Little Sister. Big Picture. Full Circle.

Tessie Arambula balances a budding career at Koch Chemical Technology Group with coaching soccer and planning her wedding. It’s all thanks to her ability to step back to look at the whole picture, and her Little Sister Camryn who provides the perspective.

September 11, 2015

Growing up between two brothers, seven-year-old Tessie Arambula was the only girl in a tight-knit family. So when her concerned mother reached out to Big Brothers Big Sisters for her oldest son who is hearing impaired, Tessie put in a request for a Big Sister of her own.

“Simply put, I was jealous,” Tessie explains. “You can’t tell your mom everything, you know. You’ve got to have a sister to confide in.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters found Tessie a match. She remembers sitting alone in a room when Natalie walked in, flashing a smile that would light up the sky. Nervously handing her a picture she’d drawn, Tessie wouldn’t realize until years later that she was also giving something sacred to Natalie — her trust.

On car rides or over a Dairy Queen ice cream cone, Natalie tossed questions at Tessie, always genuinely interested in her answers. She taught a teenage Tessie to drive, diffused countless bouts of high school angst and offered guidance when she chose a college major. Natalie was Tessie’s person.

“I just remember so many conversations and so many emails, and stopping by her house,” Tessie reflects. “Lots of meltdowns trying to make life decisions.”

“Anything anyone had to say about Natalie, it was always positive. I don’t think I ever heard anybody dislike her and I just thought that was the coolest thing.”
“Anything anyone had to say about Natalie, it was always positive. I don’t think I ever heard anybody dislike her and I just thought that was the coolest thing.”

Tessie was a part of Natalie’s life, too. She was a candlelighter in her wedding, and provided support as her Big Sister fought to become a cancer survivor.

But in 2010, while Tessie was in college at Wichita State University, Natalie’s breast cancer returned, taking her life with it.

Natalie’s death was devastating.

“When she passed, there were pages and pages of comments online,” Tessie remembers. “She was like a walking impact everywhere she went. She didn’t just touch lives, she affected them.”

Before Natalie passed, Tessie had made her a promise. Camryn, Natalie’s 3-year-old daughter, became Tessie’s Little Sister. Today, Camryn is the age Tessie was when she sat in that room, anxiously waiting to meet Natalie. When Tessie spends time with Camryn, she focuses on her Little Sister, as Natalie had done for her.

“We eat lots of mac ‘n’ cheese,” Tessie laughs, shaking her head. “So much mac ‘n’ cheese.”

Tessie anticipates that her relationship with Camryn will change over time.

“I think the older she gets, the more it will shift from fun things to do, to an outlet for her,” Tessie says.

  • Tessie is Camryn’s Big Sister, her person, someone she doesn’t have to share with anyone else. The comfortable, guiding relationship Tessie has with Camryn echoes the connection she had with Camryn’s mother, Natalie, bringing her life full circle.

  • Tessie is Camryn’s Big Sister, her person, someone she doesn’t have to share with anyone else. The comfortable, guiding relationship Tessie has with Camryn echoes the connection she had with Camryn’s mother, Natalie, bringing her life full circle.

  • Tessie is Camryn’s Big Sister, her person, someone she doesn’t have to share with anyone else. The comfortable, guiding relationship Tessie has with Camryn echoes the connection she had with Camryn’s mother, Natalie, bringing her life full circle.

  • Tessie is Camryn’s Big Sister, her person, someone she doesn’t have to share with anyone else. The comfortable, guiding relationship Tessie has with Camryn echoes the connection she had with Camryn’s mother, Natalie, bringing her life full circle.

  • Tessie is Camryn’s Big Sister, her person, someone she doesn’t have to share with anyone else. The comfortable, guiding relationship Tessie has with Camryn echoes the connection she had with Camryn’s mother, Natalie, bringing her life full circle.

  • Tessie is Camryn’s Big Sister, her person, someone she doesn’t have to share with anyone else. The comfortable, guiding relationship Tessie has with Camryn echoes the connection she had with Camryn’s mother, Natalie, bringing her life full circle.

With Camryn and other big life choices, Tessie wishes Natalie could share her wisdom and guidance.

“When I’m making decisions, I get so frustrated that she’s not here,” Tessie says, tears filling her eyes. “Getting married in September, I feel like a kid, like ‘I got it! I won!’ and she’s not here for me to show her. I’ve got to figure it out on my own.”

No, Natalie will never again respond to an urgent phone call or text. But when making those life decisions — whether with Camryn, coaching soccer, wedding planning or in her role in accounting information systems at Koch Chemical Technology Group — Tessie hears her Big Sister, reminding her to focus on the future.

“She was really good about not looking at something at face value,” Tessie says. “She always lived in the big picture. And that’s such a Koch perspective.”

When Tessie took a position at Koch, she had a feeling the company’s management philosophies aligned with the big-picture thinking Natalie had imparted in her, and she uses it daily.

“I try not to get caught up spending hours on the small things,” Tessie says, remembering Natalie’s advice. “And I’ve got a lot more respect for her now that I’m a Big Sister. She didn’t have to be my Sister. She didn’t have to do what she did.”

But that’s who Natalie was, someone who looked at the big picture, who saw potential, who had faith in her Little Sister. And that’s the kind of Big Sister Tessie wants to be for Camryn.

On September 12, her eighth birthday, Camryn lit the candles at Tessie’s wedding.