Peggy Gutjahr, AKA Peggy Rae — Margaret, is the mayor pro tem of the city of Rio Communities. She has served as a city councilor since 2014. She is a retired registered nurse after working for more than 50 years. She has lived in Rio Communities since 1981, but was born and grew up in Connecticut. She has also lived in Virginia and New Jersey.
She was married to Allan Gutjahr when he passed away in 2000. She is the oldest surviving member on both sides of her family. Her parents, Peg and Ray Sjostedt, lived in Rio Communities from 1987-2005. Her sister, Beth Fontaine, lives in Connecticut; and her children and grandchildren, Kurt Gutjahr lives in Boulder, Colo.( Brigid at UC Boulder); Eric and Angie Gutjahr lives in Aurora, Colo. ( Beck and Chae); Ted Taylor and Lai Yong live in Japan and Singapore ( Sora -Japan); Kristin Gordan lives in Albuquerque (Troy and Monica in Belen; Brett in Albuquerque) and Meghan Taylor Kofod and Pete Kofod, live in Raleigh, N.C. (Christian at Wake Tech, Raleigh, N.C., and Annelise at Royal College of Business, Eggham UK).
Q What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?
A “It’s always a combination of the city and citizen issues, as well as family, friends and community projects. When I am thinking about the city, I’m often working out a problem or opportunity. There is always something needing thoughtful attention. I try to take a deep breath as I think through the issues and figure out what I am missing and where I or who can help.”
Q What’s a myth about your profession you’d like to bust?
A “I have two professions: Municipality governance. In conversations with citizens, misconceptions focus on council/government’s roles, powers, finances, etc. A major misconception surfaces on the limits of the role of government. Often, people are surprised that their only direct financial contribution is the mill levy. Building consensus is what actually gets things done — within the city among citizens and council.
“As a council, we work diligently at building this consensus. It doesn’t stop there, this working together for the betterment of all has to include all of the county as we, cannot go it alone.
“Nursing: This is a well-researched profession in its own right. Solid, multiple research studies show, time after time the critical importance and value of nursing care. A popular misconception is that nursing care/practice is relegated to a hospital setting. I learned that nothing is solved alone. Health care is a multidiscipline team effort that includes the patient, the medical /nursing team. The community can also be the patient.”
Q What were you like in high school?
A “I attended Sacred Heart High School in Waterbury, Conn., and loved it. It was a 10-mile city bus trip there each day, since I lived in another town. There was a school fire the fall of my freshman year; we did double sessions at a nearby public school until my school was repaired. Our class went in the afternoons, so in the winter, I’d skate some mornings at a nearby pond before school. I loved that and it motivated me to get my homework done.
“My fun-loving, competitive group constantly played tricks on the nuns and each other. Math and science were my favorite subjects. I was terrible in typing. I loved being in all the musicals, though I couldn’t sing a note. I was active in our award-winning school newspaper, The Forum. We’d be involved in competitions in NYC, and it was great fun. I was the co-editor (watch out, Clara).”
Q What is the best advice you’ve ever received and from whom?
A “My dad, Ray Sjostedt, always supported me even in my crazy stunts. He also taught me the importance of seeing other points of view. When I’d complain about someone’s decision, etc., he’d say, ‘You can complain about them or what they did when you’ve walked their life.’
“When we’d debate an issue, he’d make me take an opposite point of view to explain. He was one of the most empathetic men I knew and very active in our community. He was part of an Ecumenical Group that brought the town’s different religions together for services.”
Q What did you want to be when you grew up?
A “I always wanted to be a registered nurse. I read every “Cherry Ames, Student Nurse” book I could find. I chose to get my RN diploma from a St. Vincent’s Hospital in Massachusetts instead of Boston College because I wanted to be at the bedside, and not a nursing administrator.
“It was a good decision for the early ’60s. Later, the opportunity for medical school was presented when I went for my BSN and MSN, but being a registered nurse gave me the opportunity to practice anywhere and be close to patients.”
Q Who inspires you?
A “There are so many people I have met, cared for as a nurse or are close to, who’ve struggled with physical, as well as mental illnesses but do it with grace, kindness and perseverance.
“My grandmother, Margaret Barry, stands out as an inspiration. She was widowed in her 30s with three small children. She raised her children alone with my great-grandmother. It was a hard life, but she found a job as a bookkeeper to support them.
“During that time, my mother, at age 12, was hospitalized for a year and my grandmother took a bus to see her every day. She helped many during The Depression and was one of the first 17 women to vote in Connecticut when women could vote. When she died, we met the people she helped all those years and that we never know about. She always would say, ‘I’m glad you are a nurse, helping others is our role on earth.’”
Q If you could work any other job for one day, what would it be and why?
A “I love my jobs and can’t think of any other one I’d like to try even for a day.”
Q What do you do in your free time?
A “What free time? But when I have free time, my choice depends on the time of year. In spring, summer, etc., I work in my garden or visit freshly-planted alfalfa fields. It is so relaxing. I do love to read and can get lost in a book for hours. Talking with friends/family and walking in the desert bring much pleasure as well. I also do try to practice my piano when I have time.”
Q What’s something about you most people don’t know?
A “Actually, I always wanted to be a proficient tap dancer but when I took lessons as an adult, I found out that I did not have any ability at all. Rhythm and spatial awareness are real stumbling blocks for me. Sometimes when I parked my car, my kids use to say, it looks like I abandoned it!”
Q What three books would you to take to a deserted island?
A “Actually, there is a book, ‘SAS A Survival Handbook,’ I found once. I’d take that. Then to read while I await rescue, I’d take Fr. Richard Rohr’s ‘The Universal Christ,’ ‘Team of Rivals,’ by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which lays out how Lincoln made up his cabinet with the three rivals who ran against him for the presidency and how that benefited the country.
“Another book is the ‘The Little Prince.’ I especially love two of his quotes, ‘Well I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies’ and ‘The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.’”
Q You find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
A “You mean after I pass out? I’d help family and friends with their needs, set up a self-sustaining foundation that helps children and families live in a supportive environment/community. I’d help our new city foundation move the city forward.”
Q Who is your best friend and why?
A “This is a tough question. Besides my sister, who knows way too much about me and my children, I have many friends that fit the description. They are there in good times to laugh, travel, discuss and share memorable events. They have seen me through losses and difficult periods. These friends have shown up to help, console, laugh, etc., without ever being asked.
The first names of some: Joseph, Laura, Maggie, Rosie, Annalee, Leeanna, Marie, Eileen, Flavia, Marilyn and Paul. If I left out a name, blame it on my age, but these true friends range from high school, nursing school, work, church, chance meetings, etc. They are young and old. I am so grateful to all of them. I couldn’t do without them.”
Q What’s your favorite song to sing when you’re alone?
A “Ah, whatever is playing on one of my devices: ’50s,’60s era, some Beatles, classic country, ABBA, Bruce, etc. Since I can’t carry a tune, I never put down the window in the car or leave my doors open at home when singing.”
Q Where is your happy place, and why?
A “In New Mexico, it’s my backyard, especially if family and friends are here. If I’m alone, then I just take a book, and curl up in the privacy of my yard. I love the ocean and miss it. I did my best thinking and crying there from my youth thru adulthood. I should add that our sunrises and sunsets can fill me with peace and awe.”
Q Have you had a life-changing experience that led you to where you are today?
A “Yes, when I made the decision to marry my late husband, Allan Gutjahr. He had come to New Jersey to visit a neighbor who had been a friend of his from the past. Allan and I had a long-distance relationship, getting to know each other, and it changed my life as well as my kids and moved here in 1981. It opened up a whole new life for me. Since he was a professor at New Mexico Tech in Socorro and I was completing my BSN/MSN, we settled in Rio Communities for which I am very grateful.”
Q What teacher had the greatest impact on you?
A “In high school, my chemistry and physics teacher, Mr. Irapino. He brought the sciences alive for me and I never forgot the excitement of discovery.
“In my master’s in nursing program, Dr Elsie Morrison convinced me to use Nursing Theorist Martha Rodgers to identify the effect a female adolescent’s environment has on her future. Nursing theorist changed my framework of practice.”
Q What is your favorite movie scene and why?
A “‘An Affair to Remember’ with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr was one my top movies. They were to meet at the Empire State Building, but she never came. On her way there, she is hit by a car and paralyzed. He angrily tracks her down, but she will not tell what happened. He’s about to leave and sees the wheelchair and realizes the real reason she never met him at the Empire State Building. Besides the emotional impact the scene has, it made me realize how often we ascribe an action to a situation without investigating it.”
Q If you could have dinner with one famous person — dead or alive — who would it be and why?
A “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was amazed at his resolve to use non-violence in his cause. I’d want to know how he did not lose faith in the human race and where did he get his strength to go on?”
Q What are you most proud of?
A “My children and grandkids. My children are wonderful adults, who have an amazing sense of caring for others. They have had their challenges, especially my son Ted, who lost his 4-year-old son. Still, they help others. They live everywhere and speak so many languages, English, Danish, Japanese, French and Spanish. Their multiple experiences and travel provides them with a broader world view that enriches our conversations. Thank God for technology so I can see them often.”
Q How would you like to be remembered?
A “I would like to be remembered as someone who made a positive difference in others’ lives, was kind, generous and made others laugh.”