Our Elders, Our Hearts

      Carmella Padilla
            In Hispano oral history, a popular dicho says simply, Cual el amo, tal el criado—“As master, as servant." Translated less literally, the folk saying encourages setting a good example through service as a path to mastery.
            It is doubtful that the individuals featured in the following pages would call themselves masters. Indeed, it only takes reading a few lines of their diverse and extraordinary life stories for a less-boastful theme—humility—to emerge. Combine this modesty with energy and motivation, then add a few years of experience—70 or more. Call them masters, mentors, miracle-makers. Whatever the word, there is no denying that this special group of elders has mastered the art of community service to benefit others in the world and in their beloved northern New Mexico home.
            Since its founding in Santa Fe in 1984, the Network for the Common Good has called these notable norteños "Living Treasures." The Living Treasures program, according to its mission, publicly acknowledges "elders who have generously served our community with kind hearts and good deeds." Twice yearly, the community gathers to express appreciation for the collective wisdom, experience, and contributions of three new program inductees, individuals and couples alike, age 70 and up. In celebrating the youthful spirit and dignified grace of our exemplary elders, the program reminds us that Gandhi's appeal to "be the change you wish to see in the world," the inspiration for the program, did not come with an expiration date.
            The 1997 publication of Living Treasures: Celebration of the Human Spirit introduced readers to 104 Treasures named from 1984 to 1994. This new book casts a well-deserved spotlight on 91 others inducted between 1994 and 2008. With narrative by Richard McCord and photography by Steve Northup, both esteemed longtime Santa Fe journalists, the book is a colorful community mosaic of multicultural and multitalented citizens whose impact is felt in Santa Fe and beyond. Their callings are unique, their lifestyles diverse. They are artists, educators, Boy Scout leaders, environmentalists, and activists. They are healers, writers, businesspeople, public servants, and cultural patrons. They are leaders all. Their common ground is a profound capacity to give, a desire to imbue each day with meaning, awareness, and love for the places they live.
            Many elders surrender to their advancing years. But the individuals in this book purposefully—and fearlessly—confront the shifting seasons of age. Consider Sam Ballen, who, with his wife Ethel, revitalized a once-crumbling La Fonda Hotel as one of the country's most historically significant destinations: Sam spent his 80th birthday climbing 12,622-foot Santa Fe Baldy, one of highest peaks in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. Barbara Vogt Mallery was in her 80s when she wrote her first book, a poignant reflection of a childhood on a remote New Mexico ranch where she embraced the values of selflessness and compassion that drive her bighearted life. Anita Stalter found purpose in nurturing the rambling gardens and century-old trees at Canyon Road's cherished El Zaguan, in times of drought and plenty. Stalter's husband Ernest "Tap" Tapley, a formidable outdoorsman who founded Outward Bound, taught wilderness survival skills to at-risk youth and anyone wishing to follow him into deep snow or tall timber. As one of Tapley's many devotees declared, "Forget his age. Turn him loose, and then try to keep up with him."
            Eighty-year-old Dale Ball may have said it best when explaining his motivation to preserve many of the glorious open spaces that surround Santa Fe: "What else is an old man with a lot of energy to do?" And Ball didn't do it alone; like many Treasures, his achievements were born from a successful union, in this case, with his wife Sylvia. Their love story is one of love for such cherished local landscapes as Atalaya Mountain, which, thanks to their Santa Fe Conservation Trust, was saved from development. The couple's creation of a hiking trail network that stretches more than 30 miles between Santa Fe and the Sangre de Cristos also benefits nature-lovers every day.
            The history of northern New Mexico is a complex chronicle of resilience and resourcefulness, shaped by individuals with the same stalwart qualities. The Living Treasures program at once preserves the state's diverse cultural histories and expands the narrative, linking natives and newcomers alike in the area's fascinating story of people and place. Concha Ortiz y Pino de Kleven's family history has roots in a 100,000-acre sheep ranch near 17th-century Galisteo. Her political savvy and commitment to women's rights led her to the male-dominated state Legislature and to prominent positions in social services and the arts, both in New Mexico and nationwide. Daniel "Bud" Kelly Jr.'s distinguished family legacy dates to the late 19th-century arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad, when Gross, Kelly and Company, the Southwest's largest railroad mercantile, helped transform the city's commercial and cultural landscape. Later, as head of the Kelly Insurance Agency, the dynamic Bud dedicated his business skills and volunteer time to supporting a string of artistic and cultural organizations in Santa Fe.
            Meanwhile, Agnes Dill, a native of Laguna and Isleta pueblos and founder of the North American Indian Women's Association, turned an oppressive upbringing into a powerful vision for civil rights, education, and employment of her American Indian sisters across the United States. Internationally known artists Eliseo and Paula Rodriguez found a loving partnership and creative passion in reviving the disappeared Spanish-Colonial art of straw appliqué, among the most popular traditional Hispano art forms in New Mexico today. Though not born in New Mexico, acclaimed Italian-American artist and writer Andrea "Drew" Bacigalupa became "a true citizen of the world," one who transplanted his international sensibilities and wide-ranging artistry deep into Santa Fe's cultural soil.
            The phrase also holds true for other Living Treasures whose lives played out elsewhere before they felt the irresistible draw of northern New Mexico. Each brought a wellspring of experience and generosity to their adopted home; each was received here with space to give and grow. Exiled scholar and writer Lobsang Lhalungpa brought the insightful wisdom and traditions of his native Tibet. Japanese-American peace activist Ruth Hashimoto, whose ancestral ties led to her childhood incarceration by her native United States, brought a fervent goal to end racism through global understanding. Pediatrician Valerie McNown, a native New Yorker, relocated her practice to battle—and reverse—deplorable infant-mortality rates in northern New Mexico. And Illinois retirees Bill and Georgia Carson used imagination and personal resources to care for a fast-failing Santa Fe school, initiating volunteer-based programs in literacy, art, health, and physical education that turned the school into a model of achievement and community pride.
            Santa Fe and northern New Mexico have long been a gathering place for exceptional individuals from all walks and ways of life. Not everyone who comes here chooses to stay. Those who do, find reason and rhythm in this beautiful, unpredictable, and frequently contradictory place. Each Living Treasure has followed a singular path here, journeying from small towns and big cities, in poverty or privilege, through tragedy, beauty, joy, and loss. Their paths are neither straight nor perfect, but with each step, they have persevered. The years have equipped them with hindsight, foresight, and above all, adaptability. In choosing to unpack the tools of a long life on our sunny doorstep, they have shaped northern New Mexico in both tangible and invisible ways.
            In a society obsessed with all things young, over-exposed, and wrinkle-free, it is little wonder that our elders are often unappreciated, unseen. As we follow our own paths and shifts of fortune, however, we would do well to take notice of those who have paved the way. Our elders have survived wars and economic downturns. They have turned tragedy into hope, hatred into love, hard luck into optimism that tomorrow is a better day. They know that our greatest assets are born of the heart and mind, experience and time. They know how to live.
            The lessons of our Living Treasures are preserved in oral histories, photographs, and books, all of which are archived at the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library in Santa Fe. Communities across America are following our lead in establishing programs that recognize their own remarkable elders. The twice-yearly Living Treasures ceremonies are rare opportunities to meet and hear honorees' stories firsthand. The celebration is no less than magical, as unassuming and inclusive as the Treasures themselves. In attendance are friends, neighbors, and family members, whose poignant tributes open a window into each Treasure's life with tales of wonder, laughter, tears, truth. As elders, middle-agers, and youngsters form a circle of sharing, the room swells with good will and respect for all. For a few beautiful hours, the generations are one.
            Another Hispano dicho tells us, Por los acciones se juzgan los corazones—“Our hearts are judged by our actions.” The brilliance of the Living Treasures program is that it asks us to look to the hearts of our elders to guide our own actions. We may not always notice them, but they are everywhere: in our homes, our neighborhoods, in the grocery store line. They are our grandparents, our friends, the strangers we should embrace. Find them, thank them, cherish them. Because of their good deeds—the students they've mentored, the beauty they've created, the words they've written—the heart of northern New Mexico is blazing with love, bursting with life, beating strong.