Getting to know your neighbor

John R. Chavez has been the judge for the Magistrate Court Division II for more than nine years. He was ordained as a deacon for Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church one month ago.

He is a retired U.S. Army colonel with 27 years of service and three combat tours. He lives in Rio Communities with his wife, Holly. Their children are Rosemary and her husband, Matias Silva, Noelle Chavez, John R. Chavez II, Sebastian Chavez and Nicolas Chavez.


Submitted photos

John Chavez is a judge, a retired U.S. Army colonel and now a Catholic deacon.

Q: What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?

A: “I do a lot of mental drafting of what I am writing or going to speak about. Some of the columns I have written were hatched while driving and underwent substantial mental revisions before I ever started typing them out. The same is true for any speeches I give — even when I speak extemporaneously. I have probably given what I am going to say some thought.”

Q: What’s a myth about your profession you’d like to bust?

A: “Oh, so many. Judges are not prosecutors of cases. Judges cannot hold people in jail prior to trial without clear and convincing evidence. Police officers do not work for the court. If there ever was, there is certainly no longer any way to ‘fix’ a ticket by contacting a judge. Judges do not do favors for their friends and families — the only result of being a family member or friend of a judge, is the case gets reassigned to someone else.”

Q: What were you like in high school?

A: “I was a total introvert. While attending NMMI, I often hung out in the computer lab and wrote computer programs. I remember so clearly the day I looked up from the screen and noticed that I was in a room of people not talking to one another; everyone was just staring at their screens. I signed off from the computer, and didn’t return unless it was for homework. It was a moment of enlightenment — time to get busy living.”

John Chavez and his grandfather John S. Aragon, at Normandy on June 6, 1994, the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received and from whom?

A: “My grandfather, John S. Aragon, shared with me this, ‘They can take your money, they can take your freedom, but they can never take your knowledge. Never stop learning.’

“He taught me how to build without power tools, how to measure the height of a building or tree using its shadow, how you can learn from history, and how you can learn from simply talking and listening to someone with a different experience or opinion than your own.”

Q: What did you want to be when you grew up?

A: “A garbage man. From my perspective they got to ride around on the back of trucks, sift through hidden treasures and they didn’t have to wear a tie. In college I changed my majors a lot — physical therapy, education, and ultimately ended up with a history degree. I have nothing but respect for medical professionals and teachers — you do what I could not.”

Q: Who inspires you?

A: “I have had some awesome male role-models in my life, but the women in my life truly inspire me. My grandmothers, Rose Aragon and Ruby Chavez, were homemakers and both truly ran the industry of their family homes; they were devout women who demonstrated and taught me my faith.

“My mother worked as a teacher in the Belen schools; she put in a lot of hours outside the classroom during the school year and over the summer preparing for the next year. My sister, Judith, struggled with drug use and died young because of it. Her continuing struggle to do better was an inspiration. Judith would drop everything to help someone in need and that is inspiring too.

“My sister, Cheryl, like my mother, is a teacher who puts in the extra work to get the job done. Cheryl, as a care giver in her home, is bit of medical encyclopedia, too.”

Q: If you could work any other job for one day, what would it be and why?

A“Not a garbage man; but thank you to those that are. Assuming I had the requisite knowledge, I would love to be a history professor at a college in order to inspire others to want to learn in the way that others inspired me. Dr. William Gibbs was that person for me at NMMI. He had a ways of helping you visualize history and making it personal and meaningful. Sharing knowledge is always a noble aim.”

Q: What do you do in your free time?

A: “I have a lot of commitments from work, family and church, so there is not a lot of free time. But when I do, I like to work in my wood shop. Fixing items, crafting items. I don’t spend enough time there. The question is a good reminder to get back to it.”

Chavez family photo in the summer of 1981. Pictured, from left, is sister, Judith, mom, Rosalyn, John Chavez, dad, Robert, and sister Cheryl.

Q: What’s something about you most people don’t know?

A: “I like comic books — always have. More of the Golden Age DC stuff, but modern takes are good, too. ‘Superman’ and ‘Wonder Woman’ have a place in my office, and Thor’s Hammer, Mjölnir, sits on my desk.

“There was a certain idealism expressed in the Golden Age embodied by Superman’s motto of ‘Truth, Justice, and the American Way.’ During the printing of these golden-age comics, the achievement of these ideals were not met, and they still are not met today. But ideals give us something to aim for and that is worthy, too.”

Q: What three books would you to take to a deserted island?

A: “The ‘Bible’ — so much wisdom in one book. My initial approach to the ‘Bible’ was, by my own nature, the historical accounts. Overtime, I have come to love the wisdom of the Psalms, Proverbs and the prophetic books.

“‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ — a story that on surface is about revenge but is absolutely about the redemption of a lost soul. ‘The Watchmen’ — a graphic novel that reminds us not to place your hopes in others or in fantasy.”

Family photo just after his ordination outside the Cathedral in Santa Fe, Jun 10, 2023.  Pictured, from left, are Noelle, Nicolas, Sebastian, John, Holly, Rosemary and John II.

Q: You find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?

A: “There is so much need in our county for resources, from treatment to rehabilitation; seeding these resources would be a good start. Money won’t fix it though. We need a change of heart. If I could only use it for me, I would travel the history of civilization, from Africa to Asia and back across Europe and the Americas — so much to learn from our collective history.”

Q: Who is your best friend and why?

A“My wife, Holly, is my best friend. Our match was made in heaven; love at first sight, even. From the first hours-long conversation the night we met to the conversations that make me a few minutes late in the morning, Holly is my soulmate. She is my balance when I lean out too far and my motivation when I hesitate.

“During our Army days when I was deployed, she carried the weight of single-parenthood, working and acting as head-of-household. She was a rock for deployed spouses and physically and emotionally present for widowed spouses. She is truly a friend in stormy weather.

“In the early days of our marriage, I would be jealous of the time she spent helping others. I was naïve to the fact she had so much love to share. None better!”

Q: What’s your favorite song to sing when you’re alone?

A: “I don’t’ have one specific song, but I am almost always humming something. I find solace in 1970’s folk music — Neal Diamond, the Mama’s and the Papa’s, etc. Not really the music of my generation but it is comfort food for my ears. This was the music that was playing on the radio when I worked at Henry’s grocery on Third Street and Ross in Belen. My wife would tell you that I like to listen to sad music; I prefer to say I like soulful tunes.”

Q: Where is your happy place, and why?

A“Being at home is comfortable to me. While I enjoy my work and enjoy traveling, too, home is a good place to be. I know that is not true for everyone, so I count my blessings even more knowing that fact. Home, for me, has been all around the world and is less about location. Ultimately, it is a place where family gathers and that makes me happy, too.”

Holly and John on one of their first dates in Roswell NM, spring of 1986.

Q: Have you had a life-changing experience that led you to where you are today?

A: “I believe attending NMMI was game-changer for me. Real or imagined, I was in a lot of shadows in Belen and had difficulty finding my own identity. Finding my own way while attending NMMI provided me with options that I could not have imagined. It was a leadership laboratory with adult supervision.

“Somewhere in my five years there, I figured out what it meant to be a servant leader versus what it meant to be an aggrandizing one. Organizational skills and my keen interest in history were both planted and nurtured there.

“Desert Storm was another life-changing event. If I am being honest with myself, reconciling that experience is still ongoing.

“Most recently, my formation to be ordained a deacon has been amazing. The spiritual changes may not be visible on the surface, but I am indeed a changed person.”

Q: What teacher had the greatest impact on you?

A“I can’t name just one. Surely, I have to mention my first-grade teacher, Tillie Sanchez, who had a smile that I always associate with elementary school.

“Maggie McDonald made learning fun; something you wanted to do. Boleslo Lovato helped me transition from fun to serious inquiry as to why things worked. I could go on and on with so many others.

“Outside of school, my father was a great teacher; he taught me to be kind to others and work hard. Life in many ways has been a teacher, too. You can learn a lot from your decisions and their consequences — good and bad.”

John’s family in Washington DC, being honored as the 2007 Army Family of the year. Pictured, from second to left, is Holly with Nicolas, Rosemary with Sebastian, Noelle, John II and John Chavez.

Q: What is your favorite movie scene and why?

A: “Not from a movie but from the TV show, ‘Breaking Bad.’ In the final episode when Walter White is talking with his wife, Skyler. This super-intelligent man, who up to this point has made one bad decision after another is finally honest enough to admit his own hubris, his own shortcomings as a husband, as a father, as a human. It is a redemptive moment and give me hope that all that are lost can find redemption. Owning it is the first step.”

Q: If you could have dinner with one famous person — dead or alive — who would it be and why?

A: “Saint Paul. His story is one of the greatest redemption stories ever. He persecuted Christians and was present at the stoning of St. Stephan. Even with the knowledge that he had blood on his hands, he allowed himself to surrender and to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. While for him, it took getting knocked off a horse and losing his sight, he found his way to love.”

Q: What are you most proud of?

A: “My children. Each of them are so unique and have developed their own passions. Rosemary works on the business office end of a tech-company in Albuquerque. Noelle is all things to all people in Valencia County. John II works for Amazon as a human resources investigator. Sebastian just completed his film and media arts degree from UNM and works part time at H2 Academic Solutions. Nicolas is doing a year of service with AmeriCorps in St. Louis, working on conservation projects and wildfire management.

“Because they have all become experts in unique areas, I love to call them and ask them for their advice. Always their parent, but our relationship is one of friendship, too.”

Q: How would you like to be remembered?

A: “Of being kind, patient and fair. The days that I accomplish this are good days. Days when I fall short of this goal, I bemoan and endeavor to do better.”

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