Don Jose Dolores Cordova (1877-1970) was born in Jarales to Jose Francisco Beltran Cordova and Francisquita Ulibarri.
Tibo Chavez, former lieutenant governor of the state of New Mexico, quoted Don Dolores Cordova, as we addressed him, as follows, “I first saw the light of day in the little town of Jarales, where I make my home. My father, Francisco, was from Tomé. My mother, Francisquita, was born in Tomé. I was one of 10 children.”
Don Dolores Cordova, who married Dona Josefita Lopez, earned the title of “Don” for his exemplary contributions to the community, conduct and respect others held for him. As a young man, he attended two elementary school terms in Jarales, additional terms in Pueblitos, the Don Lucas School in Belen, and two terms in Las Nutrias, where he first learned English.
He studied reading, writing and arithmetic. He obtained a Spanish reading book by bartering two chickens at the John Becker Store in Belen. His elementary school tuition was $1 per month. In 1898, he attended the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he studied language, history and mathematics. He was enrolled for two terms. His first tuition payment was a crate of eggs.
He got a job in Albuquerque and worked for his room and board while saving to pay for his university tuition. Upon leaving the university, he became a teacher in Jarales and Las Nutrias. Those were the days when children used chalk to write on slate boards, when each brought a piece of firewood for the school’s pot-bellied stove and the school term often only lasted a couple of months.
Don Jose Dolores was also the founder of the Jarales Trading Company, Inc. He was a farmer in Jarales, a cattle rancher in the Rio Puerco area, the owner of the Jarales Roller Mill Company, the owner of a Jarales Mercantile store, an independent freight transporter between Independence, Mo., and Belen, and the first U. S. post master in Jarales, where he served until about 1933 when my mother, Lucia Ramirez y Sanchez, became the first female post master in the area. She held that position for 11 years and retired.
Effie Crawford then assumed the post master’s position until she retired. Effie’s tenure was followed by Willie Lovato, who also retired. Then, Marie Griego Ulibarri became the post master.
Don Dolores was a teacher, notary public and justice of the peace. He successfully lobbied Valencia County government to erect the first elementary school in Jarales, and then became the first school superintendent for the Jarales School. He and his wife, Dona Josefita Cordova y Lopez, donated the property for the first Jarales community-owned elementary school, which stood along and just north of what is now called Mill Road.
The couple later donated a different parcel of land for the new elementary school that was established by Valencia County. It faced Jarales Road and the Manzano Mountains that lie 20 miles to the east. Valencia County later built Gil Sanchez Elementary on a different campus site and the previous school building was refurbished into the Don Jose Dolores Cordova Cultural Center.
Sadly, the new school campus was not named after the most notable citizen of Jarales, Don Jose Dolores Cordova, but instead was named after Belen Consolidated Schools board of education member Gil Sanchez, who by chance, had distant childhood roots to the area.
The Jose Dolores Cordova Cultural Center project was spear-headed by Ruperto Baldonado, Samuel Cordova and Reina Baldonado. Many other local citizens contributed money and donated labor in refurbishing the old school building.
The center stands as a true testament of the love the community still has for the man whose effort brought academic learning to the area — its concern for recording the local history and its commitment to having a place where folks can meet to rejoice about the past and dream about the future.
When it came to naming the center, there was no question in the mind of the community as to who had ever served Jarales. It selected the one whose eternal concern had ever been to deal with the community’s needs and how in his own humble way had served the community best. It found that Don Dolores Cordova’s mission had always been to work for the betterment of local conditions.
In doing so, he captured their imagination through his compassion and humility, that in the end became his defining legacy. In the true sense, he was “A Man of All Seasons” that is, he was a man of high caliber who, no matter what circumstance faced him, rose to the challenge of being the man God created him to be. Unlike “A Man for All Seasons,” he never struggled with ideas of identity and conscience. He pulled his boots up with his own straps.
Don Dolores was truly a man for all times. He understood the difficult, delicate and puzzling balance needed in order to bring citizens to that fine edge of moral, ethical and educational conviction. He also realized the community’s economic condition depended on the quality of learning provided by the school. He realized and understood the human potential of the community and what it needed to thrive.
In his thinking, citizens were dependent every hour of the day upon their capacity to read, write and make complex decisions. He knew if such comprehension was not fully developed then the interlocking mechanisms for growth and development of the village folks would grind to a halt.
I visited with Don Dolores, an avid reader, in 1969, shortly before his passing. There was no evidence of any loss of his mental faculties. He was sharp as a tack, relishing life and with good humor.
I reminded him that he read the daily Albuquerque Journal, Albuquerque Tribune and the weekly Nuevo Mexicano. Once he read them, he would save them for me. He reminded me he and I would meet on occasion to discuss what I had read because he wanted to make sure I understood what I had read. I had no better tutor.
I still relish that lovely afternoon when Don Dolores and I, tutor and student, spent time in that screened porch of his house as he refueled his pipe and we reminisced about our lives — the boundless horizon of the soul and how good it was to think and breathe freely.
His untroubled and passionate love of friend and foe were heartfelt and never lost because he, like other good men, understood the restless pacings of humankind. I found him still voicing a fierce independence and need for self-sufficiency. He was still the same self-made man I had known.
Don Dolores said before I left, “Naci en Marzo 27, 1877, yo era el segundo Jose Dolores en mi familia porque se murió el primero.” (I have lived a happy life, had a wonderful wife, Josefita and have had a wonderful family! What else could one ask for?”)
Then he smiled and said, “I have one regret. I gave up riding a horse and all I can now do is ride a buggy. Oscar, never give up riding a horse, reading a book and dreaming in the day. Never fear life or the burdens thrown in front of you.”
I reached for his aging hands, gazed into his blue eyes and saw the crowning of his mortal life and hope for a greater one to come. He no longer held a dream this side of death. However, the joy of my visit was met by a sad silence as I left his house as I knew in my heart this had been our last farewell.
I never saw him again but have visited his grave site in the old Campo Santo of Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church. He rests beside the love of his life, Dona Josefita, as the rosy tints of the New Mexico sun warms their beds and the wind sweeps, as if, with angel’s wings.
Behold this humble man for he arose from poverty to offer the people of Jarales new insights, understanding and prospects for a better future. He grew by his own wits owing nothing to patronage and so stands alone amongst the enlightened. He was blessed for he felt the needs and soul of mankind and cord of God.
It is men like him who dream those of ours, nurse our sweet tones of life and summon our will so as not to drain our hearts and let our souls die. He knew the spells of time, the lives that we all seek and the wisdom needed in our race on earth. He left for us a mirror for self-reflection as he knew that we often see the world not clear.
(Oscar Ramirez y Sanchez, Ph.D, was reared in Jarales, and is a member of the Belen High School graduating class of 1948. He holds a Ph.D in psychology, was a college VP, a university professor, and is retired in El Dorado Hills, Calif.)