Graciela Gutierrez is someone to look up to, to be extremely proud of and to learn from. Growing up in Biggs, Graciela attended grammar school there and went back to school at Chico State after raising three of her four children. She was working full time while going to college, so being able to accomplish many things at once probably prepared her for her work at Butte County as the Assistant Auditor-Controller the past six years.
Her co-workers say there has been a vast improvement since Graciela went to work there and that her smile every morning makes it easy to come to work.
She is a member of American Association of University Women (AAUW) with her daughter Sonia Zarate and gives this group the credit for her initiative to continue her education.
She and her husband Andrew have been together 31 years, married 29 years and have persevered to provide for their four children, often holding down more than one job at a time.
The couple's four children are now adults with son Andrew a teacher in Williams who has his Bachelors in Liberal Studies; daughter Sonia Zarate is the Butte County Ag Biologist, receiving her Bachelors in Marine Biology, her Masters in Public Administration and serves on the Gridley Unified School Board; daughter Sylvia worked as an Eligibility Specialist for Butte County before taking time off for maternity leave. Sylvia has just one year of law school to finish. Her Bachelors is in Criminal Justice. Daughter Andrea has her Bachelors in Business Administration and is studying for her CPA license.
What Graciela has achieved after a rather rough start, is beyond amazing. Meeting Andrew through friends, the couple married when she was just 15 years of age and he was 18. She took computerized accounting through a certificated program at Biggs High as an expectant Mother.
She attended classes with her peers that she otherwise would have graduated with if she hadn't skipped eighth grade. Not graduating from the eighth grade meant not receiving a diploma until she completed the ninth grade in an Independent Home School program as an expectant Mother.
She credits Teacher Jane Staus for taking an interest and helping her to finish ninth grade by helping her to prepare for the exit exam which she was terrified about because it took hours to complete.
Knowing she needed a career, Graciela was in the Regional Occupational Program (ROP) with her friends who were in their cheerleading outfits while she was in maternity clothes.
By this time, Graciela was expecting her second child and went to work for Jeanne Hart at Butte View Bookkeeping for nearly two years. She then went to work for Casa Lupe as a bookkeeper and a bookkeeper at a Yuba City Body Shop after that.
Graciela has been in accounting since she was 16 but she knew that being a bookkeeper was not enough with four children to feed. She and Andrew always worked multiple jobs while she was attending school. She worked for the LLAVES Program, recruiting teachers, with three year grant program funding, as a secondary school advisor and teachers aide in Biggs and Gridley while working other jobs.
Graciela even sold cars at Don McCullough Dodge when she and her family lived in Yuba City. She sold ads in the Yellow Pages and worked for Yuba Sutter Development in the bilingual section. She sold commercials for a radio station as she tried to teach her children to learn you have to be productive. Andrew worked the graveyard shift in Woodland so that he could watch the kids during the day, saving daycare costs, while Graciella worked and went to school.
Andrew now works for Mathews Ready Mix delivering concrete, mostly to the Oroville Dam since February.
The family moved back to Biggs and Graciela worked for Century 21 Stanford Mortgage and then ReMax Gold. She was an accountant at Signature Fruit until they went into bankruptcy and she went to work for Rio Pluma in accounting. She was promoted to Accounting Manager and held this position 10 years. As she was groomed to be the Chief Financial Officer/Controller the opportunity to work for Butte County fell into her lap as she helped her daughter Sylvia look at the County's website for a possible job in probation for her. Graciela saw the job in the Butte County Auditor/Controller's Office and knew it was for her.
Being a Grandmother to four children, ages eight, three, two and eight months means a lot to Graciela who cherishes family time.
What the future holds for Graciela seems to be pretty much mapped out as her boss David Houser will endorse her for his job when he retires whenever that may be. He has been her mentor over the years, teaching her all about government along the way.
Holding an Associates Degree in Accounting, and her Masters in Public Administration she plans to go for her Phd next and there is no doubt she will make this dream come true.
She tried to go back to school after third child Andrea was born but found it too hard and had to withdraw from Butte College as she majored in Liberal Studies.
Knowing that education is king, Graciella knew that with her degrees she would no longer find it necessary to work more than one job.
She felt she couldn't realistically go back to school as a teen parent but it was a tour of Mills College with Sonia after she received an AAUW scholarship that gave her the inspiration after walking the campus.
"I knew it could be possible, maybe not out of my grasp," she explained.
She signed up with the University of Phoenix for online classes but that proved to be too expensive for the young family.
When son Andrew was ready to graduate from high school he told his parents he didn't need to go to college because both his parents had done fine. This inspired Graciela to be the example for their children and she attended Butte College two years while working at Rio Pluma and had her real estate license working for Remax Gold.
"Rio Pluma was great. They allowed me to work around my schedule at Butte. I went in at 5 a.m., worked til 8 a.m., went to school, came back and finished the day and did her homework after that while taking care of her family with her husband.
It was Butte College where Graciela finally was able to wear a cap and gown and walk a graduation stage for the ceremony in 2005 for her Associates Degree.
"What a feeling. My family was so proud," Graciela explained. She had not graduated eighth grade or high school at this point.
In 2007 Graciela received her long awaited Bachelors Degree at Chico State.
As she recounted her amazing life, Graciela thought back to the people she had disappointed as a young girl in grammar school. Not only was she an athlete before her life was turned upside down getting married at such an early age but she was on Bill Bynum's chess team when they traveled to San Francisco to compete with classmates.
"I let him down when I had to tell him why I couldn't go with the team. I was expecting a baby," she recalled. Now, years later, Mr. Bynum comes to see her at work periodically and is able to witness her success and her drive for more education over the years to better herself.
"I love what I do, I love accounting and numbers," she said.
Graciela knows that the program in Biggs lead her down a path to a real job.
"God laid that out for me," she said.
Andrew and Graciela have lived in Gridley the past 15 years and their oldest is 30 years old.
"I never gave up. I never fell down. It is a difficult situation when you are pregnant with your second child," she said.
Graciela is the perfect example of if you want something bad enough, it can be accomplished no matter how tough it may seem.