Sunday, February 16, 2014

100 Years of Los Ranchos Elementary

Around 1957, my Grandpa Louie Chavez decided to move his family from the South Broadway area of Albuquerque to the “surburb” of Los Ranchos in the North Valley. It was closer to his work at Banes Construction on north 2nd Street, and he wanted to move out of a neighborhood that was too close to the path that was being planned for the construction of I-25, at Bridge Blvd. There was another reason for the move. My Grandpa wanted a different school for his daughter, my mom, before she entered junior high school.

My Mom, Beatrice Chavez, had attended John Marshall School, which was across the street from her home at 1500 High Street. She was looking forward to attending Lincoln Junior High, where her cousins went to school and bragged about the dances and good times. But her Dad had made up his mind. They were moving to a new subdivision and a new home at 6804 5th Street N.W.

The Village of Los Ranchos wasn’t your typical “suburb.” Its roots were as deep as other Spanish villages in the middle Rio Grande valley, including the Villa de Albuquerque, that were settled in the 17th and 18th centuries. In fact, my mom wouldn’t be moving to a shiny, new school, either. She would attend 6th grade at Ranchos Elementary, which at the time was about 34 years old. My Grandma Lola worked for a time in the cafeteria at Ranchos.
Gil Gallegos Jr. in 2nd Grade at Ranchos Elementary

Two decades after that, my brother Jon and I would also attend Ranchos in the late 1970s and early 1980s. While we were there, my Mom worked as a teacher’s assistant in Sue Haine’s kindergarten class. A few decades after that, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, my nephews, Alek, Derrick and Tanner would attend the school that was renamed Los Ranchos, after the original village name.

This year, 2014, Los Ranchos Elementary School is celebrating its Centennial – 100 years since it opened in 1914 in District 4 of the Bernalillo County school system. I’m proud that four generations of my Chavez and Gallegos family are part of the rich history of Los Ranchos Elementary.

I was shocked to learn that the school was celebrating its Centennial. It seems like just yesterday that a family friend, Kathleen Yarbrough, was knee-deep in preparations for the 75th Anniversary. I remembered two large leather photo albums from that celebration – one from the 50th Anniversary and a new one that Kata put together for the 75th.  A generation later, we have a new friend, Toni Jenkins, who is a teacher at Los Ranchos. She kindly invited me back to the school to see those leather albums again as the current staff and students are planning for the Centennial celebration in May.

Just walking into the school brought back a flood of memories, like the smell from the old popcorn machine that filled the hallways one day a week (Fridays?); all of my teachers, including Mrs. Rogers, Mrs. Thomassen and Mrs. Means; the Halloween carnivals we had each year in the cafeteria and the parade around the playground in our homemade costumes (I was Dr. Spock with the pointy Vulcan ears one year); the ribbons we got for track competitions; riding my bike early in the morning along Guadalupe Trail so my buddies (Marty Chavez, Craig Sparks, Charles Palacios and others) and I could get in a game of football, baseball, or kickball before the first bell. For most of my time at Ranchos, I took the school bus. I would climb up on the dining room chair in our house each morning so I could see over the back fence and look out for the school bus. When I saw the bus pick up the kids on the east side of 4th Street, my brother and I would dart out the front door to the bus stop at the corner of 5th Street and Green Valley Road. I still remember our bus driver, a real character who went by “Harry Jerry.” We used to love it when hot air balloons landed in the playground. I remember one balloon crashing into a power line near the school. I learned to play the trumpet while at Ranchos. And the best day of all was the last day of school when we had a play day – at Taylor Middle School, I think – with water fights and other fun games.

My brother Jon Gallegos at Halloween

Unfortunately, one bad memory has also stuck with me all of these years – for better or for worse. As a first-grader, I was paddled by the principal after I misbehaved on the school bus one afternoon. Without getting in the debate over corporal punishment n school, I would argue that I was more influenced by Mrs. Means in the fifth-grade. She was strict – if you didn’t eat your green beans, you couldn’t go to recess. But she taught us table manners, and respect for authority and for our classmates. She also used academic competition in the classroom that encouraged teamwork. I remember being on the winning team once, and getting the opportunity to have breakfast with Mrs. Means and her husband at their home. I can’t imagine that happening these days, but it meant a lot to us back then.

Obviously, I have my memories of Ranchos. It was fascinating to read the memories of many other alumni of the school – some dating back to the 1920s. Several students who attended the original four-room schoolhouse in the mid-1920s wrote about the long, black school bus, with roll-up curtains and drawn by two horses. Like me, one student from that era remembered the name of her bus driver, Primitivo Lucero. Eventually, they were fortunate to get an orange and black school bus with an engine.

Other students who attended Ranchos in the 1940 wrote about the pride they felt during the Pledge of Allegiance while American soldiers were fighting in Europe. They recalled gathering scrap metal for the war effort – 3,311 pounds of metal in two days. And they remembered the baseball games against Alameda and marble tournaments.

There were two “Ranchos” schools built in1914. Photos of schools in Ranchos de Albuquerque and Ranchos de Atrisco were published in the newspaper in September 1914, along with stories that heralded Bernalillo County Superintendent Atancio Montoya for the building spree.

“They are modern in every particular, well ventilated and well lighted, and are equipped in accordance with the very latest and approved educational ideas,” the article stated. “When it is remembered that these schools take the place of old adobe structures that were poorly ventilated and lighted and furnished sadly cramped quarters for the children, some idea can be gained of the great strides that have been taken under Mr. Montoya’s administration of the schools of the county.”

For the 50-year reunion, a Ranchos PTA historian by the name of Mrs. Tucker, compiled a history of the school from its “humble beginnings” to that date – about 1964.

The land for the school was purchased for $300 from Mr. and Mrs. Megetita Garcia. In 1917, the principal was paid $80 a month for nine months; teachers were paid $75 a month for nine months. No dancing was allowed in 1919. In 1927, three rooms were added at a cost of $2,197. Many improvements were made in the 1930s, but the school was still burning coal. The first PTA was created in 1936. Ranchos was consolidated into District 3 in the 1940s along with Alameda and Griegos schools. Mr. Robertson was named as principal in 1946. He was the longest-serving principal, and more than 30 years later, he would teach me not to misbehave on the bus. A lunchroom was built by the PTA in 1947, and Ranchos would become the third school in the city to have a lunch program. My Grandma Lola would work in that lunchroom more than a decade after that. In 1949-50, Ranchos would finally get gas heat, as it was moved into the city school district.

I’m looking forward to attending the Centennial Anniversary celebration in May. According to the records from the 75th Anniversary, several items were put into a time capsule, to be opened at the 100th. It will be fun to see those items, which include memory books and photos. I just hope somebody has a working tape cassette player that will play the cassettes that are in that time capsule.