(Editor’s note: The version of this article published in the Oct. 10 edition of the News-Bulletin had inaccuracies which have been corrected in the online version.)
BELEN—Most of the buildings don’t bear his name, but it’s hard to drive through the city of Belen and not see something that had Herman Tabet’s hand in its construction.
On the evening of Thursday, Oct. 3, Tabet, a lifelong Belen resident and business owner, died at age 85.
Herman’s oldest son, Larry, and stepson, Jim Sloan, who is only a few months older than Larry, remembered their father as not necessarily a man who spoke his love, but he did show it.
A few years ago, Sloan spent four days in a coma in the hospital due to a serious heart condition. When Sloan opened his eyes, Herman was there.
“The nurses said he’d been there pretty much the whole time,” Jim said. “I wanted a chocolate milkshake so bad, and he went and got one for me.”
To recover, Jim went to a clinic in Juarez.
“They brought me back to life,” he said. “Herman paid for it all.”
Mostly known for construction, concrete and lumber yards, the Tabets arrived in Belen in the 1920s, after Herman’s grandfather settled in Punta de Agua near Mountainair in 1911, with a cart full of pots and pans, brooms and brushes he had pushed all the way from New Orleans.
Herman worked for his father, Joe Tabet, learning the construction trade, how to run a gravel operation and figure concrete yardage in his head.
Sloan’s mother, Betty, married Herman in Wise County, Texas, in 1962 when he was 6 years old.
“He was the only dad I knew,” Sloan said.
By then, Herman had already made a name for himself, by buying the Becker Dailes Lumber Company when it was located in the parking lot of the current city hall building in 1956. The business soon moved to Baca Avenue and as the Tabet Lumber Company.
In the early 1960s, Herman also started up the concrete redi-mix plant in Belen.
Over the years, Herman’s company built throughout Valencia County and in Albuquerque — projects such as the Belen Middle School gym, a satellite fire station, the Kentucky Fried Chicken in both Belen and Los Lunas, Tabet Shopping Center and the Court House Apartments in Los Lunas.
Both Sloan and Larry remember helping with re-roofing the apartment complex at one time, using Herman’s old campaign signs from a failed bid in 1976 for Valencia County Commission as decking materials.
As children and young men, they both worked for Herman, and if they were lucky, they got paid.
“We worked our butts off all summer,” Sloan recalled. “We got water, but that was pretty much it.”
When lumber yard employees got paid, Larry remembered hoping there would be something coming their way but knew better than to ask.
Later that fall, he and Sloan were told to go over to the car dealership owned by Herman, Belen Imports, the first Subaru dealership in the state.
“I thought they were going to have us wash cars or something,” Larry said.
Instead, there was a pair of brand new, matching motorcycles.
“That’s how we got paid,” Sloan said with a laugh. “As a kid, we worked hard. I know there’s the perception that the Tabet kids were spoiled and had everything handed to them. Not us.”
Life wasn’t always hard work though. Herman built the Rio Grande Estates Motel in Rio Communities. He and his family lived there for several years, Sloan said, because he couldn’t find someone he trusted enough to manage it.
The motel housed people in the pursuit of the American dream, looking to buy land from the now defunct Horizon Land Corporation, and those who had already bought in and were waiting for their home to be built.
“I remember the parties out there; pick-up loads of coleslaw and barbecues,” Sloan said.
Herman was one of the first builders in Rio Communities during Horizon’s development, when it was nothing more than a nine-hole golf course, six houses, dirt and wind. The two home models he offered were named after his children — the flat-roofed Deborah and the pitch-roofed Lawrence.
A staunch Democrat, Herman never held elected office, but at age 36, he was named to the state racing commission by then Gov. Bruce King in 1971.
Herman wasn’t a fan of long hair on men, Larry and Sloan said, both recalling being coerced into haircuts more than once.
“So I grew my hair long, grew a mustache and registered as a Republican, just to rebel,” Larry said with a laugh.
Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova called Herman “savvy and no nonsense.”
“He leaves a strong legacy of personal success, and for decades and with grit, was helpful as Belen pushed for growth, creating jobs and opportunity for countless Belenites,” Cordova said.
Larry said he joked his father often had the Midus touch, turning something worthless into gold. Years ago, he bought land in Rio Rancho he was later able to sell to Intel.
Herman never missed a day of work, Sloan and Larry said.
“When he went into the hospital, they asked what his life was like before. Well, he was at work,” Sloan said. “He taught his children the ups and downs of life and can see that in them.
“Herman was a big part of Belen. He loved Belen. I remember he once told me, ‘Belen was here before the railroad, before anything. It will be here after, too.’”
Herman is survived by his children, Debbie Tabet, Jay Tabet, Larry (Kelly) Tabet and Jim Sloan; siblings, Dolores (Eugene) Schiess, Gloria Trujillo, Lorena (Gilbert) Sanchez, Richie (Sue) Tabet, Fidel Tabet and Tommy Tabet; numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.
All services took place on Tuesday, Oct. 8, at Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church. Interment followed at Our Lady of Belen Memorial Gardens.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.