For Irma Villarreal, the reason she has stayed with the same organization for 43 years is simple.
“I love the people here,” she said. “Everyone is just phenomenal, as far as I’m concerned.”
Villarreal, whose current title is Director of BioBridge Global Quality & Compliance, started with the South Texas Regional Blood Bank in March 1979.
The native of Roma, Texas, quickly became the laboratory director, and then became in charge of the apheresis unit. Her job titles evolved through the years, and since the organization was still fairly small, she wound up doing several jobs at once as the center moved from San Pedro Avenue to the intersection of Broadway and McCullough Avenue downtown and then to its current location.
“Aside for doing stuff in the labs, we used to do stuff for recruiting the donors,” she said. Her favorite group to recruit: the military police unit at Lackland Air Force Base.
“They were just part of the family. They never said no, which was great.”
Even when the center changed its name and moved to 6211 Interstate 10 in 1994, the staff still numbered just 175.
“The people we work with here, they’re my family – to a point where I remember when my son called the operator and he asked to speak with his mom,” she said. “There are so many moms in the organization, but the operator got him through to me.”
A key moment in the organization’s growth came in the late 1990s, when there was talk of synthetic blood being used to replace donations.
“We decided there needed to be some type of diversification,” she said. “We couldn’t rely solely on blood because it’s going to go away, so we decided to go into testing.”
What eventually became QualTex Laboratories started with a series of manual, laborious tests that now are well on becoming automated.
“As far as any substitute for blood, it’s still not there yet,” she said. “Maybe at some point it will. It’s hard to say. I know I probably won’t see it.”
The opportunity to do a variety of jobs has kept Villarreal engaged through the last four decades, and the people here have made it special.
“Everybody is just so great,” she said. “Their hearts are in the right spot.”