Lebanese immigrant ensures newcomers have opportunities in Cedar Rapids, IA

When Salma Igram arrived in the United States, she was 18 years old and had never seen a calculator or a hamburger, “let alone a hot dog,” she says. But there she was in her husband’s fast-food restaurant, Jimbo’s, working the griddle and mastering the cash register. “My husband would say, ‘Why do you want to learn everything in one day?’ ” she says. “But I did. I wanted to gulp it all in.” 

Igram is from Lebanon. She met her husband, a visiting Lebanese-American, after high school and moved to Cedar Rapids in 1977 to marry. “I loved, loved, loved Lebanon,” she says. “I couldn’t believe I left it.”

If I can make a difference, if I can help, if you ask me, if you think I’m good and worthy, how can I say no?

After her fourth child entered school, so did she, earning an accounting and management degree from Mount Mercy University. Igram is now vice president and chief financial officer of Cedar Graphics, a company with 100 employees she owns with her husband.

“That is what my trip to America has been. I want to do everything Americans do” she says. “Because, you know what, I always know we are looked down at — ‘Oh she’s from the Old Country.’ “

Igram loves Cedar Rapids. She has served on the boards of Family Services, the United Way, and Rotary Club, and currently volunteers with the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids, the Library Foundation, the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, the Civil Rights Commission, and the University of Iowa’s Department of Religious Studies. “If I can make a difference, if I can help, if you ask me, if you think I’m good and worthy, how can I say no?” she says.

Igram is grateful she had a large American family to welcome her, but points out that not all immigrants are so fortunate. It falls to the community to give newcomers the kind of shot she got at the restaurant. “Give them jobs, even if they don’t speak English,” she says. “It’s a school in itself. . . . Because they come here as a guest, you treat them as a guest, and they will eventually become part of you.”

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