CURRENT March/April 2018

Rita Santamaria rushes into the Galleria-area Champions School of Real Estate office on a busy Wednesday morning. Polished and poised, the petite president chides the rush-hour traffic while warmly exchanging hugs with everyone she encounters. Employees, guests and students alike seem to wait in line to greet the diminutive founder.

Santamaria’s gold charm bracelet jingles musically as she waves and says hello to her associates. The charm bracelet, according to Santamaria, was a gift to herself and a reminder of the many life achievements she has tackled. Each golden trinket is a dedication to a personal win or a professional accomplishment.

“I believe you should gift yourself upon reaching your goals,” she said. “I encourage my employees and students to do just that. Whether it’s a spa treatment, a piece of jewelry or even a car, I believe in celebrating hard work and commitment. These charms are my trophies.”

Santamaria has a history of driven performance. Raised in southern Florida, she attended Florida State University, where she obtained a bachelor of science degree in education. After moving to Plano and teaching for a couple of years, she found herself seeking a new career path.

“My father, a vegetable farmer, suggested I try real estate,” she recalled. “I gave myself one year. If I could make the same income as I did as a school teacher, I would make the switch. Well, not only did I make it, but I beat it. That’s when I presented myself with the bracelet and first charm as ‘Rookie of the Year’ at my brokerage.”

Santamaria moved here to Houston in 1981 and received her broker’s license. Shortly after, a unique opportunity presented itself. Representatives from Houston Community  College, upon learning of her real estate knowledge and background in education, contacted her about teaching a real estate class.

“I was in my late 20s then,” Santamaria said. “I accepted, although I had only one weekend to plan. But, I did it, and during that semester, I truly fell in love with teaching adults.”

The confident Santamaria had deftly forged her two callings, education and real estate.

That experience prompted her to partner with Sharon Teusink, a fellow educator with real estate skills, and start a real estate school in Houston’s northwest side. In December 1983, the Champions School of Real Estate opened its doors. The facility contained two classrooms in a one-story business park, located off FM 1960 in front of the Old Oaks neighborhood. The location proved convenient for the two working mothers, who resided nearby and whose children could bike there and complete their after school homework.

Read more: CURRENT March/April 2018

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