The Castillo Family
Every story about an influential family has a place to base the tale from.
In the case of the Castillo family of Los Lunas, that place was the Castillo General Merchandise Co. store at the corner of Main Street and Los Lentes Road.
Founded by Emiliano Castillo Sr., as a butcher shop in 1920, the store would eventually evolve into the Castillo general store that many, including Castillo’s granddaughter, Barbara C. Arnold, bought supplies from until its closing in the 1980s.
“I think the (store) was hugely important to the community, like all the store
s were at the time.” said Arnold
In those days, long before credit cards, store owners extended credit personally to their customers. Merchants often kept a running tab of what people owed them and the debt was usually settled at the beginning of each month. Unlike the impersonal swipe of a credit card in a machine these days, then merchants developed a personal relationship with their customers.
“It was a close relationship,” said Arnold, after producing a testimonial written for a recent display on the Castillo general store at the Los Lunas Museum for Heritage and Arts. “It was profound, those kind of relationships.”
In the letter, Lupita A. Sanchez of Los Lunas expressed what the Castillo store meant to many in the community, particularly during the tough times of the 1930s through the 1950s.
“Things were very difficult for us; we seemed to never get ahead…,” she said. “It was during those difficult times that the Castillo store was a savior for so many people.”
Even when customers could not pay at the end of the month, Sanchez said the Castillo family, through their store, was still supportive of the community.
“When we couldn’t pay, and at times our balances were very high, they never bothered us and they continued letting us charge and always (did) with a friendly welcome.”
Arnold’s father, Emiliano “Mily” Castillo Jr., and his brothers, Jose and Fred, would continue to run the store after the elder Castillo died in 1953. They also would follow Castillo Sr. into the mayor’s office, as all three brothers â€• like their father â€• served as mayor of Los Lunas.
Mily Castillo served longest, from 1968 to 1982. The youngest Castillo also served as Valencia County sheriff three times, 1951-53, 1959-63 and 1971-75.
Castillo Sr. served as the village’s second mayor from 1930-32.
Rico Gonzales, of the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts, said the Castillo family store held a special place for many in Los Lunas.
“A lot of people we interview have vivid memories of going to the store, of seeing Fred at the store” Gonzales said. “Emilano Jr. was a very involved Democrat and was mayor when you really saw a lot of development of the community. He was one of those that saw change coming and was a part of it.”
Mily Castillo and his brothers would be part of the transformation of both the Democratic Party they were a part of as well as the transformation of Valencia County as a whole and Los Lunas, as the village went from a bedroom community to the vibrant, growing community it is today.
“After Republicans had run things so long in the county the (Franklin) Roosevelt administration came into Los Lunas as part of a big Democratic influence in the area that lasted until Reagan in the ’80s,” Gonzales said. “(The Castillos) were a big part of that and were very politically active, from what I understand.”
Politics aside, Arnold said that she felt her father, uncles and grandfather all had a sense of pride and felt a duty to their community, which showed in their activities.
Certainly this is true with Mily Castillo, who served as Los Lunas’ municipal clerk as well as on the Valencia County Board of Education, the board of the Los Lunas Schools, board of directors of the Los Lunas Hospital and Training School as well as serving as chairman of the Valencia County Democratic Party.
It was true for Emiliano Sr., who in addition to serving as mayor, was superintendent of roads for Valencia County for many years as well as serving on the County Conservancy Board and as a Valencia County commissioner.
But it’s also true for Fred Castillo, who served on the Los Lunas Schools board, but also worked for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the State Highway Department, as did Jose Castillo.
Jose also drove the first bus that carried people from Belen to Los Lunas. And, through it all, the three brothers and their father ran the family store that so many counted on.
“My sense of it is that the Castillo family felt like there was a lot of civic duty, maybe because of the store,” said Arnold. “Especially way, way back, because they had done so well. Maybe it was their way of giving back.”
“The civic pride, wanting Los Lunas to be more than a dot on the map, having it be a place where people would like to live, all these things were rolled into it,” Arnold said.
Sadly, none of the brothers lived to see Los Lunas become the large, prosperous community it has become. Jose Castillo, passed on in 1969, Fred Castillo died in 1977.
Mily, who passed on 1986, saw the beginnings of the village’s transformation, something Gonzales said the Castillos played a part in.
“The Castillos were part of the foundation (of the growth),” Gonzales said. “They set the stage and foundation for the community, absolutely. Things weren’t in place and the village couldn’t have had the development necessary for the progress of Los Lunas without them, especially Emilano Jr.
Arnold said she felt that progress was something that Mily Castillo felt very strongly about — as strong as his love for Los Lunas and Valencia County.
“I know until my dad had his last term of mayor in the village, he felt very, very proud of Los Lunas and that it was a thriving community,” she said. “And Fred, Jose, all the mayors have pride and I think it’s nice, when I reflect and see so many Castillos who were mayors. We’ve always been very, very proud of Los Lunas and Valencia County.”
Today, the Castillos’ general store is a long-gone memory as the corner of Main Street and Los Lentes now has modern strip malls and fast-food joints in place of the family-owned stores that once dominated.
The closing of the Castillo General Store in the 1980s was a blow to the community and to the family, Arnold said. Gone were the days when Arnold and her family would troop down to the store and help with inventory. It also marked a sad time for Fred Castillo’s family, which had resided in a residence next to the store. But time and economics made it so the Castillo store went from a community fixture to part of its history.
“When the bigger stores came in, it became difficult,” Arnold said. “You’re sad when your grandfather’s business has to stop… (but) it was just kind of a fact of life. It was really sad to watch it decline.
“Everybody was very, very sad. But things just change.”
The Castillo name is no longer synonymous with the store or politics as it once was. But, thanks to Arnold and the historians like Gonzales who have compiled the stories of the Castillos who served as mayor, their history will not be forgotten.