2017 TRADICIONES • THE TAOS NEWS
CITIZEN OF THE YEAR and UNSUNG HEROES
Kate O'Neill and Zoe at UNM-Taos campus in August
HEROES CITIZEN OF THE YEAR 2 KATE O’NEILL
UNSUNG HEROES 10 MAX ORTEGA 16 JIMMY STADLER 20 LARRY TORRES 22 BRIAN GREER 30 CLAIRE COTÉ 34 JUAN ABEYTA 42 JOHN ROMERO 46 CONNIE TSOSIE GAUSSION
UNM-Taos’shining star Citizen of the year: Kate O’Neill
By Staci Matlock C O N T I N U E S
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Kate O’Neill at UNM-Taos campus in August
HONORING THE NO-CAPED CRUSADERS
Robin Martin Scott Gerdes
From left to right, the 2017 Tradiciones Unsung Heroes and Citizen of the Year Selection Committee are Joseph Quintana, Elizabeth CrittendenPalacios, Esther García, Kathleen Michaels, Robin Martin, Barb Wiard, Bill Knief, Marilyn Farrow, Judge Ernie Ortega, Mary Ellen Ferguson and George Basch. Not pictured: Mike Trujillo.
Chris Baker publisher
Staci Matlock editor
Scott Gerdes special sections editor
Karin Eberhardt art director
Chris Wood advertising director
Committee selects 2017 Unsung Heroes
Andy Nicolais production
Jordan Miera copy editor
Katharine Egli photographer
Harrison Blackman Cody Hooks John Miller Jesse Moya Arcenio Trujillo reporters
eroism represents the best of human nature, no matter the perceived severity of a situation or need. Acts of kindness and courage are born from reaction and action. Such deeds, however, can often go unnoticed by those not personally affected.
community members to help recognize those who oftentimes don’t want to be recognized – to nominate people who make positive contributions, but never for the accolades. “Citizen(s) of the year” and “unsung heroes” continue to be the silent pillars of Taos – little known, but not taken for granted.
Scott Gerdes. None of the paper’s staff members were involved in the selection process during the focus group confab.
There are caring, unselfish souls in our midst who quietly and consistently go out on a limb to make a difference in others’ lives – regardless of whether or not their efforts are being recognized by those not affected. For the 16th year, The Taos News honors a group of local citizens for making notable contributions to the community.
The 2017 selection committee included George Basch, Elizabeth CrittendenPalacios, Marilyn Farrow, Mary Ellen Ferguson, Esther Garcia, Bill Knief, Robin Martin, Kathleen Michaels, Ernest Ortega, Joseph Quintana, Mike Trujillo and Barb Wiard.
The Taos News staff sincerely thanks members of the 2017 Tradiciones Selection Committee for their time and energy in making this annual series possible – and for bringing so many deserving people to light.
It takes a committee to choose the people featured in Unsung Heroes. Since 2001, The Taos News has called upon
TAOS DEMOCRATS Congratulate
CITIZEN OF THE YEAR and
However, the paper’s management staff did make the final selection for “citizens of the year” from a list of nominees presented by the selection committee.
Overseers of the process included Taos News publisher Chris Baker, editor Staci Matlock, advertising manager Chris Wood and special sections editor
Scott Gerdes, special sections editor
96 Years, 3 Generations,
Congratulations on a job well done!
Kate O’Neill Citizen of the Year
and all our
Unsung Heroes of Taos! Your commitment, hard work, and perseverance have built a legacy for Taos’ future.
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“The nuns I had in grade school were very strong advocates for education and social responsibility,” O’Neill, former CEO of the University of New Mexico-Taos (UNMTaos), wrote in a recent email. “I distinctly remember making posters for Earth Day and writing up reasons why people should not buy grapes. I think it was the first time I realized that education plays an important role in our lives as humans and community members.” Inspired in part by what she learned from the nuns and later at her Quaker high school, O’Neill pursued a life in higher education and service, one that brought her by chance to Taos. “I came to visit Taos in 1993 and my wagon wheel fell off,” she said. “I had no intention of moving here.” She never left. And in the ensuing 24 years, she became a champion in helping foster and grow the UNM-Taos campus, along with serving on several community boards. Her efforts earned her the vote as the Taos 2017 “citizen of the year.” Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales, D-Taos, is among those who said she deserves the accolade for expanding the UNM branch and adding programs. O’Neill might not be a native Taoseña, but “she blended well with the community,” Gonzales said. “She’s one of those individuals who didn’t just expect it to happen,” he said. “She worked at it. She was very involved in the legislative sessions.” Gonzales added, “She’s a shining star for the branch campus. So is her staff.” O’Neill earned a Bachelor of Arts in art history from Tufts University and a Master of Education degree in psychology from Harvard University before landing in Taos. She would later go on to earn a doctorate in education, also from Harvard. In Taos, she helped Community Against Violence establish a counseling program and was the clinical director
until 2003. She also began teaching at the Taos Education Center, the precursor to UNM-Taos. “It was Fred Peralta who got the UNM regents to take the Taos Education Center under their auspices and to get the Klauer family to donate the land south of town with the vision that it would someday be a full-fledged campus,” said O’Neill, 58, in an August interview. “It was quite remarkable that UNM-Taos was able to achieve branch status.”
atherine “Kate” M. O’Neill’s introduction to social justice was in Catholic school in the early 1970s during one of the first Earth Day celebrations.
‘She’s a shining star for the branch campus’ – Rep. Bobby Gonzales
O’Neill worked her way up from adjunct faculty in 1994 to chairing the UNM-Taos psychology department a decade later. In 2006, she was named chief executive officer of UNM-Taos. Under her direction, UNM-Taos’ budget grew 250 percent and the college brought in more than $25 million in grants. The branch campus added an early childhood education center, a nursing program and when the Chevron molybdenum mine closed near Questa, she was a driving force behind a new commercial driver’s license program to retrain miners who had lost their jobs. When she stepped down as CEO in 2016, plans were underway to expand a small business innovation center and digital media arts program. The college also works with nine area high schools on concurrent enrollment, allowing students the opportunity to graduate with a diploma and an associateq degree at the same time. O’Neill is particularly proud of the nursing program, a small 16-student program that is nationally accredited and has a 100 percent pass rate on the national nurse exam. Besides her work at the college, O’Neill also has served on the boards of the Harwood Museum, the Taos County Chamber of Commerce and the New Mexico Association of Community Colleges and is currently on the board of the Taos Community Foundation. She also serves on the Blue Cross Blue Shield Auxiliary Board.
times – if the county hadn’t loaned us a truck for the CDL program, if El Valle hadn’t said yes to a sewer line – we couldn’t have accomplished what we did. So many times the community stepped up to support us.” She believes the students at UNM-Taos are the real unsung heroes. Most are older, working and have families to care for at the same time they are taking college courses. One student particularly sticks in her mind. “She had four teenage sons, four jobs and was taking four classes,” O’Neill recalled. “I don’t know how that is humanly possible.”
She tends to credit others and downplay her accomplishments.
But those who know O’Neill say she has shown unstinting commitment to the college, the students and the larger community.
O’Neill said many others deserve accolades for creating and expanding UNM-Taos: “I’m honored to receive this recognition. But honestly, so many
For inspiration in managing her team of educators, this small-town girl who grew up on a farm along the Delaware River looks to baseball.
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Kate O’Neill’s pilgrimage visit to Wrigley Field where her Great-Uncle Steve O’Neill won the World Series in 1945.
Her grandfather, Mike O’Neill, and greatuncles immigrated from Ireland and became coal miners in Pennsylvania. They also loved baseball and went on to play in the major leagues in the early 1900s. Her great-uncle, Steve O’Neill, was the best known of the brothers. He played for the Cleveland Indians in 1920 when they won the World Series. He went on to manage several teams, including the Detroit Tigers, who won the pennant in 1945, and the Boston Red Sox. He was known for his genial, easygoing management style, transparent about strategy and willing to make time even for a high school cub reporter. “Baseball continues to inspire me,” O’Neill said. “My management philosophy is heavily predicated on that of Steve O’Neill.” O’Neill said her great-uncle embodied what Jim Collins, in his book “Good to Great in the Social Sectors,” describes as “legislative leadership,” a more collaborative approach. “In Collins’ terms, it is embodied by personal humility and professional will,” O’Neill said. “In baseball terms, it can be summed up as ‘the players with the best team versus the team with the best players.’ Great-Uncle Steve was encouraging, but also set high standards.” “He coached towards ‘the whole being more than the sum of its parts.’ That philosophy got him World Series wins as a player and manager,” she noted of her great-uncle. “The same philosophy inspired me to coalesce UNM-Taos faculty and students around mutual goals of truly serving as the community’s college and providing excellent workforce opportunities through academic programs to better people’s lives.” Katharine Egli
Kate O’Neill and Zoe at the UNM-Taos campus in August
C r e at e yo u r ow n l if e s t y l e .
Nobody Loves You Like We Do!
C R E AT I N G ROOMS FOR LIVING
Fire & water Former Questa fire chief looks back on a lifetime of service By John Miller
n a cold and bright winter day in early 2016, Max Ortega walked into the Questa Fire Department and announced his retirement to his crew, including his two sons, Mark and John, who had grown up under the roof of the firehouse. There, they had seen their father don his bunker gear and board the firetruck countless times over the course of his 43-year career at the department, where he served as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician and for 16 years as chief. Although only two of the men gathered that day were Ortega’s sons, the other firefighters, too, looked to Ortega as a kind of patriarch – someone who had trained them and guided them as they answered calls that took them into buildings filled with smoke and to the edges of fields engulfed in flames. They responded to many medical emergencies in an ambulance the department lost its ability to operate in the late 1990s, but which Ortega succeeded in bringing back in the mid-2000s. The members of the team came to the aid of the residents of Northern New Mexico, many of them friends and neighbors, saving some and offering final comforts to others who could not be saved. Many of the calls, Ortega said, were the sort you wished you could forget, the kind that were difficult to explain to a spouse or a son or a daughter when asked to find the words. And so when the crew learned that their most recent call would be Ortega’s last, many of them were driven to tears. “There was not a dry eye in the firehouse,” Ortega recalled.
“To me, that really meant a lot.” Ortega left that day a civilian, and his son, Mark, was soon elected to take his place. But in this small village at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains – as in many small towns, where ancient laws of community still seem to exist, where a helpful gesture is not some grand act of generosity, but a way of life, where elements as simple as fire and water still hold sway – the passing of an official title does not mark the end of a lifetime of service, but the opening of a new chapter. On another winter day nearly one year after Ortega hung up his gear for the last time, the community called upon him to serve again.
Finding water In early December 2016, the first resident in Questa, a town of nearly 2,000 people, reported a loss of water pressure in their home. By the next week, similar reports were pouring in – taps and spigots all over the area trickled, dripped and dried. The town declared an emergency, which quickly became known across New Mexico as the “Questa water crisis.” Ortega agreed to serve as incident commander during the outage. He worked with Questa Mayor Mark Gallegos, town council members and Taos County government officials to create an action plan that would provide Questa residents with emergency water sources. With the support of several Taos businesses, they supplied bottled and non-potable water while teams scrambled to find the suspected leak. Ultimately, its source was not one, but many, as old asbestos and concrete water lines were losing water in several sections. One of the team’s first moves was to drill a deeper well to source a new aquifer, but refilling old water lines that had degraded with age took time and money and, above all, patience on the part of residents.
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Questa fire department volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician, and 16-year chief, Max Ortega.
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Chief Max Ortega at the Questa Firehouse.
The well was completed on Dec. 12, but repressurizing water lines and restoring service would take longer, as new leaks were being discovered. Nearly 100 residents were still without running water by Jan. 12, but one month later, lines were repressurized and water was flowing again. Town officials were criticized during the water crisis for allegedly neglecting the maintenance of their water system, yet Questa residents persevered under Ortega’s boots-on-the-ground leadership. The face of their former fire chief served as a familiar and welcome sight for many during a holiday season that had been darkened by the interruption of a precious resource. It wasn’t the first time in the town’s history that the water lines had failed. More than 60 years earlier, when Ortega was a boy in Questa, he recalled a time when any running water was a luxury and was treated with a deep reverence, especially during fire season.
Fighting fire When the first water lines were being laid in Questa, a young Max Ortega would wake up early each morning, chop wood and scoop a bucket of water from the acequia that ran through his family’s cattle ranch. The water would slosh in the pail as he carried it back to the house, where his mother boiled it for cleaning dishes, clothes and floors.
That was in 1973. Ortega completed training and became skilled at his job. He learned how to control fires and balance his day job with sometimes hourslong shifts on the firetruck after the sun went down. “House fires were the most common calls that I can remember,” he said, as he recalled pulling people from “fully involved” house fires and more brush fires than he could count. Now 64, many of the calls run together. But he did remember the department’s function as an emergency service center, with its operation of an ambulance, as an integral piece of its role in Questa and other remote northern towns, like Cerro, Amalia and Costilla.
‘I still hear the pages’ In the late 1990s, the department lost its ability to operate the ambulance its crew members had driven for nearly two decades. When Ortega was appointed chief in 2000, he made getting it back a priority. He rallied support from the Questa community and petitioned Taos County. He completed a lengthy application process. In 2004, he succeeded in returning the ambulance and securing county funding to pay staff that would
work the day shift. The night shift would be covered by volunteers. Ortega considers this one of his proudest achievements, and he considers the members who serve on the ambulance some of his best. “People like to do volunteer firefighting,” he said, “but to deal with an ambulance is different. You’re dealing with people’s lives, and we’ve had some bad calls, calls that you don’t want to remember. And that’s why I hold all firefighters and EMTs dear to my heart – because they see so many things, things that can bother you for the rest of your life. And whether you’re paid or a volunteer, it’s the same stuff.” Both Mark and John joined their father in the department, working alongside him as firefighters and EMTs. Under Ortega’s tenure, the crew built up its stock of equipment and completed advanced training. The department grew in size and sophistication from the small operation that Ortega had joined as a young man. When he entered his 60s, Ortega wrestled with the decision to retire, but knew that his body wouldn’t keep up with the demanding job of running the department. He made the decision to leave his post after 16 years as chief. He says he knew it was the right decision, but there is still a part of him that wants to get in his truck and drive to a scene when the scanner crackles with a report of an emergency.
“I still hear the pages,” he said, “and I still want to go, but the aches and pains and all that ... now it’s a little different.” Ortega said he never thought about the legacy he was building as he worked for so many years as a fireman. “Mark and John, I never thought that they would continue,” he said, “but they’re continuing.” These days, Ortega spends his time planning fishing trips and camping outings with Monica. In August, he likes to go out into town to watch the people from Taos Pueblo make their annual journey on horseback to the scar on Cabresto to collect clay. Ortega still remembers the fire. But most of his time is now spent at home with Monica and their 6-year-old grandson, Bo, Mark’s son. Bo already has his own fire hat. He knows all the equipment and all the drills from watching his father, uncle and grandfather under the roof of the firehouse. And in the evenings, Bo often sits on the floor of his grandfather’s living room shuttling a little toy firetruck across the carpet. On many of those evenings, long after the boy has gone to bed, a larger firetruck – the one that carries his father and his uncle, the same one that carried his grandfather – passes somewhere along the highway, its crimson glow disappearing into the night.
In the 1950s, there was running water in just a few houses in Questa. Ortega’s family home, located about a mile north of the main intersection in town, had some access in those days, he said, yet the practice of sourcing water from a local irrigation ditch continued throughout the community. Ortega’s father served on the village council and was serving a term as mayor when Ortega was in high school. The Ortegas had lived and worked in Questa for generations – their involvement in the community an integral part of their identity. After school, Ortega would often walk home and would sometimes hear sirens blaring from some inestimable distance outside town. The yowl would grow louder and he would see a firetruck speed by, a helmeted driver behind the wheel and other firemen similarly garbed riding alongside. It was during those moments that it first occurred to Ortega that joining the fire department could be his own way of giving back to the community. After meeting his wife, Monica, in 1972 at New Mexico State University, the couple returned to Questa, where Ortega took a job at the Chevron molybdenum mine in Questa. But spending day after day down the shaft working as an engineer was exhausting, and he hungered to do what he had always wanted. “We were pretty much newlyweds when he decided to join the fire department,” Monica said. “At that time, we were the youngest ones in the department. The rest were pretty much seasoned members.”
Chief Max Ortega and his grandson, Bo.
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2017 TRADICIONES • THE TAOS NEWS
Larry Torres stands in the entryway to his home, which has been called “The Sistine of Seco.”
Musical heritage Jimmy Stadler shares a lifetime of tuneful experience By Rick Romancito
verybody knows Jimmy Stadler. Whether it’s through his near-perpetual presence onstage playing solo or with his band, playing music for a benefit, getting residents of the Taos Living Center to do a singalong or as a student taking one of his Taos Academy classes, he’s not only in Taos, but all over the region. Often called “the musician around” and regularly given a “Best of Taos” award in The Taos News reader’s survey for good reason, it’s through his generosity in giving back to the community that he has been selected as one of this year’s “unsung heroes.” Stadler literally grew up playing music. Like The Cowsills or The Partridge Family of yore, Stadler and his nine siblings
performed pretty much anywhere wholesome entertainment was needed. He once told Tempo, “When we get together, we all sing. It’s special. It becomes more special every year. … Music is still a part of everybody’s life.”
church when he was growing up. Stadler also had his first band in third grade. The band’s members knew how to play three songs with three chords, Stadler recalled. “We would go play at the old folks home when I was in the sixth grade.”
He often speaks about how his mom was a concert pianist and how they had three pianos in the house, as well as a number of other instruments. “My mother was a real giving person,” he said. “She played keyboards for, like, five churches and my parents always said, ‘Don’t be selfish, you’ve gotta give of your talent, contribute [to the world].”
In high school, he said he started playing any kind of music that could make some money. He played banjo in a pizza parlor, bass guitar in a Chicago horn band, then was caught up in banjo and bluegrass music. From there, he went on to play in numerous bands with a folk, rock and country-rock sound.
His father hated TV, he told Tempo’s music columnist, Ariana Kramer, so the children had to either go outside and play, work in the garden or play music. All of Stadler’s family members are musical. They performed at county fairs and at
All of this resulted in Stadler possessing tremendous versatility. He can play almost anything. At his regular gig at Sabroso Restaurant in Arroyo Seco, when someone shouts out a request —whether it’s rock, country, pop or show tunes — he can play it, or at least do a decent job
winging it. He also puts his extensive musical knowledge to work at his “Off the Cuff Live” show Monday nights at the KTAOS Solar Center where, with a local guest musician, he plays a tribute to some musical greats, such as Bob Dylan, Elton John, Prince, Steve Miller, Ray Charles, Elvis Costello or, like the show he did last June with Vanilla Pop’s Alan Vetter, a program of “one-hit wonders.” Other regular appearances include Michael Hearne’s Big Barn Dance Music Festival in September and occasionally at the Taos Plaza Live summer concert series. Audiences also appreciate the way he projects humor and sincerity in his act, which also transfers into his teaching and community activity. Many folks might not know that he and his kids were partly responsible for helping to get the skate park built at the Taos Youth C O N T I N U E S
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and Family Center. (Unfortunately, as soon as it was finished, Stadler broke his arm while skating, resulting in Tempo giving him the nickname “Crash.”) “I definitely am compelled to do that,” Stadler said regarding his need to help out when a particular need is identified in the community. “Whether I really want to or not, sometimes I think I’m supposed to do this.”
– Jimmy Sadler
Interestingly, Stadler balked when first asked to be a teacher for the Taos Academy Charter School. He said he was such a terrible student when he was young that he didn’t think he had what it takes to teach kids himself. “Musically, I was fine, but I hated school, really. But, it’s getting better. I just followed the path. What’s the [worst] that could happen if it doesn’t work out? Then, I got more involved. We get into the children’s lives, try to be helpful. It’s helped a lot of children to get out of their shells.” For the past several years, Stadler has led Taos Academy’s music program, giving students a feel for what the real world of rock music is all about. The school boasts three bands, each named by students – one for high schoolers and two for middle school students. In the program, they learn to play a variety of instruments, including guitar, bass guitar, piano, synthesizer and drums. Stadler’s approach to teaching is inclusive and engaging, he told columnist Kramer. He finds out who wants to play what and tries to accommodate them. “We then pick the songs we’ll learn over the next seven weeks [14 classes]. I really try to give them a good experience on what it takes to be in a band,” said Stadler. The program is so popular, he said he started out with 12 kids and now it’s up to 45. In addition to learning their musical parts, Stadler emphasizes the importance of getting along and supporting one another. “I really try to stress the magic of music and what it does for us – our families and the world,” Stadler said. “Along with those, I’ll recap some cool
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moments from my recent performances to share with them – good or bad.” The most rewarding teaching experience for Stadler happens when he sees a band suddenly “get it.” It’s that moment when the members realize how all the parts work together as a whole. When asked what it’s like to see that, Stadler breathed a heavy sigh and said, “It’s great. It reminds me of the first thing I wanted to do in third grade, was, ‘get a band together.’ I mean, in third grade, we had, like, three songs, but I played guitar. We had a drummer and maracas and a singer [laughs], and in the sixth grade, I got involved in the school band, and I was writing charts and I was tuning 50 to 60 guitars and we made five albums, and then I’d get asked to be in one band and then another. … It’s exciting when it comes together. That’s what keeps me going.” For more information on the Jimmy Stadler Band, visit jimmystadler.com.
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‘I really try to stress the magic of music and what it does for us — our families and the world.’
EVER THE SEEKER, ALWAYS THE TEACHER LARRY TORRES IS DOING ALL THE GOOD HE CAN
By Cody Hooks
arry Torres is usually standing outside in the early morning, waiting for sunrays still pale with twilight to teeter over the craggy cliffs of El Salto Mountain in Arroyo Seco. It is there, on his balcony standing humbly before the mountain he knows as the earthly dwelling place of God, that Torres likes to ponder his place in the universe. In the course of his life, Torres has become an esteemed storyteller and keeper of local culture, history and ways of healing. Torres is a prolific writer, quirky thinker, world traveler and deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, though he’s long held the untitled role of spiritual leader in the folk traditions of Northern New Mexico. But among all of his roles in the Taos community, Torres has cemented his place as a one-of-a-kind educator, teaching thousands of young people in Taos over a four-decade career. It is for these reasons Torres has been selected as one of the 2017 “unsung heroes.”
Origins Torres, who lives on his family’s ancestral property in Arroyo Seco, was born in 1954, the second oldest of eight children. In his early years, Torres — the linguist — was unfailingly quiet. “I didn’t speak at all for the first few years of my life. I was teased unmercifully,” he said. It was through many teachers that Torres came to understand the depth, magic and solace of words and sounds. Greek, Latin and Hebrew, French and Italian were among the languages Torres could spit out by the time he graduated from Taos High School in 1972.
It was an exciting time to grow up in Taos, to say the least. Taos was an epicenter of the counterculture, backto-the-land movement and Northern New Mexico was in a period of rapid flux. “The fact that I survived Taos in the ‘60s is a miracle,” he said. But he survived and went on to keep learning languages. Torres attended New Mexico State University before enrolling in Leningrad University in the former Soviet Union, where he picked up Russian, a language he still teaches. “One of the reasons I became a linguist,” Torres said, “is to show people how to get over their impediments.” Torres eventually moved back to his family’s land in Arroyo Seco not far from the base of El Salto Mountain, a landscape intimately tied into Torres’ personal mythology, family and community history, fable, shared knowledge, holy rites, meditation and prayer. “I always knew where I was going to live out my life. In fact, I know where my bones will lie when I am gone. There’s something comforting in that. I am centered here. This is where I belong.”
What’s an education? For more than four decades, Torres has been a teacher across New Mexico. He’s held his current post, as a languages professor at the University of New Mexico-Taos (UNM-Taos), for 15 years. Before that, Torres taught high school both in Las Cruces and here in Taos. Roberta Vigil, a top manager at UNMTaos’ Department of Instruction who has worked with Torres since he started at the community college, said that Torres is anything but a typical teacher. “He’s carved out his place in many, many different disciplines. He has a love for the community and a passion to contribute his knowledge. What he has is the understanding of the community – it’s through what he lived. And our students live this every day,” she said. As Torres tells his students, “You are the textbook.”
Top: Unsung Hero Larry Torres outside his El Salto home. Center: Larry Torres, runs his hands over the face mask of a loved one who has passed. Bottom: Larry Torres incorporated family members into his paintings throughout his home.
“I’d rather know about you, about all your sorrows and triumphs because these are more of an education” than anything a book, film or teacher can teach, he said. National organizations and associations have bestowed numerous teaching awards on Torres throughout the years because he radiates learning, not merely
HEROES Katharine Egli
Torres stands in the entryway to his ‘more museum than home’ in Arroyo Seco.
as a profession, but as a calling. “I’ve never had a bad teaching day. No, I lie. I had one bad teaching day. And on that day, there was a girl who came up to me and she said, ‘Hey, mister, why are you in such a bad mood? Don’t you know the only reason we like to come to your class is it’s the only place in the world no one’s going to judge us?’ “That’s when I said to myself, ‘Watch yourself before you go into the classroom because they’re noticing your attitude,’” Torres said. “And I’m watching theirs, too. Students are real human beings with real needs. If the lesson plan we had for that day doesn’t work, too bad. We take care of the child first and teach them to take care of each other,” Torres said.
‘Their place here also’ Twelve stark-white faces push themselves from the wall of the “Great Salon,” what you could call the living room, of Larry Torres’ house, a towering adobe building that’s more museum than home. Nearly every surface is painted in free-hand renditions of saints, local legends, attempts to answer philosophical questions and, on the eastern wall, a family tree branching back to the expedition of Christopher Columbus.
There’s also the faces that Torres calls “life masks.” Made with plaster in the style of London’s Madame Marie Tussaud, it started as a way to get kids excited for their high school French history class. Torres has cast more than 1,000 masks – mostly of his students – though he no longer makes them. It only takes seven minutes to cast a mask, yet they project life through time and, in some ways, push themselves through the veil of death. As happens across the decades, Torres has seen students and former students die. Parents come up to Torres and say, “I lost my son or my daughter, but I can still touch their face and remember,” he said. John Worth McAlister Griffin, the man whose once-young face became the first mask Torres ever made, died last year of cancer, leaving behind a wife and three kids. The masks that are now affixed to a wall in his home – though they seem to emerge from the adobe bricks like faces craning themselves into your dreams – are those of his family. Two of them, a brother and sister, have died. “You can have photographs, but there is something very peaceful in being able to run your fingers over the faces of the people who are gone,” he said. If you know where to look, you’ll find images of death in every room of the house. They’re obvious in the kitchen, less so in the other rooms, but the little
reminders – of numbered days, the preciousness of life and the immediacy of death – are there nonetheless.
marry, bury and baptize people. And every Sunday, he gives homilies at the Holy Trinity Parish in Arroyo Seco.
Paintings and symbols of death and nightmares, Torres said, “are there to remind me to do all the good I can today because I may not be here tomorrow to do it.” Or, “It reminds me not every day will be rainbows and sunshine. Some days will be crap no matter what.” Or, it reminds him to “take it even deeper, even deeper into a different reality.”
Torres spent decades painting as his own personal therapy, to move on, to “spit out the toads of my past.” He said, “I’m doing the same thing, but now I use my words.”
And like facing death, dealing with the hard parts of life are nothing if not opportunities to do it better.
Torres said, “I feel so honored when people come to tell me they heard something I was saying … that now they can move past it, the things we need to get over, that we’re not proud of. Once you draw the boogeyman, he no longer has dominion over you.”
“Sometimes, we get rid of weeds because we think they’re just weeds. But they’re not,” he said.
Finding healing and helping other people find theirs are seemingly journeys without end.
“I’ve learned from the folk healers that anything considered evil or bad can be made good, depending on how you use it. All you have to do is discover the hidden qualities, even the ones you don’t understand, the ones you don’t like, the ones you hate, the ones that are distasteful. And you’ll find out that, yes, they have their place here also.”
There is a string of Latin painted below a Moorish-inspired window that means, more or less, “blessed is the person who understands why they are born.”
Following the quest Aside from being a teacher, Torres became an ordained deacon of the Roman Catholic Church in 2014. He can
“This is so important, to ask yourself why you are born. At morning or at night, ask yourself, ‘What is my calling?’ Knowing the answer to that question isn’t a riddle to be solved. It’s a quest,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you unravel the impossible dream … but did you follow the quest?”
His other car is a Zamboni Brian Greer, the face of Taos youth hockey, serves the community By Arcenio J. Trujillo
Brian Greer, director of the Taos Youth and Family Center, photographed by the center's pool.
orking with kids is like producing a fine pottery vase — requiring a village of potters. It’s a delicate process that takes lots of time and care along every transformative step toward a marketable, original piece. One worker mixes and stirs the slip, while another prepares the molds. When the lumpy cast has formed, the molds are pulled back and the seams are removed. Upon the potter’s wheel, another set of hands trims the unnecessary parts and carefully smooths and shapes both the inside and outside of the hull.
After some drying time, the hardened clay is further sanded into a finalized “green” state. Others come along and apply the paint and the glaze, while yet another fires the pot in the kiln at just the right temperature. Understanding the key ingredients and their respective roles in the development of those beautiful works of art are what make great potters — aka great parents, teachers and mentors. Brian Greer embodies all those titles precisely through his service to others. And, in the many people he has shaped as a Taoseño, Greer has made a difference. In 1999, Greer and several like-minded citizens helped acquire the resources to
‘Nothing pleases me more than knowing these individuals have gone out into the world and are continuing to do great things with their respective talents.’ – Brian Greer
build the Taos Youth and Family Center (TYFC). At the time, the need for more recreational opportunities was really high and the ambitious group set out to create a state-of-the-art space for area youth. The push by the group led to the fruitful collaboration between the town of Taos, Taos County and the local business community — creating a campus that contained an ice rink, skate park, arcade, meeting rooms and a swimming pool. “The efforts of hundreds of people rallied to build this place up,” said Greer, who pointed out that improvements to Enos Garcia Elementary and Taos High School accompanied the project and aided in the passage of a $40 million bond. “Going back to the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, we all saw the need to bolster our facilities.” Greer became the first full-time director of the TYFC in 2004. Greer has also served as the head coach of the Taos Ice Tigers, leading his teams to several New Mexico Interscholastic Ice Hockey League championships — despite having limited practice time due to the high cost of producing ice in Taos outside of the winter months. “We have always been at a disadvantage here in Taos,” said Greer, who motioned to the open-air section of the ice rink. “Every year, we shoot for Nov. 1 to open the rink. But since we can’t control the weather, there’s no guarantee the ice will be ready for skating and hockey workouts.”
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Greer gives hockey instruction and works in his office at the Taos Youth and Family Center.
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Brian Greer, director of the Taos Youth and Family Center, photographed in front of the center.
His tenure in that special avocation lasted until he turned over the reins to longtime assistant Mark Richert. Greer also served as commissioner of the New Mexico Interscholastic Ice Hockey League, cementing his legacy as a leader in the realm of the sport in Northern New Mexico. A transplant from Tucson, Arizona, Greer was never exposed to hockey until he was persuaded to help out with his son’s team here in Taos. “I first learned to skate at Kit Carson Park,” said Greer, alluding to the old sunken rink that also served as basketball courts before the TYFC rink was built. “I knew nothing about the sport, having grown up in the Sonoran Desert, where it rarely ever snows – and football and baseball
are the dominant activities. I had to learn everything about the sport on my own.” The journey from Tucson to Taos has built a treasure chest of memories for the pioneering coach. “We have been involved in the lives of a lot of great kids,” said Greer, as he proudly points to a wall inside his office covered with photos of past hockey and soccer players he has coached. “Nothing pleases me more than knowing these individuals have gone out into the world and are continuing to do great things with their respective talents.” Greer’s passion for his jobs speaks volumes. However, like the handing
over of his coaching duties, Greer is planning to step down from his TYFC directorship at the beginning of 2018.
more importantly, I’m thrilled that we have been able to stay open throughout the summer during construction.”
One of the last major projects completed under Greer’s watch is the renovation of the exterior of the swimming pool. The grant-funded repairs to the structure are the result of another collaboration between the town and county governments.
As a supervisor, coach or administrator, Greer doesn’t seek the limelight. He prefers to toil for the adults and youth in our community without commendation or accolades — silently trudging away behind the scenes. He is, however, keenly aware of the direct and indirect impact he has on them.
Greer credits Mayor Dan Barrone and the town for making this a priority. “The cooperation has helped the project stay on target with regards to budget and schedule,” said Greer. “I’m happy to talk to the community about the progress we’re making here with our pool. But
“You don’t always know you’re making a difference,” said Greer, who grins at the sound of children playing in the pool during recreational swim time. “But sometimes, it’s clear as a bell.”
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2017 TRADICIONES â€¢ THE TAOS NEWS
Juan Abeyta at the Chamisal Fire Station that bears his name.
BRIDGING ART+EDUCATION Questa’s Claire Coté inspires ‘awe’ By Harrison Blackman
Since 2009, Wild Rivers Recreation Area has played host to NeoRio, an annual environmental art exhibition and workshop that Coté founded in collaboration with University of New Mexico (UNM) Emeritus Professor John Wenger and Aron Rael, the late park ranger. The event combines viewings of temporary art exhibitions built into the landscape with artist lectures, communal dinners and music. The event has expanded — the first year had 35 participants and the latest had around 170. This year’s ninth NeoRio event was held Sept. 16 and was centered around the theme of “Seeds/Semillas.” “I feel like the other part of landscape, as a culture, we don’t experience awe as much as we maybe did in the past,”
ild Rivers has always been a special place for Claire Coté. Born and raised in Questa, Coté’s childhood birthday celebration often involved camping with her parents at Big Arsenic Springs, where she could again experience the sublime views of the Río Grande Gorge. Little did she know that she would one day make Wild Rivers the site of her cornerstone project as an environmental arts advocate and educator.
Coté said. “Just sitting here and seeing this incredible gorge alone is amazing. But when you do it with a big group of people, it bonds you with a group [in a way] that sitting in front of a TV does not do, even though you’re all having a common experience.” NeoRio is just one of the many initiatives Coté has been a part of in the past decade. Initially formed for the purposes of managing and planning NeoRio, Coté formed the Land Experience and Art of Place (LEAP) organization in 2009 as a subset of the local nonprofit Localogy. Around that time, she also joined the team behind SEED, a nonprofit inspired by Rob Kessler and Wolfgang Stuppy’s macrophotography book, “Seeds: Time Capsules of Life,” which showcased magnified images of plant seeds. SEED, which was founded by Siena Sanderson and Mandy Stapleford, presents yearly art and science exhibits that can teach young and old alike about the natural processes of seeds. On top of all this, Coté has also served on the board of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. Coté’s journey began in earnest following her graduation from UNM in 2004, when she earned a degree in fine art and cultural anthropology. Initially,
Claire Coté at Wild Rivers National Monument where NeoRio takes place every year.
she wasn’t sure whether she would pursue a career in art or anthropology. Then Coté participated in UNM’s Land Arts of the American West program. Every year, the program takes a small group of students on two 25-day camping expeditions (with a week
of decompression, showering and clothes-washing in between). While in the woods, the students attended lectures, pursued art projects outside the studio context and navigated the necessary rituals of survival. All told, Coté traversed much of Southwest
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480 State Road 150, Arroyo Seco • 575 776 0900 aceqrestaurant.com
recognizes the hardwork and dedication of this year’s unsung heroes and the citizen of the year. You are an inspiration to all of Taos.
Taos County Chamber of Commerce Makes Business Better 1139 Paseo del Pueblo Sur • Taos • 575.751.8800 www.taoschamber.com
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Coté stands by the remains of a sculpture (constructed of earth and natural materials) made by Viviane LeCourtois, for NeoRio last year, she described as “a sculpture with particular qualities both to attract pollinators and for people to look at, bringing the two together. Part of the sculpture is its natural cycle of returning to the environment from which it came, slowly melting back to the earth.”
over the course of the semester. “It was definitely learning how to be a nomadic group: cooking for each other, a smallish group of people that are all taking care of our collective needs and making new artwork together,” Coté said. The semester left a profound impression on Coté. During the program, a visiting professor introduced her to the art and ecology program at
Dartington College of the Arts in Devon County of the United Kingdom. “It was really neat to be in England and observe what people are doing there, which is similar, but different from us,” Coté said. “Our countries, in a way, have some sort of common history, but are sort of very different now.” When Coté returned, she sought to bring back what she learned
to her hometown of Questa. “I just started to look for ways my training and interests could manifest here in a positive way,” Coté said. From her graduate study abroad, Coté also gained a stronger sense of regional identity and pride. “I guess I kind of almost struggled with my identity as someone who was born
and raised here as a white local,” Coté said. “Going away gave me a strong sense of pride and ownership of the place and the cultural traditions, which weren’t necessarily my own cultural heritage genetically, but they are a part of my own experiential cultural heritage. They are wonderful, beautiful and unique, and I feel strongly about trying to highlight and preserve them. It’s really amazing how leaving helps to gain that perspective
OUR HEROES COME IN ALL AGES… tackling challenges and living life to the fullest every day!
Tener más cuentas de jubilación no es lo mismo que tener más dinero Para obtener información acerca de por qué tiene sentido consolidar sus cuentas de jubilación con Edward Jones, llame hoy a su asesor ﬁnanciero local. Edward Jones ha designado el inglés como el idioma oficial para todos los aspectos de las relaciones con sus clientes. Paul M Sands Financial Advisor 1103 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte Suite 4 A El Prado, NM 87529 575-737-5772
JOE ANTHONY LEWIS as our Hero of Today and the face of Heroes of Tomorrow. Joe was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2009 at the age of 4. He fought through years of difficult doctor visits and treatments. His determination, toughness and keeping the faith helped him persevere. He has been in remission for 4.5 years.
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HEROES Katharine Egli
Claire Coté at Wild Rivers Recreation Area on the site of NeoRio — an annual environmental art exhibition and workshop that Coté founded.
on the place that you call home.” After England, Coté hit the ground running, and now she’s got so many projects operating that she often emphasizes that balancing time with her family and support from her husband, Chris, have been critical.
As a result, Coté and her collaborators have planned a scaled-down LEAP event calendar this year so that their efforts will be more sustainable. Still, she considered NeoRio an example of her philosophy of art and education.
“I definitely feel like it’s important to keep perspective on not doing too much,” Coté said. “You have to be topped up yourself in order to share your joy with other people.”
“Not every art installation is awe-inspiring like the gorge, but it’s a reason to come to this place and experience it in a different way, so I kind of see it as a recipe somehow,”
Coté said. “That event is a metaphor for my approach to place and education; it should involve the senses, it should involve food, it should involve experiencing of beauty or nature in some way.”
“I’m really honored, I was taken aback,” Coté said. “I don’t feel like a hero. I don’t feel like I deserve this kind of public recognition or honor. I do this because I love it and because I have to.”
Reflecting on what it meant to be selected as an “unsung hero,” Coté expressed gratitude, but thought due credit should be made to her collaborators and supporters.
e h t d n a r e l d a t S y m m i , J s e e e o S r e e H m o g C n u s n U r u rest of o Nights a Week Music 5
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Juan Abeyta in a forest west of Chamisal.
Risking life and limb Volunteer firefighter and logger Juan Abeyta
By Harrison Blackman
ometimes the calls come in the early morning, and sometimes they come late at night.
No matter the time, Peñasco resident and volunteer firefighter Juan “John” Abeyta is ready for action, guiding first responders on back roads to reach the remote sites where people need help. “Once I hear the call, I know where I’m going,” Abeyta said, explaining that many of their calls come from deep in Carson National Forest. “I know this mountain like my hands.” At 72 years old, Abeyta has had a lot of time to memorize the contours of the area roads. Born in 1945 during the final months of World War II, he said he started firefighting at the age of 18. For a time, he served as part of a Hotshot crew, an elite unit of interagency firefighters sent to battle the most difficult blazes. In 1973, he joined the volunteer fire department in Peñasco and has remained in its service for 44 years. From 1993 to 2003, he lobbied Taos County officials for funding to construct a fire substation in Chamisal. Finally built in 2003, that station was named in honor of Abeyta in 2015. The Chamisal fire station has five firefighters, including himself. “I tell them this is my way away from home,” Abeyta said. “I like to be here, and I like to help the community.” There are a few ways Abeyta has made the station his home. On one wall is a map of the station’s regional jurisdiction, which stretches all the way to the borders of Río Arriba and Mora counties. Inside the refrigerator is a stock of three beverages: bottled water, Coca-Cola and Pepsi. A set of Pepsi boxes in a cabinet, however, reveals Abeyta’s true brand loyalties – and who is really responsible for supplying the station. As a firefighter, though, he’s seen his fair share of action. In 1977, he was on call for a mesa fire in Los Alamos when his crew was separated into two groups and narrowly escaped a rockslide. Another time, while fighting a wildfire in Arizona, a blaze was descending a hill where they were ordered to try and hold a line. Abeyta objected on the grounds that it would be too dangerous. His words proved prescient – fortunately, they didn’t descend the hill, which soon erupted into flames. “If we’d have gone in there, we’d have been baked potatoes,” Abeyta said, going on to explain the importance of common sense. “When a fire is a little too hot, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, but you have some common sense, [it’s] no problem.” Abeyta supported himself and his family over the years as a logger. Initially, he worked for the Forest Service and made some extra money by logging on the weekends. A forest ranger caught wind of this and called him into his office, confronting him about the clear conflict of interest (since the Forest Service sold trees to the logging companies). Then Abeyta handed the ranger his notice. Soon after quitting, he was promoted to the rank of supervisor for his logging crew.
Juan Abeyta at the Chamisal Fire Station that bears his name.
“A HERO is someone who has given his or her LIFE to something BIGGER than oneself” -Joseph Campbell
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‘I’ve seen bad things and good things. You’ve got to deal with it, whether you like it or not.’ – Juan Abeyta
Longtime logger Juan Abeyta near the forests west of Chamisal.
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Roberto “Bobby” J. Gonzales
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Congratulations to the 2017 Citizen of the Year and Unsung Heroes. Your hard work and commitment make Taos the special place it is. Thank you Taos County for your ongoing support. If I may assist you please call 575-770-3178.
CONGRATULATIONS Citizen of the Year
Dr. Katherine O’Neill, AND TO ALL OF 2017 UNSUNG HEROES.
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Logging and firefighting shared transferable skills – Abeyta worked with a chainsaw in both fields. “A lot of people think that falling logs is easy,” Abeyta said. “You got to have your mind out here. … I know what that tree is going to do because [I’ve got] too much experience.” Throughout his firefighting and logging career, Abeyta has visited much of the greater 48 United States. The odometers on his trucks prove it — one of his vehicles has a whopping 485,000 miles on it. Another of his has traversed an also mind-boggling 379,000 miles.
Amid that mileage, Abeyta has only been severely injured twice in his career, and he still has the scars to prove it. “In the 50 years I cut logs, I only cut myself one time and it was my fault,” explaining an occasion when he misjudged the stability of a snag, a part of a dead tree. In 1989, another snag fell and hit him while he was cutting a tree, and his saw went flying 16 feet away. About two months of physical therapy brought him back to form.
Juan and Rosanna Abeyta raised three children: John, Maxime and Valerie. Now, Abeyta has eight grandchildren and one great-granddaughter in his family, who has just learned to walk.
His wife of 52 years, Rosanna, has often been concerned about his dangerous career choices. “She said I was stupid and crazy for doing all the things,” though adding, “I’m still here.”
“He’s very humble,” Judge Ernest Ortega of Taos County Magistrate Court said, who nominated Abeyta for the award. Ortega added that Abeyta keeps “every inch” of his station’s fire engines polished.
When asked to reflect on his selection as an “unsung hero,” Abeyta was demure. “It’s OK,” Abeyta said. “No problem for me.”
For Abeyta, being a firefighter has its psychological pitfalls and rewards. “I’ve seen bad things and good things,” Abeyta said. “You’ve got to deal with it, whether you like it or not.”
HEROES AREN’T BORN, THEY’RE MADE. We salute the Unsung Heroes and Citizen of the Year and all the heroes in our community working to make it a better place. We’re proud to be long-time supporters of youth sports and the arts in Taos. Investing in community has lasting dividends.
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2017 TRADICIONES â€¢ THE TAOS NEWS
John Romero photographed at Taos Pueblo in August.
A LEGACY OF SERVICE
Vietnam veteran John Romero’s mission to honor others By Jesse Moya
hile a tour of duty may come to an end, a veteran’s service to their country is never fully completed, and one Taos Pueblo vet is ensuring that no one from his home is forgotten. For several years, Vietnam veteran John Romero has taken on a task most people would look at as a mountain of a goal. Veterans associations across the state and country pay respects and give honors to vets of many backgrounds and ensure that no one is forgotten or left unmentioned, save for Romero’s brothers and sisters in arms at Taos Pueblo. Feeling vets from the Pueblo are underrepresented for their services to the country, Romero began climbing his mountain one step at a time and began searching for the perfect way to honor those veterans – past, present and future. “All these years, we’ve had so many veterans from the Pueblo and some of them are already gone,” he said.
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“There was never anything to honor our veterans. So we decided that maybe we should start working on a resolution to present to tribal council.” Romero began working with other veterans and community members on the adoption of a Pueblo veterans memorial to honor those who had served in the past, along with those in the present and future. The project, according to Romero, was unanimously approved by the tribal council and he immediately began searching for funding by writing letters and sending packets to congressional delegations, as well as then-President Barack Obama. Romero said the response was always the same: There was just no money. Refusing to give up and after searching high and low for some bits of funding for a project, Romero decided to look locally within the state to get the money for the project. By contacting Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, Romero finally got the funding and support needed to begin the journey. After drafting several letters to a number of state and local agencies, Romero was granted $85,000 by the state to go ahead with the monument. Now, he needed a permanent place to build the monument. Romero wanted the monument in a place where it would be seen by as many people as possible and become a destination like so many other veterans memorials. After much searching and several headaches along the way, Romero and tribal leaders decided the monument would be placed on Taos Pueblo’s Veterans Highway. “I want the memorial there because I want our community and all our visitors to come to it, and people
will realize that Taos Pueblo had all these veterans,” Romero said. Cataloging the names that would be included on the monument was no easy task and proved to Romero to be just as challenging as getting together the funding and location settled. Research through several historical documents brought Romero and his wife, Paulita, to some astonishing finds as they compiled more than 300 names of people from Taos Pueblo who have served in the United States armed forces, including Pueblo members who had fought as far back as the Civil War. After all the careful planning and years of work, Romero hopes to officially dedicate and showcase the statue on Nov. 11 as a special dedication for Veterans Day. “He’s done a lot, and he’s not going to sit there and tell you all the stuff he’s done,” said Paulita Romero. “He’s just a very special man.” On his journey to helping his fellow vets, Romero has one group he says he owes special thanks to – his family. Families of veterans are the service men and women who often go unrecognized when talking about vets and their dedication to their country. While soldiers are overseas or deployed elsewhere, families hold down the home front and await the return of their loved ones. After enduring two tours of duty in Vietnam, Romero said he knew the emotional toll his absence put on his parents and understands the fear that countless other mothers, fathers and wives go through while their soldiers are away.
In addition, coming home from a war takes a toll on a person that could last a lifetime for veterans. The effects of post-traumatic stress disorder weigh heavy in many households of soldiers who have returned from combat. Families, as well as veterans, have to learn to deal with the disorder. “A lot of our veterans, especially our combat veterans, we all suffer from PTSD. We’re not the same person day in and day out like a regular person,” said Romero. “We have our problems, our nightmares, flashbacks and sleepless nights and we put our families through a lot. My wife, I don’t know how she puts up with that. She’s been really supportive. I have a very good family support system. Whatever I’m doing, they’re right there backing me up.” Through the years, Romero said his wife has been by his side and supported him through some of the rough patches he has run into in the past. Working with vets can become a lifelong journey, and that is exactly what Romero has dedicated his time to. His current work includes looking for funding for a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs liaison specifically for Pueblo members. Recently, Romero was the driving force behind the acquisition of a new transport vehicle for vets in the area, giving them the ability to have a collective vehicle to make it to either doctor’s appointments or special events in the area. The vehicle was donated to Pueblo veterans and was done so through Romero’s work and dedication. “It’s just something I do from the bottom of my heart,” said Romero. “That’s the least I feel that I can do for veterans, is to help them in one way or another.”
John Romero photographed at the Taos Pueblo Veterans Memorial in August.
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is involved in action, the hero acts. An immense difference.” -Henry Miller
“When the foundation of your reality is shattered, there is loss. You must then move through the emotional healing of that reality and with grace and acceptance, proceed into your new life.”
I’m honored to serve Taos County’s community of heroes. Your dedication and tireless work inspires my service.
Congratulations to Kate O’Neill and all of the Unsung Heroes.
– Ted Wiard, LPCC, CGC
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Connie Tsosie Gaussoin photographed at her booth at this year's Indian Market on Santa Fe Plaza.
Never feel intimidated Connie Tsosie Gaussoin on making art and sharing culture
By Cody Hooks
hen the oldest pop-up market for Native American artists emerges in Santa Fe at the height of summer every year, the city’s narrow streets throb. The glint from bands and chains of silver flows into the sound of the throng o=f newcomers and old friends like a little river alive with a muchanticipated rain that nonetheless splashes past the banks. And this is just where Connie Tsosie Gaussoin is in her element. In the current act of her artistic family’s story, Tsosie Gaussoin is the strong female lead. She inherited her love of creation from the many lines of her family, but broke out into new forms, teaching herself along the way. And now, with four grown children who are all accomplished artists, it’s obvious the part she has played.
Yet there are other stories in which her role is less overt, but no less meaningful, no less expansive – like how she was quietly instrumental in stewarding a program that brought thousands of kids from pueblos across New Mexico to see performances at the opera house in Santa Fe. For her profound love of the arts and her dedication to sharing them, Tsosie Gaussoin has been selected as one of this year’s “unsung heroes.” She grew up in Santa Fe, attending Loretto Academy before it closed. But some of her roots stretch farther north. Her father is from Dinétah. Her mother, Lydia Duran Tsosie, is from Picuris Pueblo, where the family still gathers every year to prepare the house and
celebrate the feast day of San Lorenzo. The family’s lineage of artists includes R.C. Gorman, her late cousin, as well as painters, carpenters, drum makers, singers, rug weavers and jewelers (many who also served stints in the tribal government at Picuris). Tsosie Gaussoin’s work “started off” with traditional Navajo and pueblo designs and techniques, but over the years “progressed into something different, a bit more contemporary,” she said. Though she tries to keep modern styling and traditional elements in a fine-tuned yet generative balance, she does admit that she “may have gone a little avant-garde a time or two.” Many of her pieces arise from tufa casting. She uses a family mine on the
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TOWN OF TAOS UNSUNG HEROES
Congratulations Brian Greer The Town of Taos is incredibly proud of Brian and the many hats he has worn through the years. Director of Taos Youth and Family Center, Mentor, Coach, Youth Advocate, Sports Tourism Champion, Community Builder
TAOSGOV.COM 400 CAMINO DE LA PLACITA
For I was Hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Matthew 25: 35 St. James Episcopal Church strives to enable spiritual growth through worship, education, outreach and stewardship for the purpose of restoring all people to unity with God and each other.
SUNDAY, 8 A.M. Rite I Service, a quiet, contemplative service with no music SUNDAY, 9:00 A.M. Sunday School & Nursery SUNDAY, 9:15 A.M. Rite II Service including choral music FIRST SUNDAY OF THE MONTH, 5:00 P.M. Family Eucharist LAST SUNDAY OF THE MONTH, 5:00 P.M. Healing Service WEDNESDAY, 7:30 A.M. Mass to begin your day
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Creations of Connie Tsosie-Gaussoin
‘You have to have a good, complete, peaceful mind.’ – Connie Tsosie Gaussoin
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Connie Tsosie Gaussoin photographed at her booth at this year’s Indian Market on Santa Fe Plaza.
Navajo Nation to harvest the goodquality, “but hard-to-get” tufa from a hillside of the mountain — without wheelbarrows or even tarps. “You have to drag it down and form it into blocks so we can start working on our designs.” Tsosie Gaussoin’s love of the arts extends well beyond her jewelry (and sculpture, too).
Inspired by international travels in the late 1960s with an educational organization that fostered cross-cultural experiences with other students and foreign dignitaries, Tsosie Gaussoin looked to the opera as a way of bringing the cultures of New Mexico into closer creative contact for the benefit of pueblo kids. The Pueblo Opera Program was formed in 1973. Tsosie Gaussoin credits Taos Pueblo’s late John Trujillo, an “elegant man” with class to match, with ushering that program into existence. By 1980, she was the chair of the opera program for pueblo youth, said Kyle Gray, community engagement liaison at the Santa Fe Opera. Through the Pueblo Opera Program, somewhere between 400 and 600 kids from 12 or 13 pueblos visit the open-air opera house up to four times a year. At least 47,000 pueblo students have experienced an opera over the last four decades. “Connie really helped steward the majority of them,” said Gray. Not only did Tsosie Gaussoin help maintain the relationships that were essential to the opera program’s longevity, but she also found sponsors for preshow dinners
and other enrichment activities – such as fashion shows with famous designers like Patricia Michaels, from Taos Pueblo — all in an effort to make sure the opera was a rounded, inclusive experience. “She was really big about those little details that mean so much, about making sure pueblo kids felt integrated into the opera culture,” Gray said. “The Pueblo Opera Program is this cross-cultural exchange of hospitality,” he said, where the traditions the pueblo cultures and Western opera come together over the “common ground of dance, music and storytelling.” Tsosie Gaussoin’s youngest son, Wayne Nez Gaussoin, recalls having gone to the opera as a kid. “I didn’t know it was prestigious,” he said. “But as I got older and more involved, I realized the commitment it took to take the time, and the real interest and care, to expose pueblo kids to different types of culture.” He said that more than remembering individual operas, he walked out of those early shows “knowing not to feel intimidated by a different culture or experience.”
And when you see Tsosie Gaussoin navigating the lightly ordered chaos of the Santa Fe Indian Market so flawlessly, you see the movements of someone who certainly cannot entertain feelings of intimidation. She was surrounded by Nez Gaussoin and her other two sons, David Gaussoin and Jerry Gaussoin Jr. (her daughter, Tazbah, wasn’t at the table, as she just started a job at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.). But the market is a family reunion in other ways, with the pieces of jewelry that, one way or another, make their way back to her for a visit. Though the market’s a raucous homecoming, the creations that bring her there start in the quiet of the studio. “You can’t go to your work bench upset. You can’t go mad or things just don’t come out,” she said. “You have to have a good, complete, peaceful mind.” Empty of the cacophony of thousands of people, with just the metal and Earth’s rocks before her, Tsosie Gaussoin hears the slightest sound. “My pieces speak to me,” she said.
BEHIND EVERY CONSERVATION EASEMENT IS A CONSERVATION HERO
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PAST CITIZENS OF THE YEAR AND UNSUNG HEROES
2001 CITIZEN OF THE YEAR: LUIS REYES UNSUNG HEROES SHELLEY BAHR PAUL BERNAL BEATRÍZ GONZÁLES NANCY JENKINS IDA MARTINEZ CELINA SALAZAR LARRY SCHREIBER STEPHEN WIARD FRED WINTER 2002 CITIZEN OF THE YEAR: ELOY JEANTETE UNSUNG HEROES PAULIE BURT MARTHA DICK SHAWN DURAN LUCY HINES PALEMÓN MARTINEZ THERESA AND RÚBEN MARTINEZ JOLEEN MONTOYA MARY OLGUIN JOHN RANDALL 2003 CITIZENS OF THE YEAR: NICK AND BONNIE BRANCHAL UNSUNG HEROES RICHARD ARCHULETA ELIZABETH GILMORE BRUCE GOMEZ JANE MINGENBACH PATTY MORTENSON AND TERRY BADHAND CYNTHIA RAEL-VIGIL GUADALUPE TAFOYA BERNIE TORRES TED WIARD 2004 CITIZEN OF THE YEAR: TONY REYNA UNSUNG HEROES CHARLIE ANDERSON CONNIE ARCHULETA STEPHEN CETRULO VICTOR CHAVEZ ERNESTINE AND FRANCIS CÓRDOVA CLAY FARRELL DEE LOVATO JEANNIE MASTERS ROSEMARIE PACKARD
2005 CITIZEN OF THE YEAR: ART AND SUSAN BACHRACH UNSUNG HEROES MARDOQUEO CHACÓN JUAN "JOHNNY" DEVARGAS CARMEN LIEURANCE ERNIE AND FRUTOSO LÓPEZ ROY MADRID BETSY MARTÍNEZ ISABEL RENDÓN JOHNNY SISNEROS DR. BUD WILSON 2006 CITIZEN OF THE YEAR: JENNY VINCENT UNSUNG HEROES FRANCISCO CÓRDOVA TELESFOR GONZÁ LEZ JOHN HOLLAND VISHU MAGEE JUAN MARTÍNEZ LUÍS C. MARTÍNEZ BECKY MIERA GABRIEL ROMERO SNIDER SLOAN 2007 CITIZEN OF THE YEAR: JAKE MOSSMAN JR. UNSUNG HEROES CHILTON AND JUDY ANDERSON CINDY CROSS SHIRLEY AND JERRY LUJAN ALBINO MARTÍNEZ MAX MARTÍNEZ TED MARTÍNEZ IRENE PÁRRAZ CORINA SANTISTEVEN MICHAEL AND SYLVIA TORREZ 2008 CITIZENS OF THE YEAR: CID AND BETTY BACKER UNSUNG HEROES CRESTINA ARMSTRONG MARIO BARELA ART COCA MIKE CONCHA ROSE CORDOVA JEANELLE LIVINGSTON CHRISTINA MASOLIVER
MY TEACHER, MY HERO Lay A Solid Foundation For Your Children’s Future
Taos Municipal Schools
JAKE MOSSMAN SR. NITA MURPHY 2009 CITIZEN OF THE YEAR: REBECA ROMERO RAINEY UNSUNG HEROES BILLY AND THERESA ARCHULETA CAROLINA DOMINGUEZ EDDIE GRANT MARY TRUJILLO MASCAREÑAS CONNIE OCHOA MARIE REYNA LAWRENCE VARGAS FRANK WELLS 2010 CITIZEN OF THE YEAR: VISHU MAGEE UNSUNG HEROES Candido Domínguez ESTHER GARCÍA MICHAEL HENSLEY CHERRY MONTAÑO MISH ROSETTE PATRICK ROMERO CHARLENE TAMAYÓ FELONIZ TRUJILLO MALINDA WILLIAMS
2013 CITIZEN OF THE YEAR: PATRICIA MICHAELS UNSUNG HEROES EDY ANDERSON CYNTHIA BURT JOHN CASALI MARIA CINTAS FATHER WILLIAM HART MCNICHOLS MARK ORTEGA JOANN ORTIZ EFFIE ROMERO FABI ROMERO 2014 CITIZENS OF THE YEAR: ERNIE BLAKE FAMILY UNSUNG HEROES VALORIE ARCHULETA JANE COMPTON TINA MARTINEZ ALEX MEDINA JEAN NICHOLS LISA O’BRIEN LOUISE PADILLA MARY SPEARS
2011 CITIZEN OF THE YEAR: JIM FAMBRO UNSUNG HEROES BENJIE APODACA PATRICK DELOSIER CYNDI HOWELL ALIPIO MONDRAGÓN CHAVI PETERSEN SIENA SANDERSON MARY ALICE WINTER
2015 CITIZENS OF THE YEAR: RANDALL FAMILY UNSUNG HEROES WALTER ALLEN MARY ANN BOUGHTON CARL COLONIUS LIZ MOYA HERRERA MELISSA LARSON ADDELINA LUCERO BRUCE MCINTOSH THOM WHEELER
2012 CITIZENS OF THE YEAR: JIM AND MARY GILROY UNSUNG HEROES MARILYN FARROW DENNIS HEDGES PAT HEINEN JUDY HOFER PHYLLIS NICHOLS LOERTTA ORTIZ Y PINO DOLLY PERALTA LILLIAN ROMERO
2016 CITIZEN OF THE YEAR: ELIZABETH CRITTENDEN-PALACIOS UNSUNG HEROES BENTON AND ARABELLA BOND PAUL FIGUEROA CARL GILMORE JUDGE ERNEST ORTEGA ERNESTO MARTINEZ MEDALIA MARTINEZ SONNY SPRUCE BECKY TORRES
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