We asked our readers to share stories of El Paso women who should be honored this Women’s History Month, and you delivered.
Readers shared stories of a single mother who escaped an abusive marriage and overcame adversity to provide for her son; a major general who fought to improve access to feminine products for female soldiers; a tireless and caring leader of the food pantry at Borderland Rainbow Center.
Read on to learn about these women and how they’ve shaped El Paso and the lives of the people they met.
Quotes have been lightly edited for length, clarity and style.
Retired Maj. Gen. Carla Hawley-Bowland
“Maj. Gen. Carla Hawley-Bowland was the first female physician in the Army to be promoted to Brigadier and Major General. She fought for not only soldiers, but especially for female soldiers. She worked to get adequate, appropriate and modern options for feminine products for use by female soldiers in the field. She ensured amputees at Walter Reed Army Medical Center received top notch medical care and that their families were taken care of. She was known as the ‘fix it’ general as she was often tasked with cleaning up her assigned regions and hospitals for the military.” — Jennifer Bowland, daughter
The all-female engineering management team at El Paso Water
- Interim Chief Technical Officer Irazema Rojas
- Engineering Division Manager for Planning and Development Adriana Castillo
- Engineering Division Manager for Water/Wastewater Engineering Amy Castner
- Water Production Manager Veronica Galindo
- Engineering Division Manager for Stormwater Engineering Gisela Dagnino
- Wastewater Treatment Manager Aide Fuentes
“This is history in the making. Less than one in five employees in the water sector are women, according to a 2020 study by the World Bank on women in water utilities. El Paso Water is a rare phenom in the water industry, as the utility’s six female engineers in leadership continue to shatter barriers and build diversity.” — Michaela Grambling, senior assistant general counsel at El Paso Water
Dec. 17, 1948 – July 4, 1996
“Maxine raised me as a single mother. This woman left with me, escaping an abusive marriage and finding the courage to leave Pueblo and move to El Paso in 1976. My mother worked shifts as a telephone operator while we lived with my grandparents as she saved for a home. Maxine worked tirelessly to make a better life for the two of us while she worked various jobs with Mountain Bell and then with AT&T. In 1989 her job with AT&T was eliminated and she was offered an equivalent job in San Antonio — but with her son a junior in high school she took a lower paying job with AT&T so we could stay in El Paso. Maxine in 1994 received her associate degree in business administration from EPCC, reaffirming to me the importance of education. Maxine was offered and accepted a job in HR with AT&T on Founder Boulevard; this was her reward for her dedication and hard work. Maxine inspired the young women, many of them being single mothers, who worked with her at AT&T to get an education (and) make their lives better using her story to inspire that anything is possible. Sadly, we lost Maxine in 1996 when she was walking and hit by a car driven by a distracted driver. Maxine now has 3 grandchildren and 1 great grandson. She would have been 73 years young.” — EPCSO Sgt. Ryan Urrutia, son
“Suzin is a true local hero. She has the biggest, giving heart. I have never seen anyone so passionate in helping and saving animals. She is a hard working Medical Laboratory Supervisor. Suzin goes above and beyond her work duties at the very busy regional laboratory. After working at University Medical Center of El Paso, her remaining time, energy and money go to Help M.E.O.W.T animal shelter, established and funded by her. Can you believe?? I sincerely do not know how she keeps up with so much. She is an unsung local hero whom I believe wholeheartedly deserves to be recognized and praised by her community, whom she loves so much and has sincerely dedicated her life to.” — Terri Mendoza, friend and former coworker
“Julie Lucas started volunteering at the Borderland Rainbow Center after her retirement. She was so dedicated to her work with the BRC that after 3 years of volunteer work, she became a paid employee and started the food pantry. At first, it was only her, and now the pantry serves food to nearly 300 households every week. It’s thanks to Julie that we have a wonderful, well-functioning pantry. We always joke that we are the most well-fed pantry in town, and it’s true! Julie also has a wonderful connection with the people who come to the pantry. She greets them by name, asks them how they’re doing. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me ‘Where’s Julie? How’s Julie doing?’ It’s easy to tell how much they love her, and how much she loves her job.” — Bettina Camacho, coworker
April 12, 1944 – Nov. 20, 2020
“Barbara Perez was an icon of women’s rights in El Paso. She was a co-founder of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and was elected as the first woman vice chairman. She also served as an El Paso City Council representative for three consecutive terms, where she was well-known for fighting hard for city infrastructure, small businesses, fair wages and women’s integrity. I could go on about her incredible political role in our city, but she was also a huge role model in my life. Growing up, she taught me the importance of independence, education and hard work, and always encouraged me to live my life in a way that honored my own wants and needs, rather than a man’s. She was incredible.” — Cecilia Otero, niece
“Laila Ferris is one of the most admirable women in our community and country. She is currently the Principal of Mesita Elementary and the Early Childhood Development Center. She was also named the Chief of Languages and Learning for EPISD. She is known country-wide as leading the forefront for dual language programs in school. Mesita actually has a tri-lingual program. Mrs. Ferris was the first female vice principal in El Paso, when she was at Henderson Middle School. When she is not working at the school, she is volunteering in the community and with her church. She is involved in her church groups, holding national officer positions for the Antiochian Women of the North American Archdiocese for the Orthodox Church, as well as regional positions. She raised 3 amazing children with her husband. In more recent years, she became a caregiver for her mother until her passing in 2018. She also rescues animals that eventually become a staple in the family. This woman does it all, paving the path for generations to come. She has broken many barriers as a woman. I only wish to be a fraction of the woman she is. I am blessed and honored that God gave her to me as my mother. She continuously encourages, supports and provides for those in need and does what she can to #empowerwomen.” — Lauren Ferris, daughter
Former state Rep. Nancy Hanks McDonald
Oct. 21, 1934 – May 14, 2007
“Nancy was a resident nurse at Hotel Dieu Hospital and later Sierra Medical Center and became active in the Texas Nurses Association (TNA.) She formed a political action committee for TNA and ultimately was elected president of their governmental affairs committee working on state and federal issues. She was also active in the women’s movement; she was a member of the National Organization of Women and participated in the historic 1980 march in Washington to demonstrate support for the Equal Rights Amendment. She was first elected to the Texas Legislature in 1984 and represented El Paso until 1994. As a nurse and mother of ten, she was a champion for Texas and borderland health care legislation. Nancy was an early and vocal advocate for the Texas Tech medical school coming to El Paso. In the Texas House, she sponsored childhood immunization legislation in 1991. She worked to promote legislation that would consider AIDS and HIV a public health issue instead of a social issue. State Rep. Pat Haggerty, R-El Paso, said McDonald made sure the El Paso Psychiatric Center was funded so that El Paso residents wouldn’t have to travel hundreds of miles for psychiatric care.” — Mark McDonald, son
Feature photo: El Paso Water’s Wastewater Treatment Manager Aide Fuentes, part of the utility’s all female engineering management team. (Courtesy El Paso Water)