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Armenta remembered as a visionary

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For Christmas 1998, Loretta Armenta bought a fir tree originally cut around Thanksgiving near Mora in northern New Mexico.

Loretta Armenta

By New Year’s Day, when most people begin thinking about recycling their trees, Armenta noticed that hers had suddenly sprouted as much as three inches of new growth. At the time, Armenta said she took it as “a sign of affirmation and a blessing.”

Word spread about the resilient tree and nearly 100 people, many of them strangers, were moved to stop by her Northeast Heights home to look at the tree, pray and leave gifts, including rosaries and crucifixes.

The tree is an apropos metaphor for Armenta, who died March 6 from kidney cancer at the age of 75.

She had faith, was quick to see and interpret signs, saw opportunities and inspired others to act.

Loretta Angelina Armenta was born in Santa Fe to a single mother, said daughter Monica Armenta, a spokeswoman for the Albuquerque Public Schools and a former television reporter. Because Loretta’s mother struggled financially, and took odd jobs at restaurants and hotels, Loretta, the oldest of four children, helped to raise her three younger brothers. All of them joined the military and went on to successful careers.

Loretta attended Menaul School in Albuquerque, but never graduated. Instead, she eloped with her boyfriend, Ray Armenta, whom she had met in Santa Fe. The two had been married 57 years at the time of Loretta’s death. They had three children, Monica, the oldest, sister Denise and brother Andre, who was born with severe disabilities. The family later moved to Albuquerque to be closer to medical services for Andre, who died in 1994 at age 23.

“My parents would not let my brother be cared for anywhere else but home,” said Monica. “Even though my mother had a really difficult childhood, and a lot of pain and challenges dealing with my brother, she also had a lot of blessings and good things that happened to her. She flat out refused to let anything interfere with her path. She just kept going.”

Loretta received her GED and accumulated a pile of business certificates, “so her education was more in the business realm, rather than academia,” said Monica.

In the mid 1970s, Loretta began volunteering for the March of Dimes and later became the executive director of the New Mexico chapter.

She went on to work for Prudential Financial Services and made their million-dollar roundtable for sales in the first two years. While there, she also became a volunteer with the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, and then the organization’s President and CEO, before being lured away as president of Qwest New Mexico.

Former state Republican Party chairman Edward Lujan had known Armenta and her family since the early 1970s.

“I categorize people as givers and takers,” he said. “Most of us operate somewhere in between. Loretta was absolutely a giver.”

He called her the “point person” who pushed legislation for creating the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

Synthia Jaramillo, director of the city’s Department of Economic Development, called Armenta “one of my greatest mentors.”

Armenta hired her as a receptionist at the Hispano Chamber in 2002 and over the next 17 years, Jaramillo moved up, eventually becoming the chief operating officer. By that time, however, Armenta had left to become president of Qwest.

“It was because of Loretta’s innovative risk-taking leadership that the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce enjoys the success that it has today.” Armenta, she said, even got President George W. Bush to attend the chamber’s grand opening at its then-new location in the South Valley.

Alex Romero, who also did a long turn as president and CEO of the Hispano Chamber, called longtime friend Armenta “a remarkable woman, a strong woman and a visionary.”

Romero said Armenta “would put a stake in the ground and say we’re going to do this, and it happened – she was a political mover and shaker, and her whole life was one of advocacy and the power of inspiring others.”

In addition to husband Ray Armenta, and daughters Monica and Denise Armenta, survivors include two brothers, Anthony and Marvin Sanchez, her 97-year-old mother, Flora Sanchez, and four grandchildren.