The first thing you notice about Letty Ibarra is the influence her parents had on her work ethic and love of the Church. “I am so proud,” explained Letty, whose father came to this country from Mexico during World War II as part of the Bracero* worker program. Her father, Juan Lopez, worked on the Santa Fe Railroad, making sure the trains were ready for soldiers and passengers. “My father taught me the importance of a strong work ethic,” said Letty. “My mother, Margarita, was also active. She was always working either at home with her six children, at Church with the Guadalupanas, or to make sure our priests and nuns were always welcome for dinner at our home. Together, my parents taught me that faith and hard work go hand in hand.”
Once the war was over, a grateful country offered the Lopez family residency and they settled in East Los Angeles. Growing up in Los Angeles, Letty attended Our Lady of Telpa parochial school and later Sacred Heart of Mary in Montebello. “Since Sacred Heart of Mary was an all-girls school, we didn’t feel embarrassed to speak out. It was an empowering experience.” And that experience was life changing, preparing Letty for the successful businesswoman she would become and making her a firm believer in Catholic education.
While raising a family of three and volunteering at their Catholic schools -St. Mary’s, Holy Family, Ramona Convent and St. Francis – Letty ran her husband Arturo’s two dental offices, Dental Jalisco, Inc., ultimately acting as director and advisor. For 30 years the offices have served East Los Angeles patients, helping to keep dental costs affordable for the community.
In 2000, Letty became the first and only female Carl’s Jr. franchise owner and operator in Mexico. Since 2000, she has served as COO of three Carl’s Jr. restaurants, overseeing more than 60 employees. Meanwhile, Letty runs a home-based business stateside, leasing her home to the film industry, ad community and national magazines.
For many, that would be a very full life but that’s not the example that Letty’s family gave her. Not only is it important to work hard, it’s important to have the Church be a central part of your life, its fulcrum. “Faith helps me work. It’s really the only thing I truly could rely on when I was in Mexico. I would visit the Cathedral every day in Puerto Vallarta and ask my employees to come with me. It was such an important part of my life that I flew my parish priest from Los Angeles to bless my restaurants.”
As Latinos, Letty and her husband Arturo have devoted much of their energy to the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders (CALL), which is dedicated “to serve, evangelize and give.” Founded by Archbishop José H. Gomez, the Ibarras started the Los Angeles CALL chapter and are both on the Board. “Our mission is to be at the service of our bishop. CALL’s first project was with the Juan Diego House for Priestly Vocations where young men are discerning whether to take vows,” said Letty. “In addition to supplying iPads to the seminarians and building them a workout facility, we have a program underway to have a local family “adopt” each one so they are not alone on holy days and holidays. CALL also helps defray the costs of the seminarian’s educational loans when they decide to pursue the priesthood and enter the seminary. Another very important project was raising $100,000 for Catholic education.”
Moved by learning about at-risk teens, Letty and Arturo jumped in and added an international component to their philanthropic efforts by founding Los Niños (The Children), raising funds for the construction and management of a rehabilitation home for teenagers in Mexico, Serbia and Montenegro. They also are members of Legatus, where business leaders share one overriding goal: to become better Catholics and, in turn, positively impact their business and personal lives. Very involved with the Cathedral, Letty is on the board of the Queen of the Angels Foundation, a Marian Catholic devotional society. Through the group’s efforts, there was a Los Angeles downtown procession last year honoring the Blessed Mother, the first such procession in 180 years.
The three Ibarra children, who are now in their late twenties and early thirties, are also giving back. Diana, Jackie and Alex are all involved with CALL in different roles, both volunteer and fulltime. What’s been so rewarding for Letty is that the work for the Church has united her family. “Once you involve your children, it ties you inextricably together. It has further united us as a family and helped deepen our faith.”
To be nominated for the Cardinal’s Award is humbling for Letty but her take-away is what’s most inspiring. “I am so humbled, not knowing why I deserve it. By receiving this award, I feel I’m committing myself to our Lord. It makes me catch myself at times—I can’t do this because of the award. I need to be true, honest and make the right decision, committing myself for the rest of my life to be a good Catholic.”
*A treaty was signed in 1942 between the US and Mexico to alleviate the shortage of labor in the United States during World War II. The Braceros, defined loosely as “one who works with his arms,” were brought in to meet manpower needs in both agriculture and railway maintenance. (Adapted from Braceroarchive.org.)