Making a difference one life at at time

Learning Spanish doubled DeAnn Gonzalez's opportunities to help in her community

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DeAnn Gonzalez serves people -- whether it's food and drinks or license plates.

The longtime clerk at the Moffat County's Clerk and Recorder's Office makes her work look easy during a pre-election hustle that recently has brought thousands of voters through the office.

"Are you trying to find out where to vote?" Gonzalez asks, seeking out a timid woman at the counter. "OK, sweetheart. Come on back here, hon," Gonzalez said directing the woman back to the voting booth.

But the help that Gonzalez offers customers in the courthouse's motor vehicle division often is above the call of duty. Because she felt hindered by not being able to communicate with people who spoke only Spanish, Gonzalez picked up the language and helps bridge a language gap at the courthouse. She is the only employee who can speak Spanish.

Sometimes, she says, Spanish-speaking customers will wait to speak with her though other clerks are available.

"I just think it makes them feel more comfortable," she said. "I've watched people just wait in their cars until they see I'm at work."

Gonzalez was born in Denver but her family moved to Steamboat Springs and later to Milner by the time she was ready to start fourth grade. She graduated from high school in Hayden and went on to attend Colorado Northwestern Community College, earning a degree in secretarial science.

Though her mother was part Mexican and her father part Spanish from Spain, Gonzalez learned little Spanish growing up. Differences in the two types of Spanish confused her, she said.

After graduating college and selling insurance for a few years, Gonzalez landed a job in the human resources department at Twentymile Coal Company. It was during the 60-mile round trip commutes from Craig that she began learning how to speak Spanish by listening to instructional audio tapes. Gonzalez had plenty of time to absorb the language after logging in more than eight years with the company.

Today, Gonzalez said she speaks more fluently than her father, a point which "sometimes makes him mad," she said, laughing.

Gonzalez has a 15-year-old daughter, Dierra, whom she calls "her only family."

"We're buddies," she said. "She's precious, very precious to me."

Finding time to spend with her daughter can be tough because Gonzalez works another full-time job at Galaxy restaurant.

But she says the long hours help Gonzalez to relish life more fully.

"Ultimately, time is all we have," she said. "I've just decided not to waste it, but savor the time off."

Although Gonzalez holds down a work schedule that many may not envy, the work agrees with her.

By learning to speak Spanish, Gonzalez thinks she's helped people feel more welcome at the courthouse.

"I'm so, so glad that I learned to speak Spanish," she said. "It's greatly broadened my world. When you can't speak to people it throws up all these barriers. If there was anything I could change it would be to be more understanding and try to put yourself in their shoes."

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