Braille Monitor                                             July 2015

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Standing on Their Shoulders: Giants Who Helped Build Our Affiliate in New Mexico

by Peggy Chong

From the Editor: Peggy Chong loves history and is determined to recognize those blind men and women who have played a role in creating what we have today. Here is her story of a dozen blind people who played a part in our formation. Some of their contributions were spectacular, and some were less than stellar. Even those who might have done better by their fellow blind brothers and sisters demonstrate that blind people represent a cross-section of our society and show once again that none of us do all the good we can or live the lives we would have lived if living life was as simple as constructing a story. Here is Peggy's article:

The New Mexico affiliate came along many years after the founding of the National Federation of the Blind in 1940, but its members did their best to catch up with and contribute alongside their fellow Federationists across the country.

New Mexico became a state in 1912, the forty-seventh state to join the Union. Although New Mexico is the fifth largest state in land size, it is the thirty-sixth state in population. The school for the blind was opened in the fall of 1906 in Alamogordo, a medium-sized community in the southern part of the state. Beyond the school for the blind there were few options for blind people. The state had no agency for the blind and only a few workshops.

The land of enchantment had few notable blind people in its early history. Elizabeth Garrett was quite famous. Although she was educated at the school for the blind in Texas, her family was from New Mexico, and her father was the famous sheriff, Pat Garrett, who shot Billy the Kid. Elizabeth Garrett wrote the state song, "O Fair New Mexico." She was also one of the few blind teachers at the school for the blind in Alamogordo in its first decade.

In the spring of 1956 blind people and members of the state Lions Clubs canvassed the state, inviting blind people to come to Albuquerque and hear about the National Federation of the Blind. One Lions member in particular was helpful in organizing the new affiliate: Fred Humphrey of the Los Almos Lions Club. The organizing convention was held at the El Fidel Hotel at Copper in Albuquerque, on Saturday, June 2, 1956. More than fifty people attended, including blind people from throughout New Mexico. Among those who joined that day were some members of the staff of the school for the blind, an institution that also ran the largest sheltered shop for the blind in the state.

One of the first national activities that the new affiliate took on was hosting the 1959 National Convention in Santa Fe. The four-day convention was from June 26 to 29. Hotel rates in the six official hotels for the convention ranged from $1.50 for a cot in a dormitory room of the Hotel De Vargus to $12.00 for a double at the Desert Inn. Some rooms had a bath, and some even had air conditioning.

Harmony, or the lack of it, mirrored what was happening on a national level. Because many of the NFB of New Mexico members were graduates of the school for the blind, the primary provider of services to the blind of the state, when NFBNM leaders wanted to introduce legislation to create a commission for the blind in New Mexico, dissension occurred; the school did not want competition. That institution tried to get control over the new affiliate and almost succeeded. When their efforts were thwarted, representatives of the school pressured the members of the NFBNM who were alums, causing many to leave the organization. All of this happened within the first decade of the affiliate's existence. Yet this affiliate and its strong leaders maintained and strengthened the affiliate. Brief biographies of some of these leaders follow:

 Maria Alvarez was the daughter of Abram and Estafana Alvarez. She was born blind, but her family was reluctant to send her away to school until the parish priest and the county sheriff convinced them that Maria needed to go to school. Maria was a graduate of the New Mexico School for the Blind in 1944. Her family home was in Socorro, New Mexico, and that is where she returned after graduating. In the 1950s she got a job as a typist and transcriber at the county welfare office in Socorro after attending a secretarial school in Santa Fe.

When the 1956 organizing meeting of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico took place in Albuquerque, Maria was there. She was elected the first secretary of the new affiliate. In early 1957 she was chair of the Resolutions and the Publicity Committees for the upcoming state convention.

Maria was employed as a typist at the state welfare department in Bernalillo County and served as the secretary of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico. In the spring of 1958 state president Albert Gonzales and his wife Virginia stood up for her when she decided to marry the state president of the Vermont affiliate, Clarence Briggs. The two had met the previous year at the national convention of the NFB in New Orleans. After convention they corresponded using recordings and decided to wed. Briggs came to New Mexico, and the couple was married at the Episcopal Cathedral in Albuquerque in May.

Marie went back to Vermont with her husband for several years. The couple grew their family and the affiliate. They moved back to Albuquerque for almost two years, where husband Clarence served on the board of the New Mexico affiliate. Apparently deciding Vermont was more to their taste, they once again returned there.

 

Walter Frady was a blind vendor from Gallup, who operated the vending location at the Gallup Post Office. He was at the first two state meetings and was looking forward to the 1958 state convention, but he died in late April of 1958. His wife Frieda attended the convention in his honor, expressing to all how much Walter would have loved to be there.

Born in Nebraska, he was a salesman for the Goodyear Tire Company for many years. While in his forties Walter began to lose vision. He kept on working. When he moved to New Mexico in the 1940s, he began working the vending location at the Gallup Post Office. Walter was active in the local community as a member of the Elks Club. He also was a past director of the Gallup Lions Club, chairing some of its fundraisers. In 1957 he and two other men from Gallup attended the international Lions convention in San Francisco. When Walter died, the new affiliate lost an energetic, outgoing member.

 

Owen Henry Shillinglaw was a business owner in Las Vegas, New Mexico. A severe case of arthritis caused him to lose his vision. The arthritis that affected him and his brother William was noticed when Owen was a young child, and by high school he had lost most of his vision. About 1930 Owen went to work for Alfredo Coca Sr., often called Cokey, at the New Mexico Fuel and Lumber Company in his hometown of Las Vegas. Owen did everything, including loading the burros to carry firewood and coal up the gravel mountain roads to its customers.

In 1938 he purchased the company from Cokey and renamed it Owen Shillinglaw Fuel Company. Sometime around 1948 he brought his father in as an office manager to help coordinate the new offerings of his ever-expanding company. This also allowed him to spend more time out of the office, expanding his customer base and the number of products for sale. In front of his business was a large, single piece of coal, about four or five feet wide. This piece of coal was there for many years as a symbol of his trade.

In 1950 a strike at the local coal mines occurred. It lasted about two months. To be sure that Shillinglaw's could continue to serve its customers, Owen approached the Santa Fe Railroad company that owned the local rail yard and asked for permission for his workers to "mine" the rail yard, where hundreds of tons of discarded and sub-standard coal had been left behind when the railroads converted to diesel. He was able to provide work for men and keep his customers happy.

His wife Deborah would drive him to work many mornings because it had become physically hard for him to walk. Owen would check his Braille watch and time her from the time they left their home at 711 Dalby Drive to the intersection of Mills Ave. He knew how long it should take. Many times Owen would catch her going just a little faster than the local speed limit would allow and tell her to slow down. There is no indication that Owen received blindness training or read Braille, his trusty watch being the exception. The arthritis made it difficult for him to use his fingers for delicate work.

Owen took an active role in Las Vegas city council matters and hearings. He was one of those who addressed concerns that the city of Las Vegas was growing too fast and lent his voice to the need to extend the city limits in 1953. As a member of the Jaycees he served on many committees, including the city's Distinguished Service Award Committee. Some of Owen's pet projects were heading the fundraising efforts for the Las Vegas Hospital and the St. Anthony Hospital. He also led the community fund drive and as a member of the Chamber of Commerce led the "Short Line" committee that brought the Santa Fe Engine 1129 to Las Vegas as a centerpiece for the city park. He supported local sports teams, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Red Cross, and more. He held a position on the board of the Arthritis Foundation and local Rotary Club as well. He served as a trustee and elder in his Presbyterian Church.

Owen was a member of the NFB of New Mexico. He took an active interest in the affairs of the organization early on. When the Federation hosted a three-day seminar in Glorieta over the Labor Day weekend of 1957, Owen and his wife were in attendance. There he met and got to know National President Jacobus tenBroek. In the spring of 1958 he and his wife drove to Santa Fe to attend an executive board meeting for the state affiliate at the home of President Albert Gonzales, even though Owen was not on the board.

In May of 1958 Owen attended the state convention of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico in Albuquerque at the Knights of Columbus Club. At that meeting he was elected first vice president. The new organization was attractive to Owen because of its work to better the lives of the blind of New Mexico, working to improve the training for blind New Mexicans so they could become self-supporting members, a goal he was proud to have achieved for himself.

Owen died on September 26, 1958. On September 13 he had taken a fall at the office. He had gotten out of the passenger door of a truck that he and his staff were loading with a display to transport to Albuquerque. Owen stepped on a brick, lost his balance, and struck his head on the bumper of the truck.

In 2014 the Shillinglaw Company still holds his name, even though the business has passed out of family hands. The name of Shillinglaw was well known in all parts of the business community, and the company was awarded many state contracts beginning in the 1940s. Keeping the name, even decades after Owen's death, was good business.

 

Mark Shoesmith was born in Idaho. At the age of twelve he was blinded when the dynamite percussion cap he was playing with exploded in his face. His family enrolled him at the school for the blind in Salem, Oregon, from which he graduated in 1930. While attending the university, he became interested in sculpting, just to see if he could do it. It turned out that he had a real talent for this form of art. After graduation he did sculptures of Franklin D. Roosevelt's home in Hyde Park and a bust of Robert Ripley. One of his sculptures was displayed in the palace in Argentina. One of his most famous pieces was a bust of the well-known tenor at the Metropolitan Opera, Lauritz Melchior.

Mark and his wife moved to New York to pursue his art career, but, as most artists know, the art one loves does not always pay the bills, and his task was made more difficult by the Depression of the 1930s. Mark began teaching at the New York Institute for the Blind and later at the Goodwill Center for the Blind in Dayton, Ohio. His craft damaged his hands so much that he had to give up reading Braille for pleasure.

In 1948 the Shoesmiths moved to Alamogordo to teach art at the New Mexico School for the Blind and to head up the adult training program, the broom shop located at the school, where many of the students ended up after leaving the academic program. As he had in other locations, he became active in the community, joining the Lions Club and becoming president for a term in Alamogordo.

He continued his craft even after taking the position at the school. In 1954 he was commissioned to do a piece of art for the Blind Golfers Tournament in Toronto, Canada. He came highly recommended for the honor by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The trophy was carved from New Mexican marble. It depicted two eagles and two crossed golf clubs. Mark knew the dual significance of the eagles: first, eagles mean courage in many circles; double eagles also signify a score of three under par for any hole. Nineteen fifty-four was a good year for him artistically; he was selected to display his artwork for at least two years in Santa Fe.

When the NFB of New Mexico was formed in 1956, Mark was at the first organizing meeting. He spoke on the agenda as well. In 1958 he was elected second vice president of the NFB of New Mexico; however, his participation in the organization did not last much longer. As an employee of the school and the man running the broom shop, he must have felt conflicted when the Federation did not support sheltered employment, an occupation at which he was earning his living. During the 1960s, Mark would testify against NFB legislation to bring a commission for the blind to his state, doing this as a representative of the school. By the late sixties he no longer paid his dues to the NFB of New Mexico.

Because he was a blind person with skills and a position, he held influence over those who attended the school. Some students remembered him fondly. Those who worked under him in the broom shop who wanted to organize a union in the late 1950s did not. His supervisors told Mark to fire the union organizers "or else," and he did.

Ironically, in 1972, when the Federation legislation to establish a training center for blind adults was established without a workshop attached to it, legislation which Mark actively opposed, he was appointed as its first director. This position he held for only a year, before retiring to pursue his art career.

 

Pitaci "Pat" Salazar was born about 1917 near Pajoaque. Partially blind from birth, he was sent to the New Mexico School for the Blind and graduated in 1938. He returned to his parents' home and could find work only in a broom shop. He also sold blind-made items on the side to help make a living. But it was not enough.

When Pat took the bus, moving to Santa Fe in 1941, he had only $26 in his pocket. He got a loan from the Santa Fe Lions Club to set up a cigar stand at the capitol. At that time the Lions Clubs were securing locations for blind vendors, helping them with business planning, and, in the case of Pat, providing financial assistance to purchase stock. The state employment agency did provide training in vending, but it would be several years before a formal Randolph-Sheppard program would be established in New Mexico.

Within eighteen months the small cigarette and newsstand in the Bataan Building was self-supporting. Salazar had repaid the Lions Club its loan to him. He worked hard to build up his business, focusing on his ability to recognize customers after their first visit. After greeting them and engaging them in conversation, he would look for something about them to help him associate a name with a voice.

Salazar became a member of the 20/20 social club, where he served as an officer. This may have later turned into a local chapter of the NFB. He was a member of the St. Francis Cathedral, taking an active part in church activities. He served a term as president of the Holy Name Society at his church. About 1946 Pat lost the rest of his vision.

Pat operated the cigarette and cigar stand in the basement of the state capitol until 1952. When the capitol was remodeled, the state added into their floor plan more space for his business. His expanded offerings included coffee, sandwiches, and other items he could make in the small kitchen space allotted to his facility. Most people liked Pat and appreciated his service, but this did not spare him from the occasional break-in, resulting in the loss of cash and valuable merchandise.

Pat would hire blind people and others with handicaps to work in his business. During the legislative sessions he would often work up to eighteen hours a day, walking home long after midnight and returning as the sun was coming up. He was not a complainer and did what was required to make money.

A move of his business in 1954 to the Bataan Building allowed him to serve complete meals. When the Roundhouse was built and many state employees had offices and worked in other buildings, he would do catering for them by loading up carts and sending over the beans, chili, or whatever the special of the day was.

Pat worked to secure passage of what was called the "Little Randolph-Sheppard Act" in New Mexico. The bill was passed in 1957, giving blind vendors preferential consideration for vending locations on state property. To ensure that the governor would sign the legislation, Pat sent a note to the governor's office, reminding him of the legislation and that his birthday was the next day. Pat told the governor that, if he were to sign the bill on that day, it would be a great birthday present for Pat. The bill was signed.

Pat worked for the State Employment Services, the department that oversaw blindness programs, where he served as a trainer for potential blind vendors. For a year he served on a committee that explored employment opportunities for the blind as telephone and switchboard operators for the Mountain Telephone and Telegraph Company.

Pat married a fellow student from the school for the blind, Eugenia Baca of Socorro, in 1958 in Santa Fe. That was the same year that he was elected state president of the NFBNM. Eugenia had been elected to the state board in 1956 at the first meeting of the NFBNM. His wife majored in music while at school. After they were married, she was active in their church as well, participating in the music programs, playing the piano and organ for church functions. She also taught piano and music from their home to those in the Santa Fe area.

At the end of 1976 Pat decided to call it quits and retired from his vending location at the state capitol.

 

Joe A. Salazar was born blind, as were several of his siblings. Their father did not allow the children to sit idle while at home. The blind boys had to work on the farm as much as their sighted siblings. Joe was an optimist, finding pleasure even in his farm chores.

The blind Salazar children were sent to the school for the blind in Alamogordo. There Joe discovered a talent for and love of music. The school for the blind was near the military base at White Sands. In 1942 teachers from the school presented programs for the military, including a performance in May for the USO. Joe, Remijillo Chavez, Silviano Chacon, and Serafin Griego had a band at the school. The boys performed as a group, and other students from the school also performed musical numbers and readings. Beginning as a young boy, Joe performed for his church, continuing to do so all of his life.

In 1946 he moved to Santa Fe, where his brother Pat had rooms at 212 De Fouri Street. Pat had graduated a few years earlier from the school for the blind and was operating a vending stand at the state capitol. Needing funds, Joe took a job as a gardener for Henry Dendahl, caring for the man's many flowers and rose bushes. Having come from a farm, where plants provided food for the table, he told the priest, Father Francis, that he had a new appreciation for the flowering plants that provided so much beauty and fragrance to the world. Joe also said that he was surprised that he was paid so well for his gardening services.

Joe was one of the few graduates of the New Mexico School for the Blind to receive a one-year scholarship to the Perkins School for the Blind to continue his studies. He graduated in 1946 and, using the scholarship, went to Boston for the following school year. In the fall of 1947 Joe went to the University of New Mexico, where he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in music and a minor in English and speech. He was a member of the University of New Mexico Mixed Choirs. He had a wonderful baritone voice that was so extraordinary that every choir director Joe worked with commented upon it. As a college student Joe had few books in Braille, but sometimes he was fortunate enough to find some Braille music. To handle his reading load, Joe hired readers and used volunteers.

In the fall of 1952, just after graduating from college, he began teaching music for the Pojoaque, New Mexico, school. He was the first music teacher for the school system and the first blind teacher in the district. Each day he taught music and choral to over 150 students. Discipline in his classes was never an issue, though this is often the concern expressed by school administrators when considering the applications of blind teachers. Two students who decided to see if Joe could maintain discipline in his fifth grade class soon found themselves staying after school to clean his room. But Joe wanted to do more than discipline these boys: while they worked, he talked with them about common interests in basketball, other sports, and the things Joe remembered being interested in at their age. He was able to take two mischievous and sometimes rebellious children and make them a contributing part of his class.

Joe stayed in Pojoaque for two years. He then spent one year in Santa Fe, acting as the county school's music supervisor and was also given the teaching of English as part of his teaching load. He then took his dream job at Santa Cruz. There he brought his love for all kinds of music to his students, and in 1956 he led a chorus of over three hundred young people from grades one to twelve in performing at an Easter presentation. He wanted to challenge his students and engage them at the same time. This he did by talking about the music, ensuring that the children understood what was unique and fun about even the classical pieces. In 1970 Joe got his PhD from the University of New Mexico, something he had wanted to do for many years. While in the Española School District, where he taught speech and drama, he would on occasion bring in one of the Talking Books that he was reading to engage his students and to show them what a good reader could add to a story.

In 1975 Joe was voted teacher of the year by his colleagues. He was a member of the Española Education Association, EEA. In 1978, after the EEA had negotiated an agreement with the Española School Board and the school board went back on its agreement, Joe was one of the EEA leaders who spoke out at public hearings. He tried to force the school board to restore the confidence and security of teachers. He knew how to work the press and took advantage of his leadership skills to help himself and those who were too easily intimidated by their principal and district officials.

Joe used Braille music both as a student and throughout his teaching career. Much of his Braille came from New Mexico Braille Services in Albuquerque, a group that encouraged its volunteers to be certified in the Braille codes by the Library of Congress. As noted earlier, he also enjoyed reading Talking Books from the Library of Congress. His reading interests spanned many topics, for he had a genuine interest in learning and broadening his perspectives on life.

No matter where Joe was, he wanted to be of benefit to his fellow man, especially his blind brothers and sisters. One of his neighbors was losing eyesight and becoming very bitter. Joe tried to help him, but, like so many people losing vision, the newly blinded man was not ready to receive help. Joe was persistent and finally got him to sign up for books through the library for the blind. Within a short time the neighbor's attitude began to improve as he regained his ability to read and stay in contact with the rest of the world.

For many years Joe walked to Santuario de Chimayo, from Santa Fe to the holy church, a pilgrimage made by thousands of the faithful to the holy site, observing the Easter holiday. Joe said he did this for personal reasons: spiritual, intellectual, and physical—for the walk. In 1992 he, three of his grandchildren, and his golden retriever, Dooby, left the Holy Cross Church in Santa Fe at about 6:50 a.m. and arrived in Chimayo at about 10:30 that morning. He took no water for himself in the pilgrimage, but did take some for his grandchildren.

Joe was elected as first vice president of the NFB of New Mexico in 1956 and served in that office for several years. He met Dr. tenBroek and Dr. Jernigan at many events and was very committed to the NFB. He wrote for the Braille Monitor. He was appointed as the publicity chairman in advance of the 1959 National Convention. In this role he informed delegates about lodging and convention attractions they would find in Santa Fe.

In the late 1990s significant tension existed between the school for the blind and the NFBNM. Joe was the only blind member of the board when Director Kirk Walters was hired in 1996. Joe voted against his hiring. Then Jim Salas, another blind man, was appointed and two blind people sat on the board of regents during 1997. When a second vote was taken, he too voted to dismiss Walters, who was a controversial administrator. The vote in the summer of 1997 and the events leading up to it caused quite a firestorm, resulting in bad feelings that lasted for years. This issue was extensively covered in the Braille Monitor between 1996 and 2000.

 

Serafin Griego Jr. was one of many blind children in the Griego family. He was born in Vaughan, New Mexico, to Serafin and Celestine Griego. Blind from birth, he attended the school for the blind in Alamogordo. After he left the school, he married Helen, and they had two children: a daughter, Maria Rita, and a son, Paul Vincent.

In the 1950s the Griego's formed a family orchestra that played for many community and private events in the Santa Rosa and Vaughan area. The group was called the Griego Orchestra and was made up of Mrs. Maggie Griego on drums, brothers Efren and Serafin, and Salomon Mandragon, a fellow classmate from the school.

In 1955 Serafin moved to Albuquerque. An accomplished musician, he played both piano and violin. He became a founding member of "El Mariachi del Norte" in 1956, the first and longest-running Mariachi band in Albuquerque. The band performed for more than three decades.

Serafin was determined to be self-supporting and provide a good income for his family. When they had work, the income from their music was good, and playing was fun, but more was needed to meet the family's needs. Serafin often played for local dances as well as events sponsored by radio stations KABQ and KDCE. He was also trained in electronics and worked as an electronics technician.

In 1959 Serafin was elected to the NFB of New Mexico's state board as the corresponding secretary. He effectively supported many activities of the organization through his vast community contacts. In 1961 he was elected first vice president. In 1965 he assisted in the organization of a picnic for the blind at the Albuquerque Zoo, coordinating two busses to pick up people from different locations. He was elected sergeant at arms at the 1965 state convention.

At the time of his death, Serafin ran a telephone service from his home. He was a dispatcher for the American Auto Association. One October morning Serafin had a heart attack at his home. He was rushed to an Albuquerque hospital but died shortly after. He was taken much too early, being only forty-four.

 

Pauline Gomez was born into a prominent New Mexico family with roots in the state dating back to the 1600s. The Gomez family strongly believed in serving their community. Pauline was born with little vision and even it deteriorated over the course of her childhood. She was sent to the New Mexico School for the Blind when she was five, graduating in 1940. After graduation Pauline won a scholarship from the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts, to continue her education and to become certified to teach school. She was the first blind student from the school for the blind in New Mexico to win such a scholarship. She did an internship in Santa Fe at the public library, where she conducted educational programs for children and was praised for her work.

But when Pauline tried to find teaching jobs in the public and private schools, no one would hire her. Not to be thwarted in her desire to be productive and earn a living, Pauline then enrolled at the University of New Mexico in the fall of 1941 in Albuquerque, the first blind student to attend the university there. She became the first blind person to graduate from the University of New Mexico. Still no teaching job was offered.

If no one would hire her, she would hire herself. Pauline decided to open a nursery school in her home. On October 1, 1946, Los Niños Kindergarten School opened in the back room of her adobe-style home in Santa Fe. Eight children were in her first class. In those early days she managed the school, promoted it in the community, and single-handedly worked as its only teacher. Six years later, as the enrollment continued to grow, Pauline built a separate and larger classroom building on her property. The new building had a formal outside play area, a large classroom, an office, and an elevated area to allow parents to view their children while they were at school without disrupting the class or distracting from the tasks at hand. For decades Los Niños prepared the young children of prominent families in Santa Fe to enter the first grade.

Pauline kept her notes in Braille, typed up student reports, and used a tape recorder to keep track of student activities. Los Niños was the only preschool, school, or day care facility that provided parents with detailed reports on their children's educational activities. To add to the special services that set her school apart from others in Santa Fe, she held parent seminars where strategies for educating young children and the benefits of medical inoculations were discussed. Her school also presented holiday programs that were open to the public and the media. Los Niños graduations included caps and gowns for the five and six year olds, these garments made by Pauline and her mother. Such above-and-beyond efforts caught the attention of the Department of Public Education, and Pauline was asked on several occasions to help the state of New Mexico write the policies, guidelines, and strategies on early education for the department.

Pauline was one of the blind people who helped to bring the National Federation of the Blind to New Mexico. She wrote letters to many blind people throughout the state, talking with them about the Federation in 1955. She attended the first organizing meeting in the spring of 1956. She was first elected to the state board as its secretary in 1958. Over the next thirty years she would serve in many capacities, including president for several terms and the national delegate from New Mexico on many occasions. She represented blind vendors in disputes with the state and also was an advocate for other blind people who needed assistance, whether they were school-age children or seniors needing people in authority to listen to them.

Passing Federation legislation was also a major concern for Pauline. Her father had served as governor for a term, and her aunt served in the state legislature at the same time as Albert Gonzales. With the many contacts she had, Pauline had a strong impact on the outcome of proposed legislation. She also developed the blueprint for the Federation's legislative strategy that would result in the Federation’s most successful attempt to influence the legislature of New Mexico in the session that spanned 1966 and 1967. In this session the NFB supported six bills, all were introduced, and all were passed.

On a national level Pauline addressed several sessions of the National Federation of the Blind’s conventions, many of those presentations focusing on the need for an adult training center in New Mexico. She was also called on to translate from English to Spanish for international guests.

Pauline was a founding member of the Teachers Division in 1970 and received the first Blind Educator of the Year award from the national body of the Federation in 1987. Through her national contacts she brought interesting, non-stereotypic, and challenging blind people to the state to help demonstrate to the community what the future could be for the blind of New Mexico. In 1962 she helped bring a blind photographer, Harry Cordellos, from California to address the Santa Fe Lions Club. Cordellos carried a white cane that was longer than the ones used by the blind of New Mexico. He told the Lions about the California Orientation Center and how it taught skills that helped blind people lead full and successful lives. This was done by preparing them for the attitudes that would stand in their way and teaching them the blindness skills that would let them accomplish those things normally considered to require sight. He talked about how difficult it had been to get into college, especially when officials learned that his desire was to become a photographer. He used the pictures he had taken in his presentation, lending credibility to the reasonableness of his goal.

In 1983 Pauline decided to retire as the administrator of her preschool. She stayed active in her many civic activities that had and continued to contribute greatly to the Federation's success and prominence in Santa Fe over the years. Each year she walked and helped organize White Cane events in Santa Fe. In 1989 the Governor appointed Gomez to the State Advisory Council on Libraries. She remained active in all her church, civic, and Federation activities until her death in 1996.

 

Albert Torres Gonzales was born in Roswell, New Mexico, and is the most documented of all of the early NFB of New Mexico leaders. Albert admitted that he was a daredevil and loved publicity. Blinded while showing off at a training exercise at a military camp, he was sent to Washington, DC for medical treatment. During the year he was there he met other blind people who encouraged him to finish his education. When he returned to Las Cruces in 1931, he began classes at the New Mexico Agriculture and Mechanic Arts College, but not without a fight and intervention from a US Senator. After graduating, he spent some time in California, where he met a blind attorney who inspired Albert and helped to define his future. He went to Georgetown University, where he received his law degree.

Albert returned to Las Cruces, passed the bar, set up his law firm, and found that, although many townspeople said they admired his efforts, they did not trust him with their legal cases. Determined to succeed, Albert ran for the office of State Representative for Dona Anna County on the Democratic ticket. He won. He then moved to Santa Fe to be close to the capitol and to set up his law practice in that city. He hoped that people would be more open to hiring a blind attorney given his service in the legislature.

Gonzales served three terms as a state legislator. During his terms in office he tried to pass legislation to benefit the blind, even calling on Helen Keller, a fellow Lion, to add support to his legislation to provide for a separate department of rehabilitation for the blind. Though he tried hard, the state was not ready to embrace his faith in the blind or his ideas to better their lives.

His law practice did much better than in Las Cruces, but not to his financial benefit. Most of his clients were the poor who needed a bilingual attorney. These were the clients that other lawyers didn't want to take on because they seldom could pay. Albert was often paid in kind, being given produce, labor to repair his homes, livestock, and even land. To get the cash necessary to pay his bills, Albert began selling insurance.

In the late 1940s he began to invest in property. He purchased a home for his family and rented out the home they had previously occupied. When given land, Albert sold or developed it. He soon was purchasing land in downtown Santa Fe. The rent from his properties was what made Albert Gonzales a wealthy man in his later years.

Although Albert had represented famous or infamous clients such as Reies Tijerina, a 1960s-era Mexican-American civil rights leader who led the raid on the Tierra Amarilla County Courthouse, he received little compensation. Nor did his high profile cases bring in the wealthy business clients he was hoping for. He served as district judge for many years, fining Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for speeding, and then a year later, holding them over for trial on a charge of espionage. Albert did his best to see that the press knew about his efforts and his successes, but still his clients were the poor of the state. Beyond the personal satisfaction of helping those who really needed him, the one benefit of having such a client base was that they were the ones who came out to vote for him when he ran for state representative, judge, school board, county commissioner, and other positions he held over a thirty-year period.

When the organizing meeting of the Federation occurred in 1956, Albert was front and center. He had helped publicize the meeting as well as getting some from Santa Fe to attend. He was easily elected as the affiliate's first state president. For the next twenty years he held an office and chaired important Federation committees. He was a shoe-in for the new affiliate’s legislative committee and played a big part in making a pitch for the 1959 National Convention to come to Santa Fe. He worked hard to see that the convention was a success, and it came off remarkably well, given the small community of blind people available to work on it and their newness to the Federation.

Albert worked closely with national leaders such as Jacobus tenBroek, Kenneth Jernigan, and others to bring new ideas and programs to the affiliate and to its legislative efforts. News articles about the Federation were frequently in the New Mexico press, thanks to Albert's contacts and his love for publicity. With his energy, know-how, and broad-based support, Albert helped ensure that the first dozen years of the affiliate were successful, even in the face of significant internal and external pressure.

Albert was still strong and vital in the 1990s, though he had by then lost most of his hearing. He continued to be active in the affiliate, served for a time on the board of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, and was eventually granted an honorary doctorate by the university that originally opposed his entrance as a college student, the institution now known as New Mexico State University.

 

Life was not always easy for the pioneers discussed here, but they managed to be successful despite the perceived limitations imposed by their blindness. They did all of this without formal programs to help them, against the resistance of institutions of higher education to accept them, and without much of the technology we take for granted today. They were not content to create quality lives for themselves, foolishly proclaiming to the world that they had been given nothing and had done it all on their own. Instead, they gave a part of their treasure, time, and talent to helping other blind people. They certainly understood that this effort would in some measure help them, but they did not argue about whether it takes a village to help the blind or whether it takes the blind to help make a hospitable village. The work demanded concrete action, and this is what they gave. We in 2015 stand on their shoulders. Let us do what we can to make them proud and lend our imagination, our treasure, and our hearts to advancing the opportunities for blind people as these pioneers did for us.

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