Executive Assistant, University Advancement
Hometown: Montebello, Calif.
Fun Fact: Enjoys visiting Cancun, where she once helped release 200 baby sea turtles
If you were one of the lucky 635 UAA employees who enjoyed an organic gardening workshop, or perhaps learned about Anchorage parks and trails right before winning a gift certificate to your favorite restaurant at Development Day 2012, you have Betty Hernandez, Development Day co-chair along with Steve Hinds, and their team of volunteers to thank. But be warned: if you try to thank her in person, Betty might turn about five shades of red. She prefers to stay behind the scenes taking charge of the website, event registration, printed materials and overseeing the great volunteers who put together the well-attended event and kept those hundreds of attendees riveted in their seats through closing ceremonies hoping for one of the many great door prizes. This was her fourth year as co-chair. “I can’t seem to bow out,” she laughs. While she hates being ushered on stage in front of the crowd, she loves knowing that everyone has the chance to get out from behind their desks and enjoy something new. “I just want to hear that everyone was taken care of,” she says, putting into words the credo of dedicated administrative staff everywhere.
It might also work as a credo for moms. When Betty isn’t busy working in UAA’s Advancement Office, helping to plan Development Day and the annual Green & Gold Gala, serving on APT Council or supporting the honorary degree committee, the meritorious service committee or, most recently, the provost search committee, she’s busy being mom to 11-year-old Alysa, 16-year-old Alec and 20-year-old Brie (who also happens to be a UAA student). She’s also just completed her first class at UAA, with plans to continue taking more classes in the fall. Brie is proud to be at the same school as Betty and as a testament to their strong mother-daughter bond, they’ve even talked about taking a class or two together.
While her daughter is pursuing Early Childhood Education and planning to graduate in 2014, Betty is faced with the dilemma of many a non-traditional freshman. How does she wrap in all she’s learned through work and life and also pursue something that she’s passionate about? She is considering business and marketing as a possible major where she could wrap in her love for fashion. As a young girl, she says, “When I opened my first fashion magazine, it was like ‘ahhhhhhhhh.’” Heavenly music played. Flashbulbs went off. There may have been fairy dust. Soon her walls were plastered with cutouts—a dress here, a shirt there, great pairs of shoes everywhere. Her mother, a first generation American citizen from Mexico, worked as a seamstress for pattern makers in Los Angeles and Betty remembers her coming home with bags and bags of work. It was the back-breaking, unglamorous side of fashion. “She worked hard so my brothers and I could go to private school,” Betty says. “Not that we wanted to be there with the strict priests and nuns…but she and my father had come to this country so we could have the best.” But when Betty expressed her interest in pursuing fashion as a teenager her mother, afraid to see her only daughter move into what she saw as a hard life, told her to pick something else. Her organizational skills and a work ethic learned from her parents propelled her to success working in increasingly responsible areas of administration. But she’s never forgotten her first loves. And she does field equal parts teasing and compliments from office mates on her extensive shoe collection.
In addition to fashion, Betty also recalls how a visit to ancient pyramids in Mexico with her family when she was 11 years old sparked an enduring interest in archaeology. “I was just fascinated,” she says. The heat was sweltering and her brothers wanted to get back in the car and out of there as soon as possible, but she was enthralled imagining the history and the culture of the civilization that built the pyramids. To explore that interest, she may consider taking some anthropology and geology classes in the coming semesters.
Betty, a California girl, born and raised in Montebello, a city in Los Angeles County, first visited Alaska 18 years ago at the invitation of her now-husband, Jorge, a second generation furrier here in Anchorage who, with his sister, owns the Fur Factory downtown—the shop with the bronzed and rippling Atlas standing atop the roof holding up the world. (You may also recognize their store by the hardy Alaska mannequin out front in the fur bikini, which naturally begs the question: does Betty have one of those 4-season “swimsuits”? “No way!” she says.) Jorge’s father came to Alaska from Monterrey, Mexico, on a hunting expedition with family. They loved it so much they moved up and settled in Anchorage in 1965.
Jorge and Betty met in L.A. while he was visiting his aunt on a trip prompted by family members who, Betty says, sent him down to be married off. They were introduced by his aunt and managed one date, but schedule conflicts prevented a second date before he had to head back to Alaska. But, as in all good love stories, fate stepped in and they were able to get together. Now, 18 years later, they are still living out their happily-ever-after with the three kids and, although she misses her California family and the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, she is happy to raise her family in the clean, sometimes frosty northern air of Alaska.
UAA was lucky enough to steal Betty away from the Anchorage School District about four years ago where she worked for the chief information officer. So she’s been supporting education in Alaska for well over a decade. Now she’s looking forward to seeing her oldest graduate from UAA and might decide to follow her across the stage to accept her own diploma down the road. She’ll be the one with the really great shoes showing beneath her robe.