Women’s History Month

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In honor of Women’s History Month, the Business Women of Valencia County shared some of their thoughts about women they admire.

Some are historical figures, such as Nina Otero-Warren.

Photo courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum: Eleanor Roosevelt is pictured speaking at the dedication of the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park, New York, as a national historic site on April 12, 1946. President Harry S. Truman is seen seated behind Mrs. Roosevelt.

A resident of Los Lunas, Nina Otero-Warren came from two of the oldest Spanish families in New Mexico, the Lunas and Oteros, said local playwright, Nancy Strickland, a friend of the BWVC.

Nina lived from 1881 to 1965 and was an early proponent of women’s right to vote. She saw women move from being chattel of their husbands to winning the right to vote, said Strickland.

“She was widely considered the single most influential figure in persuading the New Mexico Legislature to pass the constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote.”

Nina also fought for women’s rights to hold public office, and became one of the first women to do so, said Strickland.

A contemporary woman admired by BWVC President Cheryl Ryder is Christina Ainsworth, the village of Los Lunas’ community development director.

Ryder said Ainsworth holds a position that traditionally has been a male-dominated.

“She’s done a fabulous job bringing modern community development to Los Lunas,” said Ryder. “Her vision and her leadership help guide her department in its efforts to bring commercial development without sacrificing our cultural heritage and rural charm.”

Ryder said the BWVC are also a big inspiration. They work together to help support many charitable organizations in the county, such as Civitan, PIE (Partners In Education), the Pilot Club, the Valencia County Literacy Council, Rotary Club and the Blue Star Mothers of Valencia County. There is a constant networking of resources among them, said Ryder.

“If somebody comes in with a situation they need help with or an organization that needs help, we all support each other to get it done,” she said. “Each woman is involved in two or more charities that the group willingly contribute to making each event a great success.”

Nan Ziegler is passionately involved in Blue Star Mothers of Valencia County. She organizes supply drives to create care packages to send to soldiers serving in war zones.

Ziegler is a retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant and spent 22 years in the military, where women have also made great inroads.

“When I joined the military in 1981, it was still all men,” said Ziegler. “We’re still fighting that to a point, just to be able to be equal and to be able to serve our country.”

Ziegler said Peggy Darlington, a fellow Blue Star Mother, is her role model because Darlington has been a tireless supporter of the local domestic violence shelter, collecting clothing for women and gifts for their children during the holidays.

“We’ve got to teach our next generations to be equal, to stand up for yourself, but give back more than you receive,” Ziegler said.

Rhona Baca Espinoza, the executive director of the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce, is another cherished county native.

“Her grandfather started Baca Auto. She’s got good genes buried in Valencia County,” said Roberta Scott. “She is so vibrant ― she has rebuilt that chamber of commerce.”

Scott said Baca Espinoza has a knack for making everyone she meets feel special and important.

“She really cares about people — it’s not fake,” Scott said.

“And she’s one of those who will be a worker bee till the day that she dies,” added Ziegler.

Eleanor Roosevelt is another great woman, said Scott.

“After her husband died (Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president) she came into her own,” Scott said. “She sat on the United Nations and did great things.”

In a similar vein, Scott said she became very independent when her husband left her. Rather than look for another husband, Scott went back to school and earned her master’s degree in business at the University of New Mexico.

She then pursued a job at the University of New Mexico and landed a position managing the Small Business Development Center. Eventually, she transferred to UNM-Valencia Campus, but is now retired.

“To me, education is one of the great equalizers for women,” Scott said. “We should be able to provide for ourselves if we don’t have a partner, whether male or female.”

Women have made important contributions to the nation and achieved many political, economic and social gains for their gender.

“I think young women need to know what some of us have bogged through just so they can appreciate how far that they have come,” said Kristin Growman, a local attorney and BWVC vice president.

Growman has been an attorney for 21 years, but early on in her career she was often assumed to be the court reporter, she said.

“Interestingly, the last couple of years, law school enrollment has tipped … there are more women than men who are in law school,” she said.

Young women in law school are generally unaware of the hurdles overcome by women from earlier times — hurdles that women coming up now don’t understand, but will never have to go through, she said.

“Sandra Day O’Connor and William Rehnquist were both Supreme Court justices and both went to Stanford at the same time, in the same class,” she said. “They graduated No. 1 and No. 2 in their class, but out of law school, William Rehnquist was highly sought after by law firms and given a very prestigious job.

“Sandra Day O’Connor took a job as a legal secretary because she could not get hired as a lawyer out of law school (even after) graduating No. 2 from her class. She’s a trailblazer.”

Juliette Gordon Low, the woman who started Girl Scouts of America is another trailblazer.

“She was a colleague of Robert Baden-Powell, who started Boy Scouts, and she began to think why should boys have all these great experiences and not girls,” said Suzanne McConaghy.

McConaghy has two daughters who were involved in Girl Scouts in the county and it made such a difference, she said.

“I had girls in my troop who had no running water in their homes, who had never been out of Valencia County. We took them canoeing, white-water rafting and skiing and all kinds of things trying to show them the larger world,” McConaghy said. “I think Girl Scouting is one of the most powerful organizations for young women that there is. It is one of the most valuable experiences you’ll ever have. Some of these girls went on international trips and they just broadened their horizons.”

McConaghy also adds Helen Growman, who wanted to join Toastmasters, a club to develop speaking and leadership skills, but it was an all-male organization at the time. Growman signed up as ‘Homer’ Growman in order to get in.

“She eventually became the president of Toastmasters International, which is pretty impressive,” said McConaghy.

Christina Ainsworth has a deep admiration for pioneering women in architecture, a field she majored in at Yale.

“It was still a male-dominated profession when I was in college,” Ainsworth said. “That is still the case somewhat, but times are changing.”

Mabel Welch was an architect who designed homes in El Paso during the 1920s and ’30s. Many of her designs are landmark buildings in El Paso’s historic districts. Ainsworth admires her for pursuing her passion for architecture during a time when most women didn’t work, let alone work in such a male-dominated field, she said.

Today, many girls and women are blazing trails in technology.

Business woman Kelly Fajardo owns KKF Media.

“I got into this because my mom used to play on the computer, and my dad would come in to the room and say, ‘Don’t touch it, you’ll break it,’” Fajardo said. “And my mom actually became the expert with computers and learning the technology, and I learned from her.”

Five years ago, girls barely pursued computer science, only about 1 or 2 percent went into the field, but today, more and more girls, about 20 percent, are going into information technology, web design and other computer sciences, she said.

A case in point is Danielle Garcia, daughter of Rita Garcia, general manager at the News-Bulletin office.

“Rita has raised Danielle to be a woman of the future,” said Roberta Scott. “Danielle has been accepted at colleges in Florida, a college in Seattle, several New Mexico colleges, and she’s very active in robotics,” Scott said. “That wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago. If robotics even existed, it would have been a boy’s group.”

Local artist Sondra Schlotterback is an accomplished artists who is never satisfied resting on her laurels, but constantly striving to carry her art of New Mexico’s byways to the next level, said Barbara Garrett.

“She inspires me and challenges me to do better in my own art as she does for the other artists in the Camino Real 8 art group, which has its base in Valencia County,” Garrett said.

“Women can do what they want, but they just have to dig in,” says Lula Parman, a Shaklee distributor. “There’s been a big change from when I was younger and now. It was big change for my parents, too. They came from Arkansas in a covered wagon. Daddy had homesteaded in New Mexico and he went back and found my mother, then they came out to New Mexico. They were adventurers.”


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