By Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress, Texas.
Own a piece of custom-designed iron work made in Jacksonville? If so, chances are, it was made by the daughters of Simon Holguin.
The Simon’s Welding Shop owner is father to Ann, 24, and Sanjuana, 21, who both began learning the trade from their dad when they were small girls.
“I’ve been around it since I was a little kid. My dad’s always welded,” Ann recalled. “He would be in our backyard, welding, and I would help him.”
Sanjuana described how their father picked up skills from the different jobs he held in his younger days, and “from there, he learned how to weld — he loved it and started doing it at home.”
Her first solo project, created at age 16, is a doghouse frame, which the family still has, Sanjuana said.
“It’s basically my biggest accomplishment — I remember working on it, getting it together and my dad getting all the materials, and it came out a little wobbly because I didn’t cut one of the ends right,” she recalled.
“But my dad was so proud of it! He spray-painted it black and put it outside. The dog didn’t like it because it was too small for him,” she laughed. “But it worked. We still have it. My dad likes to tell people, ‘my daughter did that.'”
The Holguin sisters are a rarity in the field — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 7.8 percent of American welders are women. However, the site www.bls.gov added, the median pay for a welder in 2012 (the most current figures available) was $17.45 per hour or $36,300 per year.
That same year, there were approximately 357,400 men and women employed nationwide as welders, the site stated.
“People are shocked” when they learn the sisters do welding, Ann laughed. “I guess it’s because we’re both females, and it’s not something (women) might do.”
Added Sanjuana, “I think it’s also the way we look.
“People wouldn’t expect it from us. Usually when you see a welder you think of somebody who is sturdy and dirty, while we have our hair up, we wear makeup,” she laughed, as Ann replied, “a lot of people look at us and say, ‘You do this? There’s no way!’ ”
For the most part, they don’t often tell people they weld, Sanjuna said, “although my dad likes to tell people, ‘Oh yeah … my daughters know how to weld!’ He’s very proud of what we know how to do, and most of the time, people are impressed when they learn this.”
While both women have a basic knowledge of welding, each has preferred duties within the family business.
“We all sort of take what we’re comfortable at trying,” explained Sanjuana, who works for a local tax preparer to gain more experience in running an office.
“Our parents have always told us that if we want to learn, to go for it. They’ve always supported what we’ve done,” she said. “Me and my sister both took up the plasma (cutting machine), but she’s the one who knows it better. She’s the one who does most of the plasma work,” she said.
“Our brother (14-year-old Simon) is interested in welding, so my parents allow him to watch, wearing the gear that’s needed when he helps. Every once in awhile, he’ll play with the scrap metal also, and create things.”
Ann nodded. “I’ve learned a little bit, things my dad has taught me, but (Sanjuana) is the one who knows most of the (traditional) welding, while I’m the expert with the plasma welding.”
Flipping through photo albums, the sisters point out different projects they’ve helped with.
Ann — who works the computerized plasma machine to cut pieces from oversized sheets of metal — described how different items were created.
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“Actually, I think the first plasma project I did was the ‘J’ (emblem) on the tomatoes at the Tomato Bowl — the school asked if I could make one with fire on it, and there’s one that looks like a pencil,” she said. “After that, they came from East Side and asked if I could make a sign for the school.”
Her biggest challenge has been creating an oversized emblem for the Heritage Center of Cherokee County.
“That was the hardest one I’ve done,” Ann said. “It was a 9- by 9-foot design for the Heritage Center near the courthouse. It had a lot of detail, but really, it was the fact that it was just so big, and I’d never done anything big like that.”
The solution? Create the design in halves, visualizing each side before drawing it on the computer screen, then cutting out the image on sheets of metal that measure 5 by 8 feet.
“My dad had to weld it down the middle, and it came out perfect,” she grinned. “They were really excited when they saw it.”
While mastering a design is pretty heady stuff, the reactions from their clients as they see the results of work commissioned is also pretty sweet, the sisters said.
“What I like the most is when people come to pay, and we bring their (order) in here, when they see it, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s better than I ever expected! I really like it,'” Sanjuana said. “It kind of makes you feel good, because I’m thinking, that compliment is for all of us.”
What began as a common interest between father and daughters has grown into a strong desire by the Holguin sisters to do whatever is needed to ensure the family business runs strong.
Simon has operated welding shops in Lufkin, from where the family hails, and now, Jacksonville.
“Our parents always tell us don’t let anything stop you, use your creativity, you’ll get somewhere,” Sanjuna said. “But I tell myself that my parents worked so hard to get this place running, that if anything happened later on and it had to stop, I wouldn’t want it to close down. I want to keep it going.
“Somebody in the family worked hard to get us here, so I want to keep fighting for it,” she said. “It’s actually been a blessing to have this business.”
“I think it’s something I realize I want to do, to help out,” she said, recalling how her parents — Simon and Elsa — “started out so small and now that we’re older, we want to help them out with the business.”
She also wants to see the shop going years from now, as means of showing people just what girls can do.
“It’s an interesting type of business, especially for females to be in, because we can show that anybody can do this,” Ann said.