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Ana Riojas Endowed Memorial Scholarship Gift Statement
The Ana Riojas Endowed Memorial Scholarship was established in memory of Ana Riojas, '77 by her son, Carlos Riojas, the staff and friends of Able Employment and the Riojas family. For years to come, the endowed scholarship will provide Park University students with the educational opportunities that meant so much to Ana.
Ana Riojas, who grew up in the Armourdale neighborhood in Kansas City, Kansas, believed in hard work and people's abilities. She was the second youngest of the seven children born to Fructoso and Cristina Riojas. Her father was a former Mexican Army officer and an immigrant from Mexico who worked for the Santa Fe Railroad, and her mother was a seamstress who went to work for and eventually became a supervisor at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, a position unheard of at the time for a Hispanic woman. "Firsts" were not something that Ana ever feared. She would eventually experience many "firsts" in her lifetime. Ana thought some much of her parents that she had this inscribed on their 6 foot tall tombstone "Dad had the vision, Mom had the guts".
Ana did not begin her secondary education until the age of 34, married with two children, and living in St. Louis. When her marriage ended in divorce, she moved back to Kansas City, Kansas in 1971 with her two children, Maria, 6, and Carlos, 8.
She had to postpone her education and began working for Senator Robert Dole. She went on to become the executive director for the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare's four-state Indo-Chinese Refugee Resettlement Program. Four years after moving to Kansas City, she returned to school at Park College, taking a full 18-hour schedule while working her full-time job, and raising her family as a single mother. Her children recall Ana waking up just in time for class after she had collapsed in exhaustion after a full-day's work. She had her father's work ethic and wanted to make a difference. Ana pressed on and never gave up.
Ana graduated magna cum laude from Park in 1977 with a degree in Public Administration. Her son, Carlos, recalls,
"I remember when my mom graduated from Park College back in 1977. I was fifteen years old. She was very excited but very physically and mentally exhausted so exhausted that she couldn't drive to the graduation ceremony and I had to drive her. It wasn't until later in life, when I began to mature, that I realized what Mom had put herself through. Looking back on what she did is amazing by any standards."
She was elected Commissioner to the Board of Public Utilities in 1980 and served in this capacity until 1989. Ana was the first Hispanic woman elected to office by the people of Kansas City, Kansas. In the mid-eighties, she was intrigued by the private sector and went to work for E.F. Hutton as a stockbroker, quickly earning national honors for her production numbers. She decided to learn more about bond deals and went to work for George K. Baum, where something happened that she was not prepared for. She was terminated. Regardless of the circumstances, in her eyes, that was failure. Her distress and severe depression, from what she interpreted as failure, was the catalyst for her motivation and action. To deal with this change in her life, she threw herself and her passion into research on how to start and operate a business. Able Employment was created in 1988 with the mission of "Putting People to Work." She started a temporary employment company that quickly earned a reputation in Kansas City, and throughout the country, as a business that was a source for well-trained, hard-working employees that were dependable.
Her company, which began with four employees, began to take off in the early nineties. Working closely with the Small Business Administration and becoming certified as a minority, woman-owned business, Able Employment began earning large contracts with major employers and government agencies. Ana's wisdom and leadership created a direction for the company that was helping people find dignity and opportunities through employment. Ana was recognized with many honors and awards for her contributions to the business community.
Ana was active in the community, on a local and national level. Through her participation on the Board of Public Utilities and the Board of Directors of the American Public Power Association's Board of Directors she was able to help design public policy for public utilities in the United States and Canada. She served on the U.S. commission on Civil Rights, helping and leading communities in the implementation of viable and fair affirmative action policies. She was sympathetic to human needs. When Hurricane Andrew devastated the South, Ana mobilized an effort that collected and sent 2,400 gallons of water for victims in Florida and Louisiana. She quickly became a sought after motivational speaker by universities, middle and high schools, non-profits, government, and churches. But she never forgot who she was, where she came from or her incredible faith in God. She was an extremely hard worker who rarely took vacation. One of the only vacations that Ana Riojas ever took was to Cozumel, Mexico in March of 1997. Tragically, Ana died from injuries sustained from a moped accident while on that vacation.
Since Ana's death, her legacy, and mission, has been carried on by her son, Carlos, now president and CEO of Able Employment. Able employment is now a multi-million dollar company and one of the country's most successful Hispanic businesses that has helped thousands of people find jobs. Ana's smile, enthusiasm and passion for her company are still evident as the hallways and offices at Able Employment are filled with numerous photographs and award certificates. Ana was, and is, an inspiration to people young and old who believe in honor, a dedication to hard work and strive to find ways to overcome the most difficult of challenges.