Garcia continues to work at 82

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The year was 1939. America was mired in the Great Depression and Franklin Roosevelt was halfway through his second term as president.

Mike Bush-News-Bulletin photo: Daniel Garcia, 82, sweeps up outside the convenience store where he works. He has been employed continually at various jobs for 73 years.

Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama were not yet born, and Pearl Harbor was just the name of another Navy base.

But when school let out one afternoon, Daniel Garcia went to work.

That was 73 years ago and he’s been doing it ever since.

Garcia’s first job was washing dishes at a restaurant called the Rod & Reel in Belen. Today he works as a maintenance man at the Road Runner Pit Stop, the gas station and convenience store attached to Fat Sat’s Bar and Grill on the north end of town.

“I love to work,” Garcia says with obvious sincerity. “It’s the only thing that keeps me going. I don’t want to sit around all day watching TV.”

After that first job Garcia worked for the Hub City Bottling Plant for a while, then became a switchman for the Santa Fe Railroad between Belen and Zuni. He then put in 37 years as a welder for the Southern Union Gas Co. and PNM.

In 1958 he retired, but within two weeks was back at work.

For a time he worked for the late District Court Judge Tibo Chavez Sr. (he would later serve as a pallbearer at Chavez’s funeral), then spent 16 years with the National Forest Service, caring for campgrounds in Jemez.

“I used to love going over there,” he recalls.

Now 82, Garcia has been working at the Road Runner Pit Stop for about four years. His assistant, a young man named Joey Thomas, calls him a hard worker and an inspiration. He, too, will be working when he is in his 80s, Thomas says.

Garcia, a widower, is the father of one son and four daughters. His son is a card dealer at a casino in Laughlin, Nev., and all four of his daughters work or have worked for New Mexico school districts.

One, Liz Baca, a receptionist at the Belen Consolidated Schools administration office, says their father instilled a strong work ethic in his children, by design and by example.

“He’s always taught us to work hard,” Baca says.

These days, when he’s not on the job, Garcia can often be found working away at his half-acre farm, cultivating chiles, cantaloupes and tomatoes.

“I have a little garden,” he says modestly, but his daughter, Baca, calls it a farm.

“The whole family gets chile from there,” she says. “It’s a family farm, but he does all the work.”

Garcia says he likes to travel. The farthest he’s ever strayed from Belen was Kansas City. That was four or five years ago with a Catholic church group.

He also enjoys visiting casinos. Asked if he has a favorite, his eyes light up.

“All of them,” he responds.

Garcia, who has never been unemployed for more than a few weeks at a time, is proud of his work at the gas station. “We keep this place clean, and it keeps me on my toes,” he says.