Finally her path led her to the place she had envisioned.
But two years into her career, the seemingly endless divergent road appeared once again. John owned an auto transportation business, and he asked Yvonne to take over as his office manager.
“I’ll give you one year,” she told him. Instead, she gave him 13. “I never thought that would happen,” Yvonne said, “but the job allowed me to be an office manager and a full-time mom.” Yvonne volunteered at the schools their three children attended and did the things for them working moms often aren’t able to do. To this day, she remains grateful. “I thank God and John every day for that unexpected opportunity.”
As their youngest son prepared to enter Rowe High School in 2000, Yvonne knew it was time to return to teaching. She couldn’t believe it when Rachel Arcaute, then principal at Rowe, offered her a job. But shortly before school started, Yvonne felt a nodule in her throat.
“My sister had thyroid cancer,” Yvonne said, “but this nodule was different.” Nevertheless, she decided to have it checked. The diagnosis: thyroid cancer.
“I held on to my prayer,” Yvonne said. “Lord, lead me where You need me.”
Though difficult, Yvonne told Arcaute she couldn’t accept the position because of the treatments she faced. One year later, she realized she had not bounced back the way her sister had. She still had cancer. But that didn’t deter Yvonne.
In the midst of everything, she met up with her friend, Myra Montalvo, then a counselor at Brown Middle School. Myra told her they needed an English Language Arts teacher. The next thing she knew, Principal Dr. George Padilla called her for an interview. He offered her a contract, which she signed. Still undergoing radiation, Yvonne knew she was being led to take this job. She started in August of 2001.
A learner for life, Yvonne wanted to return to school to earn her master’s in reading. Those plans changed when McAllen ISD administrator Yvette Cavazos encouraged her to get her degree in administration instead. Two years later, Yvonne graduated and the principal of Lincoln Middle School, Rosalinda Martinez, hired her as an assistant principal.
“Rosalinda is a mover and a shaker,” Yvonne said, “and she gets things done. I learned from her how to be efficient and productive.”
Two years later, Yvonne heard about the district’s plans to redesign the high schools and decided to apply for the position of School Improvement Facilitator (SIF) at Memorial High School. She got the job and dove right into it. But when the district decided not to move forward with the redesign project, Yvonne once again had to choose which road to take. Jodie Ellis, principal of McAllen’s newest middle school, Fossum, hired Yvonne as the assistant principal.
“One evening as I sat in my chair at home, schedules in my lap, I heard a newscaster announce that the county was accepting applications for elections administrator,” she said. “Something stirred inside me, and I told myself, ‘I could do that job.’”
The next day, one of Yvonne’s dear friends contacted her. “She came to me and said, ‘Have you considered applying for the job of elections administrator? I know you’d do a great job.’” Was this an affirmation? Yvonne believes it was.
Lord, lead me where You need me.
Yvonne learned she was a finalist while watching the news on TV. When she went for her second interview, the question came up: What experience do you have?
“In elections?” she responded. “None. But if you want someone who is honest and who has management and leadership experience, I’ve got that. Elections I can learn.” In fact, she had already begun a thorough study of the election code and had no doubt she could master it.
Sept. 2, 2008, Yvonne Ramon officially became the Hidalgo County Elections Administrator. Two months and three days later, she would run her first election.
“The transition was smooth and yet a challenge,” she said. “It was difficult but exciting. We live and work in a political arena, but we can’t be political.” She stepped into an office with only 12 staff members. They trained over 600 election judges, as well as temporary workers who are hired for elections. Yvonne’s leadership experience came in handy as she set to work to create a professional environment, and her team pulled together for the Nov. 5 election.
“The day after the elections, all I could say was ‘WOW,’” Yvonne said. “It’s like waiting nine months to have your baby. I had two months to prepare for this election, and I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a great start.”
The greatest challenge she faces is having such high expectations yet knowing she must be patient.
“But I don’t pray for patience,” she said, her laughter natural and contagious. “My mom always said if you pray for patience you’ll be given many tests to help you develop it. I don’t think I want that.”
Yvonne now has a team of nine data processors, an Information Technology manager and two specialists, two election specialists and an executive assistant. County commissioners recently improved a street indexing specialist for the department.
Yvonne and her staff have established a number of short- and long-term goals, and she knows it has all been possible thanks to the support she has received.
“Everyone has made me feel so welcome, and I have a great staff. I have the privilege of working with many great leaders in the county.”
One immediate goal is to find 22,634 registered voters who were dropped from the rolls when the county recently purged the system. These are people who completed a voter registration application but whose addresses were incorrect. Their cards were returned to the department by the post office, and the county has been unable to locate them for two to four years. Yvonne urges any voter who does not have a voter registration card and who did not vote in the presidential election to call her office at 318-2570 as soon as possible. By taking care of it now, voters will avoid delays during the May election cycle.
Yvonne’s road has diverged many times over the years, but she honestly believes God has led her down the right path every time, and it all began when she made the decision to marry John rather than attend UT.
“Obviously I made the right decision,” she said. “On December 26 of 2008, we celebrated 34 years of marriage.”
Somehow, Yvonne knew she could be the Hidalgo County Elections Administrator.
“My mom taught me to believe in myself,” she said. “She would tell me, ‘Always remember you’re not better than anyone else, but you’re not less than anyone else.’ I don’t know what I would have done without my mom’s strength.”