‘El Paso just lost somebody special’: Yolanda Arriola, founder of Southwest University, passes away

El Paso News

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Yolanda Arriola, founder and CEO of Southwest University has died, her son confirmed in a social media post.

Her son, Ben Arriola, who is managing director of Southwest University, posted about his mother’s passing, writing, “Today, without warning, we lost the greatest mother! She was (an) angel with the biggest heart! All she knew was love!! Thank you mom for being an incredible wife, mother, mother in law, grandmother and friend! We will always miss you!”

On Friday, the community remembered Arriola, including MountainStar Sports Group, which owns the El Paso Chihuahuas, whose stadium is sponsored by Southwest University: Southwest University Park.

“She was a wonderful person and a visionary whose passion for teaching, commitment to students, and ability to make a difference in people’s lives made Southwest University a model of success in our community,” the group said in a statement. “Yolanda led with conviction and dedication, and her compassion, kindness, and generosity to the El Paso community will be missed. But above all, her greatest joy came from her love for her family and pride in their accomplishments. All of us who work at Southwest University Park were honored to know Yolanda and call her a friend.”

Estela Casas, executive director of the UMC and El Paso Children’s Hospital foundations, remembered Arriola as a genuine person who touched so many lives in El Paso.

“There are so many people in this world taking up space, and she filled this world with her generosity and love of her community. El Paso just lost somebody special,” she said.

Casas described Arriola as a vibrant go-getter who lifted up women in the community and as a dependable person who put her words into action.

“She leaves a big open space in our community that is hard to fill,” Casas said. “She will be sorely missed and she was loved by many of us here in our community.”

Cindy Ramos-Davidson, CEO of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said Arriola was a champion of education, especially for those who could not easily afford it.

“Yolanda was such a passionate individual and she had such a love for El Paso. She gave of herself constantly,” Ramos-Davidson said. “There’s not enough words in a dictionary to measure the value that Yolanda brought into this community.

“Yolanda is a leader who sees — she sees more than others, she sees farther than others see and who sees before others do, and she was definitely a doer,” Ramos-Davidson said.

In 2019, KTSM 9 News profiled Arriola and Southwest University. Her vision for success centered around helping people and following her passion. Arriola said the school started out as a GED program for at-risk students.

When she started the school, she was 40 years old and a stay-at-home mom. She set out to help change lives and that is what drove her throughout the years, she said.

Arriola was active in the community and donated to a variety of El Paso-area charities. Casas said that in Arriola and her husband, Ben, donated $1.5 million in January 2018 for the Children’s Hospital Southwest Blood and Cancer Center.

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