By Slim Randles, Albuquerque Journal, 1992.
Cañon – Dona M. Baca walked into the makeshift classroom which was actually a hallway in her father’s house. At one end was a blackboard. Against a wall was a box full of dusty Laidlaw readers.
That was it.
When the 35 youngsters from kindergarten through third grade walked in on the first day of school, she was supposed to teach them about the world outside their beautiful red-walled canyon. To do this, she had a high school diploma from Albuquerque High School and one year of college at the University of New Mexico.
But she was the new school teacher.
This was in 1937. For the next 36 years, Dora taught youngsters in Cañon and in the Albuquerque Public Schools. For the last 46 years, she has been Dora Baca Romero. Today, 16 years after retiring from teaching, Dora and her husband, Boleslo Romero, live in a comfortable home overlooking Los Lunas.
“I went back up there to Cañon recently,” Dora Romero says, “and I couldn’t believe how much the school had grown. Things sure were different then.”
For one thing, she said, there were schools in Jemez Springs, San Ysidro and Vallecitos (now Ponderosa). The Indian children in Jemez had their own government teachers.
Today the public schools in Cañon take in children from all of these and from as far into the mountains as the Valle Grande, 40 miles away.
But back during the Depression, life was a bit more laid back at the little school. There were two classes. The older children were taught by Zebedeo Lovato.
“I tried to teach from real life as much as I could,” she says today. “On several occasions, my dad and I would get his three-quarter ton truck and take those children who had permission and go to Albuquerque. We took picnic lunches along and take the children to the zoo or the airport or train station. Then we’d get some wrapping paper in Bernalillo and we’d write stories on it of what we saw. We were never reimbursed for this by the school, it was just my way of teaching them. Some of those kids had never been out of Cañon.
“In those days it was just a dirt road, and going to Albuquerque was like going to California.”
In later years, Dora Romero earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, and 45 hours of school past that. She taught for 19 years at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School and later began the bilingual education program at Los Padillas Elementary School in the South Valley.
But you can’t tell the story of Dora Baca Romero without talking about Adolfo Gonzales.
“He was the principal of Santa Barbara School, where I went in Albuquerque,” Dora says. “He was always encouraging me to go on to school.”
When she finished eighth grade, school could have been over for good for Dora, as it was for a great many young people in those days. But Adolfo Gonzales wouldn’t have it.
“I stayed in town with my grandmother so I could go to junior high school,” she says, “but nobody said anything. One day I was helping around the house and Mr. Gonzales drove up out in front. He told me to take off my apron, that I was going to school, and he drove me over to the junior high school and bought me the books and got me enrolled. I don’t know if I would’ve done it if he hadn’t come over for me.
But that wasn’t all.
Gonzales kept an eye on Dora’s progress all through high school, and when she began attending UNM he told her she had too many classes and a job besides, and she’d never be able to handle it. Dora’s job was working in the office of James Fulton Zimmerman, then president of UNM.
“Mr. Gonzales went to Dr. Popejoy and told him he had to have me work for him at his school, so I went over there,” she says. “He pointed to a play, and told me my job was to type that play out. But he said if it took me all year, that was all right, and he really expected me to study while I was there. That really helped me get through.”
She smiles. “Ever since that time, I’ve tried to help people like he helped me.”
Since retirement, the women who was once the schoolmarm of Cañon has traveled all over the world…several times.
“I’ve never been ambitious,” she says, quietly. “I had only three goals. The first was to get a good education so I could get a job that had a pension. The second was to educate our children (Their two sons are engineers), and the third was to travel.
She became a schoolteacher, she says, because she didn’t think she was good- looking enough for a career in business.
“I was good in business courses and was advised to go into business, but I thought of business as being a secretary and I knew I wasn’t good-looking enough to be a secretary long enough to get a pension, so I went into education.”
And she never regretted it.
She can recall those early two-room schoolhouse days vividly and fondly. “When a car came to Cañon in those days,” she says, “you knew something was going to happen. I remember once when the children heard a car coming up the canyon and they got all excited and ran down to the river and washed their faces and , you know, slicked down their hair. Then they ran back to the school yard and lined up in a row.
“It turned out to be the superintendent,” she says, “and she laughed at the children all dripping wet and clean and smiling. She told them they were all very handsome children.”
The children then were quite different from the children who attend school today, she says.
“The problem today isn’t in the schools – because there are a lot of good teachers out there – but it’s in the family. There is no motivation in the family for these children. The parents should know where they are. They should see that they do their work. They have to have discipline, and they have to accept responsibility.” She smiles. “I like the children. My favorite is second grade. That’s when they really learn. They come in and can’t read and then ZOOM! It’s wonderful.”