Delma Jimenez Abalos and her nine brothers and sisters were raised knowing education was a must, and she is bringing that approach to her second stint on the ECISD Board of Trustees.
It was a tough undertaking for the 64-year-old Odessa native to go back to college in middle age, get bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UTPB and become a history instructor 15 years ago at Odessa College; so it is with utter sincerity that she tells young people getting an education is worth the effort, no matter how hard it may be.
Abalos’ late father Rafael, an oilfield construction worker, and late mom Viola had only gone to elementary school and the eighth grade, respectively, and were unyielding on the subject. “There was no choice about going to school,” she said.
“We were not quitting, and we were graduating. If we got punished at school, it would be a lot worse at home. I definitely think more parents should take that attitude. So many kids are not coming from that kind of an environment.”
Nine of the Jimenez kids graduated from high school, and the one who didn’t earned a GED. After graduating from Ector High School in 1971, Abalos attended Odessa College and married her husband Richard, an attorney with whom she has three children and two grandchildren.
She was a secretary at Magnetic Media from 1974-76 and Ector County personnel director from 1982-88.
Abalos credits Richard for his encouragement and financial backing and her mother and sisters for helping with her children when she enrolled at UTPB in the mid-1990s, earning a bachelor’s degree in history and government and a master’s in American history, for which her thesis was on “Mexican-American Military Veterans.”
“What I thought was so impressive was that so many young men enlisted,” Abalos said. “They didn’t want to be drafted to go serve our country. They were very heroic. I’m proud to be an American, but I’m proud of my Mexican-American roots.”
She was an Odessa school board member from 1988-2004, and she defeated incumbent Teri Ervin for a four-year term last May.
Asked if she experienced discrimination like that reported by Vickie Gomez, who was on the board from 1976-88, in a November 2016 interview, Abalos said, “No, because Vickie paved the way for me.
“She had fought those big fights like our school desegregation fight.”
Abalos recently weathered two family crises when her sister Diana Campos died Dec. 4 and brother Ruben Dec. 31. “It was a very tough month,” she said.
Her big educational goal is to help ECISD and its “improvement required” schools get on track and out of Dutch with the state. “Friends encouraged me to run because of the situation we find ourselves in,” Abalos said, adding that the school board, administration and teachers “are working on it and doing a good job.”
She said the numerous volunteers from the community who have pitched in at the schools are making an impact.
Abalos said teachers are sometimes told by teenage boys, “I can make more money than you do working in the oilfield.”
“But I always say, ‘Education is something you will have forever,’” she said. “‘Nobody can take it away from you, and besides that, you should be a lifelong learner.’
“Kids today are living in a much more difficult environment than we had when I grew up. We had family all around us, so we didn’t dare mess up. When I was in elementary school, I knew one person whose parents had divorced, and there were only a few in junior high. Divorce causes a lot of problems. I was able to do a lot because I always had family around to help me.”
For 34 years, Abalos has belonged to a group called “The Group” that meets for lunch each fourth Monday at various restaurants. The late Lee Buice was one of the original dozen women who have slowly dwindled to five, also including Peggy Dean, Grace King, Lorraine Perryman and Betsy Triplett-Hurt, who says Abalos “doesn’t judge people by what’s on the outside but by what’s on the inside, in the heart.
“Delma is passionate, intelligent and fun,” said Triplett-Hurt, who chairs the Odessa Development Corp. “She laughs at herself and pokes fun at others as well. She has a heart for so many people and all kinds of people. That’s one of the reasons why education is so important to her, although she doesn’t believe everyone has to have a college degree.
“Delma is selfless. In all these years, when her sister and brother died was the first time I saw her cry. Yet she made sure the rest of her family was taken care of. Instead of sitting around talking about something and bad-mouthing it, she gets in there and gets to work. She is humble and yet very self-assured. She is an achiever.”
Perryman, a former Odessa mayor who has known Abalos for almost 40 years, said they met at a political function and have been friends ever since. “What I loved most about Delma from the moment I met her and continue to love today is that she knows who she is and stridently stands up for what she believes in,” Perryman said.
“She’s a watchdog for what some might consider the underdogs, but she doesn’t feel like that about anyone. She sees everyone through the same eyes. She’s a strong advocate for people from all walks of life to see that they are respected and treated equally.
“Delma is integrally involved in Odessa and is a powerhouse of enthusiasm,” said Perryman, who volunteers at Ector Middle School with Jo Ann Davenport Littleton and Chris Cole to mentor students and sponsor awards and gifts for attendance, good behavior and scholarship.
“She is one of our community’s greatest assets and is the best friend a person could ever have.”