When Gloria River was a 10-year-old girl growing up in the Mexican border city of Mexicali, her mother told her they would be moving across the border to the Imperial Valley where her father worked on a ranch.
Rivera cried at the news. She didn’t want to leave her friends to start a new life in the United States, but what that child didn’t know was the positive path her life would take, and the sense of fulfillment it would bring her.
Eventually, at the age of 19, Rivera would join the Imperial Irrigation District and embark on a 47-year career with IID that saw her serve as the executive assistant to the general manager and secretary to the IID Board of Directors.
She retired in 2019, but this November she returned to be inducted into IID’s Gallery of Distinguished Employees, and to have her portrait placed among other employees who have received that same distinction throughout IID’s long history.
It was a moment that made Rivera remember that young girl who was so fearful of moving from her home in Mexicali.
“I think back at that 10-year-old girl, and I never would have thought how blessed my life would be,” said Rivera shortly after receiving her honor.
The event to induct her into the Gallery of Distinguished Employees was held on Nov. 21 during an IID Board of Directors meeting. Directors past and present came together to honor her as did former IID general manager, Jesse Silva, and members of her family, including her husband, Fred Rivera, and her 91-year-old father, Joaquin Aguilar.
Those who spoke during the event credited Rivera for her historical knowledge, her strength as a record keeper, and her uncanny ability to find any document necessary related to the critical issues the district has faced.
Former IID Director Andy Horne said, “She was a first-rate record keeper and a first-rate gate keeper. She was diplomatic and always helpful.”
Another former IID director, John Pierre Menvielle, added, “Everyone depended on her.”
Board President Alex Cardenas said of Rivera, “We are pleased to make this very special induction of Mrs. Rivera into IID’s honored group of distinguished employees. Her selection is very well deserved as she has left a legacy that continues to serve the district well to this day.”
Rivera, never one to seek accolades, said it meant a great deal that IID would name her to the gallery, and it represents a meaningful bookend to a career that saw her serve with nine general managers and over 30 IID directors.
Her path to IID began with her family’s move to the Imperial Valley. Her father had already worked in the Valley, first under the federal Bracero program, created through a bi-national agreement between 1942 and 1964 that allowed workers from Mexico to legally work in the United States. He then continued to work in the Valley as an employee of the Huston Ranch but traveled back and forth across the border each day to work.
Rivera said that at one point, James Huston, the head of the ranch, suggested that her father permanently move the family across the border rather than have Joaquin travel back and forth to work.
At the time of the move, Rivera, one of six siblings in her family, did not speak English, so as she entered school in the Imperial Valley, she began the tough process of learning the language.
“Learning English was tough, especially because we didn’t have a television to help us, but somehow we learned,” Rivera said.
She did learn English and went on to graduate from Imperial High School, where she had already worked in the counseling office prior to her graduation. After graduation, she began working full time for the school. However, when a position at IID opened, one of her teachers recommended she apply for it, suggesting she would have more opportunities if she made the move.
Reluctantly, Rivera said, she applied and while the position was for the Finance Department, she was hired to serve in the General Manager’s Office.
As she began her new position, her priority was becoming familiar with and organizing all the files in the general manager’s office. That meant cleaning up and organizing file cabinets; next came the organization of what she fondly refers to as the vault at IID, which, at the time, housed historical files, like meeting minutes.
“I became very protective of those files and all the old documents and board minutes from the past,” she said. “This is history, and someone took the time to prepare it. It was my job to protect those files.”
She added, “I took pride in being able to find documents that were needed, and I loved the research, especially if it helped IID.”
That she was honored for her hard work is not just a credit to herself, Rivera said, but to her parents who instilled in her a strong work ethic.
“My mother’s dream for us was that we be good workers and good members of the community,” Rivera said of her late mother, Elena Aguilar. “She always said whatever you do, be the best you can at it. My parents were such hard workers.”
As Rivera looks back at her time at IID, the one issue the district has faced that stands out the most to her is the development of the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA), the series of agreements adopted in 2003 meant to reduce California’s use of the Colorado River. The QSA is largely built on a conserved water transfer agreement between IID and the San Diego County Water Authority—the nation’s largest agriculture-to-urban transfer.
“The QSA involved a lot of meetings,” she said. “I remember all of them. There were two to three meetings a week, and we worked well into the nights a lot of the time preparing the documents. There were so many minutes to keep, and I was responsible for them. And there were so many files. There was a lot of history involved that we needed to maintain.”
Something else she remembers well goes a bit further back in time—when the district added computers in place of electric typewriters. That occurred around 1984 when Charles Shreves began his 10-year tenure as district general manager.
“That made preparing letters so much easier,” Rivera said.
Today, Rivera, who is both a mother and a grandmother, lives in Pine Valley between the Imperial Valley and San Diego, with her husband.
Though retired, she remains very busy through her volunteer work with the Elk’s Club; the Patriot Guard, which honors veterans by attending their funerals; the auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars; and Feeding San Diego, a hunger relief program in San Diego County.
Of her time with IID, she said, “it doesn’t seem like 47 years because I enjoyed my work so much.” She added that if she could talk to that frightened 10-year-old girl, she would tell her not to worry because her life was going to be wonderful.