PERALTA — Jose Otero was known for being a war veteran, businessman and an involved member of his community.
His family knew him as a husband and father, a devout Catholic and a farmer.
Otero died on Nov. 7 at the age of 89 surrounded by his family.
His son, Leon Otero, said his father always found adventure in whatever he did.
“He was in the Army and decided he wanted to go to jump school to be a paratrooper,” Leon said.
Otero enlisted right after high school in August 1948. His daughter, Kathy, said he waited until after the fiestas to enlist.
“He had three major jumps, two of which were official,” Leon said with a laugh. “He was assigned to make sure everyone jumped out of the plane and get their equipment afterwards. After he threw the last package out, he borrowed an extra parachute and jumped out of the back of the plane on his own.”
When he landed, Otero stumbled upon another unit that helped him get back to his own.
“He claimed he fell out,” Kathy said with a chuckle.
Otero could’ve been court-martialed for that but was let off the hook by his commander.
He was wounded on Thanksgiving Day in 1950 with a bullet to his left leg. He was honorably discharged almost two years after he was supposed to be released in 1952. Otero was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and a Purple Heart, along with other notable medals.
Otero attended the University of New Mexico and graduated in July 1955 with a degree in pharmacy.
“He originally wanted to go into forestry,” Kathy said. “But then he would’ve had to move to Colorado to study that and he didn’t want to leave from New Mexico because he loved it.”
Kathy doesn’t know what got him interested in pharmacy, but Leon said his father saw it as a challenge to conquer.
“He never picked the easy routes,” Leon said. “When he went to the Army, he picked jump school, the dropout rate is about 90 percent. When he went to college, he picked pharmacy, which was the hardest discipline there — they didn’t have a medical school yet.”
Otero began working at Buckland Pharmacy in Belen right after he graduated. While there, he met Herald Bergeson who also worked as a pharmacist.
The two eventually decided to open a store on Main Street in Belen. It was located next to a tire store that caught fire and damaged the store. They then moved to the building attached to the Feil and Ellermeyer building.
“My dad was there a few years and then decided he wanted to build here in Peralta,” Leon said of what is now known as Joe’s Pharmacy. “Then, not that many people lived here. To think you could just open a little store in the middle of nowhere and survive is impressive.”
Otero ran the store for about 25 years before deciding to close it in 1987.
“He decided to close it because the whole business changed,” Leon said. “It went from being your own boss to insurance companies running things and government intervention.”
He sold the store and it shifted ownership a few times before Leon took it over and has been running it ever since.
“The other thing about moving to Peralta is that it gave him a chance to do what he really wanted to do and grow his garden, raise his cattle and be the outdoor guy,” Leon said.
Kathy said her father was a generous and hard-working man, always giving back to the community as he could.
“Back then, there wasn’t a lot of money down here,” Kathy said. “He opened his store but a lot of people couldn’t pay him. For some, he’d put them on credit and probably never collected. For others, he wouldn’t even charge them.”
Filomena Otero, Jose’s wife of 67 years, worked at the pharmacy with her husband.
“People would come through to the register and have prescriptions labeled ‘NC’ for no charge,” Filomena said.
Otero was also generous with his time, Leon said, as he dedicated his time being on the Los Lunas School Board of Education, and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District Board of Directors.
In addition to that, he was also a proud member of the Knights of Columbus, the National Rifle Association and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Leon said his father served with integrity and honesty in everything he did.
“My dad treated everyone like he knew them,” Kathy said.
For the family, the heart of the house was and is the kitchen. They would often welcome neighbors or community members to their home for a meal because of Jose.
“Our grandfather was that way, too. That’s where he got it from,” Leon said. “My dad hardly locked the door because he wanted people to come in and visit.”
Filomena said the family of eight used to live in a one-bedroom house, which was the house they lived in when they got married.
“Living in a small space made us very close,” Kathy said. “I think it was the environment my mom and dad created, and thanks to God we’re all still very close.”
That fact remained true of Otero’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, whom he adored.
“He was always a jokester,” Monica Otero said of her grandfather. “He once told me when I was young that the wrinkle he had on his neck was from the day he was born. He said he wouldn’t come out of his mother so they tied a chain around his neck and pulled him out with a tractor.”
Monica said her grandfather taught all of the grandchildren how to do farm work. He never let them do things the easy way, Monica said, because he wanted them to learn the value of hard work.
Leon said it was appropriate that his father’s funeral was held on Veteran’s Day.
“I wanted to lay his casket in a hay wagon with hay and have all the grandkids in it with flags flying. We drove to the cemetery with the procession,” Leon said.
Filomena said her husband was a good man and a good father.
“He gave me a lot of good years,” Filomena said. “Our life has blossomed because of Joe.”