Former superintendent, John Aragon, remembered fondly
John Aragon never met a stranger and never let a teachable moment pass him by. An educator of 35 years for the Belen Consolidated Schools, Aragon spent eight of those years as superintendent, a veritable lifetime for a superintendent.
He raised three daughters — Rosalyn Chavez, Karen Aragon and Annette Benavidez — who all followed in his footsteps, becoming educators themselves, and he saw two granddaughters follow the path to the chalkboard as well.
Aragon was called the “ultimate professional,” a man who loved and embraced life to the fullest and never feared growing old. While he did not fear his golden years, they, like every turn of life, came to an end on April 28.
He died peacefully in the arms of his daughter, Karen, and went to the arms of his late wife, Rose.
Born in 1917, Aragon once told the News-Bulletin that one of his first memories was going to kindergarten at the old Belen Central School.
His grandson, Belen Magistrate John Chavez, said one reason Aragon may have cherished education so much was because he had to drop out of school when his own father died.
“Maybe that’s why he was so passionate about education. He was always teaching,” Chavez said.
For Aragon, a classroom was anywhere and everywhere, whether it was an actual school or a summer project with his grandson building a shed, using nothing but old-fashioned hand tools — plumb bobs and hand saws.
If he wasn’t reading a book, making notes in it as he went, Chavez said his grandfather’s television was tuned to the news or PBS.
At the age of 23, Aragon enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1939 before the draft. He served in World War II until 1945, where he reached the rank of technical sergeant in the Ninth Air Force, 71st Fighter Wing.
When he returned home after storming the beaches of Normandy and taking the soldier’s tour of the French countryside, he used the GI Bill to earn a bachelors and masters degree in education from the University of New Mexico.
He started his teaching career in 1949, teaching social studies at Belen Junior High School. Aragon then served as principal at Gil Sanchez Elementary before taking on the challenge of superintendent from 1967 to 1975.
His passion for education wasn’t about climbing an administrative ladder though. When his contract wasn’t renewed as superintendent, he went right back into the classroom. And when he did, Aragon went from a one-time high school teacher to heading a third-grade class at Rio Grande Elementary.
“He never had any complaints. The next day, he got up and went back to work,” John Chavez said. “His attitude was always, ‘I’m a teacher, that’s what I do.’”
Even at 96 years old, Aragon would say how much he missed being in education, and he felt he could go back into the classroom and still have something to teach students of today, Benavidez said.
“Former students would say to him, ‘Because of you, I am who I am,’” Rosalyn Chavez said.
“One of his favorite sayings was, ‘You can have material things that can be taken away from you at any time, but an education, no one can take away,’” Benavidez said.
Aragon’s military service was also carried into the following generations, as his grandchildren and great-grandchildren served the nation.
“As a father, he was very stern, strict, with the highest expectations for his daughters to succeed in education,” Benavidez said. “He was a fabulous husband to our mother, and took care of her with the utmost respect and tenderness.”
He also treated total strangers with respect and tenderness. On the 50th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, Aragon and Karen visited France. While there, he visited the American cemetery, where he knelt and prayed for those who were lost.
Then he asked to visit the German cemetery, where he again knelt and said the same prayers. To him, German or American, Axis or Ally, they were all boys lost too soon.
Aragon was a man who always wanted to make a connection with his fellow man. Benavidez said if he saw someone with red hair, he would strike up a conversation.
“He would tell them, ‘I hated my red hair,’” she said.
And then he would whip off his cap and show them the punishment for hair color loathing — baldness.
Kenneth Griego was hired as a teacher when Aragon was superintendent. As was his tradition, Aragon came to welcome the new teacher. He and another administrator found Griego engrossed in building paper airplanes with the students and competing for distance with their throws
“It was a particularly rough class, and as you can imagine, it was chaos,” said Griego, who later became superintendent of Belen Schools.
Aragon left without saying a word. “I knew it was my last day as a teacher for the Belen Schools,” said Griego.
Aragon asked Griego to meet him after school. Sure he was about to be fired, Griego met the superintendent, who had a wide grin on his face.
“He shook my hand and congratulated me for getting the entire class so involved in the lesson,” Griego said. “The most important issue for Mr. Aragon was student success.”
Stories about Aragon’s dedication to the people he worked with and the district he worked for seem to know no end. One year, during massive flooding in Belen, Martha Trujillo remembers Aragon coming to pickup her and four other women in the back of his old, white 1957 Chevy pickup truck to take them to the office.
The pickup is still around and now belongs to his grandson. When he returned stateside after Desert Storm, Chavez needed a car, so he asked Aragon if he still had his truck.
By then, grandpa’s old pickup was quite the desired item in the family, and Aragon told Chavez he couldn’t just give it to him. But he could sell it for the same price he bought it at auction in 1962 — $200.
“So I wrote him a check and bought the truck,” the judge said.
Aragon never cashed the check.
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