BELENHistory is recorded in a number of ways, but if the people who inherit the artifacts place no value on them, it can disappear with but a whisper.  

One such piece of history was saved 50 years ago, and its rescuer was recognized this weekend. The Valencia County Historical Society — celebrating its 55th year — presented Filomena Baca with the Jim Sloan Lifetime Achievement Award.  

Society member and former president Maggie McDonald said Baca’s list of accomplishments “are so great it would take us all the rest of the day to tell them all.” 

In 1969, Baca attended the very first meeting of the society, becoming a charter member and serving as the organization’s first secretary. 

Just a few years later, in 1973, Baca resurrected “La Gran Pastorela,” a local Christmas play, performed entirely in Spanish, serving as director for 41 years.  

“I had always wanted to do it because my mother was in the 1929 pastorela in Las Nutrias, which included Valencia County and Socorro County — just like it is today,” Baca told the News-Bulletin in 2023, the 50th anniversary of the play. “My mother used to talk about it, and I loved her stories. My grandfather would sing us the Bartolo song every morning. That’s how he would wake us up.” 

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photos

Filomena Baca, left, receives the Jim Sloan Lifetime Achievement Award from Valencia County Historical Society member Maggie McDonald, right, on Sunday.

As a member of the Jarales Choir Group of Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church, the choir was asked to help raise money for building a new church. She brought up the idea of performing a pastorela, but Baca had never seen a script and didn’t know where to look for one. 

Her search for a script led her to Epifanio Chavez, of Las Nutrias, who was in the 1929 play with her mother. Chavez lent her a handwritten copy of the script, a birthday present from his brother. 

Excited about her found treasure, Baca would stay up late typing each and every word of the play. 

The play has been performed now for decades across Valencia County and all over the state, McDonald said, referring to it as “a real plum for Valencia County. Filo is a source of history and Hispanic culture. She is a real treasure for Valencia County and the state of New Mexico.” 

Brent Jeffery Thomas, center, received the Rio Abajo Award from Valencia County Historical Society Vice President John Taylor, left, and President Richard Melzer, right.

The society’s Red Brick Award typically goes to an outstanding volunteer at one of the local museums. This year, the recognition went to the Harvey Girls serving up the homemade deliciousness at the Whistle Stop Cafe in the Belen Harvey House Museum. Museum manager Frances Zeller, who also cooks all the meals and desserts served at the cafe, accepted the award on behalf of the volunteer group. 

The Historic Preservation Award was presented to Ramon Torres and the dedicated group of volunteers from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Tomé for their continued efforts to preserve the church, the construction of which began in 1739.  

In the 1750s, the church was blessed and

Ramon Torres, third from left, and volunteers from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Tomé, joins John Taylor, second from left, the Valencia County Historical Society vice president, in receiving the society’s Historic Preservation Award on Sunday afternoon.

dedicated, and has been in use ever since. Over the years, renovations to the church have mostly been done by community members, young and old. 

Los Lunas Middle School history teacher Terri Chavez was named Educator of the Year for her continued teaching of local history in her classes. A teacher at the middle school for 27 years, Chavez has made regular field trips to the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts, just a few blocks west of the school.  

“Terri always involves our students in New Mexico history,” said VCHS president Richard Melzer, a retired New Mexico history professor himself.  

The Educator of the Year award also comes with $200 gifted to the teacher to continue supporting history. 

The Rio Abajo Award, given to a society member for long-term service, was presented to artist and former winner of the Educator of the Year award, Brent Jeffery Thomas. His paintings are featured on the covers of “Days Gone By in the Rio Abajo” and “Murder, Mystery and Mayhem,” compilations of the society’s La Historia del Rio Abajo history column regularly featured in the Valencia County News-Bulletin 

John Taylor, left, presents the group of volunteer Harvey Girls who serve customers at the Whistle Stop Cafe located in the Belen Harvey House Museum with the Red Brick Award. Museum manager, Frances Zeller, right, accepted the award on behalf of the volunteers.

Thomas taught art at the middle school for nine years and now teaches the same subject at Los Lunas High School. 

“He always incorporates history, especially New 

John Taylor, left, the Valencia County Historical Society vice president, presents Los Lunas Middle School teacher Terri Chavez, right, with the Educator of the Year Award.

Mexico history into his lessons,” Melzer said. “He just keeps on doing better things.” 

After the awards, former Belen mayor and city councilor Ronnie Torres gave a presentation on the historic photos of Belen he has been collecting for several years. 

“I’m just the guy who likes to collect old pictures, and I wish I had collected more of them years ago,” Torres said. “We are just losing (history) every single day. Every time a building gets knocked down, we lose a little more history. What I want you guys to realize is the history of our area is not just the Beckers, not just the Elermeyers, but it is every-day people. It’s you guys, it’s your parents, it’s your family.” 

Torres encouraged anyone with old family photos to bring them by his hair salon, Hair Innovations, on Main Street, and he would be happy to make copies and add them to the collection. 

Former Belen mayor and city councilor Ronnie Torres gave a presentation at the 55th annual Valencia County Historical Society meeting Sunday afternoon, highlighting just a few of the old photos of Belen and its residents, which he has been collecting for several years.

While many of the faces in the photos in his collection don’t have names, Torres asked those at the annual meeting on Sunday to use Post-it notes to add them, encouraging them to use actual names. 

“I’ve done this before and people have put ‘my dad’ or ‘my grandmother.’ I don’t know who you are or who they are,” he said with a chuckle. “Please, put names if you know them.” 

Photos collected by Torres will become part of the photo archives at the Belen Harvey House Museum, Melzer said. 

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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.