BELEN — Yvette Padilla was born and raised in Belen. She served and had an impact on Belen. She was the epitome of Belen.
The Belen city councilor died at noon, Saturday, Dec. 10, surrounded by her family — her son, Carlos; father, Eloy; brother, Lawrence; and her boyfriend, Rene Gutierrez. She was 54 years old.
“Belen is something she took a lot of pride in,” her brother, Lawrence said. “She was a big part of the community.”
Yvette was appointed to the Belen City Council in January by Mayor Robert Noblin to serve the two years remaining in his term. She either volunteered or worked for the city in many different positions since she was 14 years old.
After 25 years of working for the city — 20 years in the municipal court — she retired in 2014, and decided to run for municipal judge in 2021. She lost by only one vote, but her desire to serve her community continued.
“I am a product of my environment; I was raised to treat an individual as I would want to be treated,” she told the News-Bulletin during her campaign. “The traits of kindness and respect are highly significant in my life.”
Yvette began her tenure with the city as a volunteer firefighter, and was then hired as a typist at the library in 1985 during her senior year at Belen High School.
In 1988, she was reclassified to an administrative clerk, and also took a position within the Belen Police Department as a part-time dispatcher in 1991. She later moved back to the library and also worked with the RSVP program as a part-time aide and bus driver in 1994.
Yvette transferred over to the position of judicial clerk in 1997. In the spring of 2002, Municipal Judge Kathy Savilla requested she be promoted to court administrator and alternate judge, where she served until her retirement in February 2014.
Savilla first met Yvette 25 years ago when the now retired judge was the court administrator and hired her as a court clerk in 1997.
“When I became judge in 2002, I offered her the position of alternate judge,” Savilla remembers. “She was the type of friend who you didn’t have to talk to or see every day, but when we would come together, we were like magnets. We just picked up where we left off.”
When Yvette retired as court administrator in 2014, Savilla said while she was sad her friend was leaving, she was happy for her.
“It was good for her but not for me,” she said laughing. “When she was with the court, the community loved her. She ran the court and treated everybody with respect and dignity. It was just in her heart to serve the public.”
Savilla had heard of Yvette’s illness and tried calling her last week, but wasn’t able to talk to her. She was shocked when she heard her friend had died.
“I couldn’t even talk for about an hour,” Savilla said of when she received that fateful call. “It shouldn’t have happened. She was so young. Life is so unfair sometimes.”
Savilla described her friend as outgoing, fun, honest, sincere and “just a great listener. She was just a very genuine, good person.”
Fellow Belen City Councilor Frank Ortega was shocked and saddened to hear of Yvette’s death, having known her since she was a teenager.
“She was just a little kid when she came in to inquire about volunteering,” Ortega said of his time while fire chief. “As time went on, she came back and became a full-time volunteer firefighter with her friend, Anna Tabet, and they were rescue personnel, too.”
Ortega remembers Yvette just wanted to do something to help the community, and after a few calls, it grew on her.
“We were all family,” he said. “That’s what we did and who we were.”
As the years went by, Ortega and Yvette continued to cross paths, with the last time being on the Belen City Council.
“You couldn’t have met a nicer person,” Ortega said of Yvette. “She made everyone feel special.”
The councilor said Yvette volunteered to be the ex officio of the Veterans Memorial committee, a task Ortega said she took seriously.
“She helped us out a lot,” he said. “She would help us set up, and she was also able to get us a $500 check from the Moose Lodge.
“Yvette was just a special person. She will be truly missed. I still can’t believe she’s gone.”
Her brother said Yvette died from complications of COVID. She had been in the hospital before Thanksgiving and released the day before the holiday.
“They didn’t want to release her but she didn’t want to stay,” Lawrence said. “The only way they’d release her was if they placed her on hospice.
“I think she just waited too long. I know she wasn’t feeling well, but she had waited too long before she went to the doctor.”
Lawrence said Yvette was a very private person, and her way of thinking was that she didn’t like people to fuss over her.
Noblin said he was also shocked to learn of his friend’s death.
“When I received that call from her brother on Saturday, I was very stunned and in disbelief,” Noblin said. “She was a very private person, even through this brief illness. None of us were expecting she would pass.”
The Belen city councilor had been working as an administrative clerk for Noblin Funeral Service in Los Lunas since September. The mayor said she was a valued member of his team as well as of the city.
“I always thought — and still do — that some people in government spend their whole careers talking and you still wonder where they stand,” he said.
“Yvette could say more in a sentence or two than many of us can during an entire council meeting. She was effective; her points were clear and to the point. You always knew where she stood.”
Noblin appointed Yvette to his council seat because of the many years of service she gave to the city.
“She ran a campaign, I thought, that was a very fair and clean for municipal judge. She lost by one vote. She still had a desire to serve in any capacity that she could,” Noblin said. “It was admirable and she was still wanting to be a public servant.”
Noblin said Yvette’s legacy is one of service to the city and her impact on the people of Belen.
Her family has been overwhelmed by the support they’ve received from the community since Yvette’s death.
“We had visitors from previous (city) administrations come to visit us. It’s really good to see that amount of support for her and her family,” Lawrence said. “Mayor Noblin and most of the city council has been in contact with us. The gesture of having the flags at half staff in the city shows what kind of person Yvette was and how she affected people’s lives.”
Growing up with Yvette was always an adventure, said Lawrence, who is six years younger than his sister.
“She was always just the craziest sister. I was always the little tagalong kid. Our mom made her always take me with her,” he said laughing. “I was just saying that I wish I had a video of her laughing. That’s one of the things I’m really going to miss about her — her laugh.”
Lawrence will always remember the last moments he shared with his sister. He walked into the house Saturday morning, and someone told Yvette he was there.
“She picked up her head from bed, and said, ‘Hi brother!’ I told her not to worry about a thing because I was there,” Lawrence said. “I told her, ‘You know that right?’ and she said, ‘Yeah.’ I held her hand for a little while, trying to comfort her.”
Lawrence described Yvette as the backbone of their family, especially after their mother, Geneva, died in 2005.
“She took on that role of being there for everybody. She gave so much of herself,” he said. “It was just who she was. If we needed to talk, she was always there.”
While working at Noblin’s, Yvette was learning different programs, including how to make prayer cards. She, along with another employee, were practicing, and created one for herself.
The family has decided they will use the prayer card Yvette created for her services.
“It’s got her picture on the front, and it’s got a prayer in the back about a butterfly,” Lawrence said.
“I want to thank the community for their support. We knew Yvette was loved, we just didn’t know how many lives she touched.”
A visitation will be held at 8:30 a.m., Friday, Dec. 16, at Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church, with a Rosary to be recited at 9:30 a.m., and a Funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Burial will follow at Belen Memorial Gardens.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.