For Maria Ventura, graduation season at UCLA is always special. The UCLA Guest House housekeeper recalls an out-of-state student’s mother frantically approaching her right before her daughter’s ceremony. She had torn her dress while zipping it up, was pressed for time and didn’t know what to do. Maria stepped in to help by sewing it back together.
Another year, a couple gave Maria and her husband tickets to attend their child’s graduation. The parents had been coming to the UCLA Guest House for years to visit their student, and Maria had become like family to them.
And in 2022, Maria and her husband attended another graduation ceremony – this time for their own sons.
“I always encouraged my boys to dream big,” she said, adding that she often brought them to campus to attend movies at the nearby James Bridges Theater and to participate in other events. “I would see students walking on campus, and I always wanted that for them. I prayed I would have the opportunity to see them graduate.”
Maria’s own graduation ambitions were dashed in 1985 when the civil war in her home country forced her to leave nursing school. “It was such a sad time for me,” she said, speaking about leaving her friends and family behind in El Salvador. She starting working as a babysitter and hotel housekeeper soon after moving to Southern California, and later joined the team at the Guest House after responding to a job ad in a newspaper.
This year marks her 30th year at the 61-guest room boutique hotel, located in the northeast section of campus. Hers is the longest career of anyone at the Guest House and one of the longest in anyone working in any of the business units that comprise UCLA Hospitality, which also includes the Luskin Hotel and Conference Center, the Lake Arrowhead Lodge and UCLA Conferences and Catering.
“Maria is a real rarity,” said Richard McPhee, general manager of the Guest House. “She is our go-to person. She definitely knows a lot about this place and has seen a lot of changes.”
Working with her managers and co-workers, and taking care of guests, many of whom have been coming for decades, brings her joy and makes coming to work each day a pleasure.
“The guests tell me this place feels like home because they know us and they aren’t worried to ask for extra things. It’s quiet and not too big. They can rest knowing we will take care of them.”