Unsung Heroes: Cecilia ‘CeCe’ Aragon and Patti Bucklew

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Raising money for the Belen Art League Gallery is a labor of love for Cecilia “CeCe” Aragon and Patti Bucklew.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Cecilia “CeCe” Aragon, left, and Patti Bucklew, right, are tireless volunteers and advocates for the Belen Art League and its gallery at 509 Becker St. in Belen. The duo are always working to attract visitors and new members.

The team works off each other’s passion when one or the other runs out of steam, but no project seems too much when it comes to supporting the league.

Aragon is always looking for new ideas to bring people into the BAL gallery, and expand its membership. You don’t have to be an artist to be a member either.

She develops and organizes programs and events to attract people, working with the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce to promote BAL at chamber events. One of the chamber events to promote BAL is the Rio Abajo Becker Street Festival. Aragon and Bucklew organized BAL exhibits and activities out in front of the gallery during the annual festival.

“This year was our best year,” Aragon said. “We had a huge sidewalk sale, and then we had a face painter, who is one of our members, that reached out to the children.”

Aragon originally got involved with the BAL years ago when she took art lessons from the late Dorothea von Eckhardt. Eckhardt often recruited her students to help set up shows, and Aragon was no exception.

Then, Lorraine Doty, a former president of the art league, asked Aragon if she would take on the responsibility of treasurer for the league.

“I knew we were a non-profit, but I thought we had enough money to pay for the bills,” said Aragon with a chuckle. “But there wasn’t.”

Membership dues help with the bills, but Aragon faced a $200 balance and a $600 bill as the new treasurer. So she rolled up her sleeves and began tidying up the BAL’s budget.

That’s how the annual yard sale started, Aragon said.

She asked BAL members if they would clean out their closets, garages and homes to see if they had any items they could donate for the yard sale. About 20 or so BAL members contribute by volunteering on a regular basis, but Aragon and Bucklew are the steam engines for the yard sale.

“I started working with CeCe and Patty at the Valentine’s Tea,” said Belen resident Imogene Hatch. “Since then, I’ve worked with them at the yard sales, and I’ve seen how hard they work and how passionate they are for things to go right.”

For starters, they arrange transportation and storage for all the donated items.

“The art league has no storage,” said Bucklew. “We ended up, the last year or two years, using the VFW for our sales, because the art league has no room. Even the week of the sale, we ask everybody, ‘Don’t bring it in until Wednesday,’ so that the classroom is just full of stuff.”

One year, they ended up renting a U-Haul just to store the merchandise for a couple of days, she said.

So, they organize where, when and how, as well as set up the whole sale.

“All of this money that we make is to pay bills, to put on more programs for the kids, do more things at the art league, improve the building, advertise more so that people know that it’s there,” Aragon said. “We have some really talented people in the Valencia County area, and they need a place to show their stuff.”

The BAL gallery has rooms for exhibits, a workshop for art classes and a backyard garden for receptions and summer events, all of which require maintenance and sometimes repairs. The yard sale is probably the biggest fundraiser for the Belen Art League.

“There’s so many logistics to getting the yard sale going,” Hatch said. “First it was in front of the art league for two or three years, then we got the VFW hall. It’s just amazing. They do the hard and the dirty work. They’re there both days and do all the heavy work, lift all the heavy tables. If it weren’t for those two, I don’t think our yard sale would be nearly as successful.”

Part of the gallery’s lease from the city of Belen requires community outreach, and it’s a hand-in-glove situation for the league.

The art league’s summer art workshop for youth is another of Aragon’s projects. She started the program three years ago, and she and Bucklew have organized it ever since.

There are two separate workshops, each one a week long, starting soon after school gets out for the summer. The fee is $5 and the league supplies all the materials, instruction and activities.

It’s a program close to Aragon’s heart. She is an advocate for both elders and youth, because they require assistance and can’t do everything for themselves.

For the students in the summer program, Aragon derives tremendous satisfaction in being able to offer local youth an opportunity to learn something different, explore different art mediums and discover their talents, she said.

If more supplies are needed than the gallery’s treasury can afford, she’ll dip into her own pocketbook to make sure the program has all that’s needed.

The week-long workshop fills up fast, and many of the students want to attend both weeks, Aragon said.

“We have a waiting list every year,” she said. “We’re hoping the more instructors we can get, the bigger the program can get.”

When Aragon learned about an arts media requirement for home-schooled children, her wheels started turning again.

“We’re hoping we can start a class all through the year, not just the summer,” she said.

When Aragon’s mentor and former art teacher, Eckhardt, died a couple of years ago, Aragon and Bucklew were there to help Eckhardt’s elderly sister, Catherine.

She lived in Tierra Grande and needed to move to an assisted living facility. All her relatives are back east, but her brother was coming to move her.

Aragon realized the woman needed help with all her household goods, so she and Bucklew organized an estate sale. They did all the cleaning, packing, pricing and then the selling, to make sure Catherine received as much money from the estate sale as possible.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of overhearing about a person’s predicament. Bucklew calls it being in the right place at the right time.

“It’s just put on our hearts to help them,” Bucklew said. “It just feels good to help people, because they appreciate it … that’s what I get out of it — that I know in my heart I’m doing the right thing at the time.”

When Belen Art League member John Bock died, he willed some of his art work and all of his art supplies to the league.

His lawyer called the gallery to arrange the transfer of the materials that were stored in an airplane hanger at Mid-Valley Airpark.

The women had no idea it would be a such large room full of supplies requiring an extensive moving operation, but they dug in all the same, grateful for the treasure that would help support the gallery.

“The VFW really worked with us,” Aragon said. “They let us use their space, and we gave them a donation, which helped them.”

The yard sale earned the league more than $3,000.

“They’re just indefatigable,” Hatch said about the two women. “They don’t have to be asked or cajoled like a lot of us do. They see a need and they just do it.”

Aragon and Bucklew also volunteer at the Harvey House Museum in Belen to help decorate the Christmas trees for the holiday show.

The museum is also a nonprofit. Aragon’s wheels started turning yet again. She started thinking of ways to promote the museum.

One way the Belen Art League supports the museum is by holding its large, spring and fall art shows there, renting the space for a $75 donation.

Promoting the Belen Art League Gallery and tourism to Belen are the aims of most of Aragon and Bucklew’s volunteer activities.

“I think the biggest thing for me is my passion for the art league,” Aragon said. “I want it to survive, and if it means a little bit of work, then I’m all for it.

“Sure, do I get tired? I do, but after you do something and it’s a job well done, a success or whatever, that’s payment enough for me.”


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.