Maria Elena Ramirez was, in her own words, “a welfare mom” who lived in public housing and received food stamps and a variety of other government benefits.
Until one day when she decided it was time to go in a different direction. She applied for a job with the state of Colorado, and interviewed with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office on July 14, 1999.
That was the same day Secretary of State Vikki Buckley, another welfare mom who worked herself out of poverty, died of a heart attack.
Ramirez began working for the Secretary of State on Aug. 2, 1999.
“I learned I could support me and my kids,” Ramirez said. “I became independent.”
Countless calls — and six secretaries of state later — she is calling it quits. Today is her last day. Ramirez has four children, ages 31 to 24, and five grandchildren, but she’s not stepping down to spend more time with them, at least not right away.
“I turned 50 last year,” she said. “It’s time to do something for me. So I’m heading to the East Coast.”
Ramirez would work in the business division for Buckley’s successor, Donetta Davidson, then a series of other secretaries of state: Gigi Dennis, Mike Coffman, Bernie Buescher, Scott Gessler and lastly, Wayne Williams, who was elected in 2014.
“I’ll see Bernie on the (16th Street) Mall and he’ll give me a hug,” she said. “He’s a huggy type of guy, like me.”
Buescher shares her fond feelings.
“The thing that strikes me is her relentlessly cheerful attitude, which is so important in customer service,” he said. “The outward facing activities of the Department of State are so important and Maria Elena represented the department with a smile and with tact. I’m sorry she is retiring.”
Kris Reynolds, who works in campaign finance, started the same year as Ramirez.
“We were the first faces customers for biz, licensing, elections, bingo/raffle, etc. would see and we met many unique individuals,” Reynolds recalled. ” End of year for biz had lines out the doors – thank goodness for electronically filing now. Nobody used to be able to take a vacation in December.”
Ramirez, who ended her career in the call center, has answered all kinds of calls, from people needing information on elections and business licensing and questions about parts of government the Colorado secretary of state doesn’t handle, such as motor vehicle registration.
Favorite calls? Finding out the people on the other end of the line hail from Sterling, where she was born, or other parts of northeastern Colorado. “Sometimes they knew my dad,” she said.
Least favorite calls? People who swear. “I don’t like getting cussed at. It’s unprofessional.”
Asked if she was going to miss her co-workers, Ramirez started crying. “A lot,” she said.