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Spirit of NM Awards honor accomplishments

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s stunning landscape, vibrant skies, unique chile cuisine, art and cultural diversity are all part of what gives the state its character. But the efforts and accomplishments of individual people also help to define the spirit of New Mexico.

This year, five people are being singled out as recipients of the annual Spirit of New Mexico award. They include a person who provides pet food to homeless people; a doctor who treats the youngest victims of sexual assault; an athlete with a degenerative disease who redefines the meaning of perseverance; a military veteran who salvaged old reels of filmed greetings to Vietnam-era soldiers; and a businessman who among his many charitable efforts started an orphanage for kids whose healing is aided by bonding with the animals they care for.

The Spirit of New Mexico Awards were created by the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the Albuquerque Journal

in 2009 to recognize individuals who have improved the lives of other New Mexicans, and whose personal stories were featured in the pages of the newspaper.

“It also brings recognition to the talented reporters who told these individuals’ stories and who will present the awards,” said Karen Moses, the Journal’s managing editor.

Former Sen. Jeff Bingaman will be the keynote speaker at the Spirit of New Mexico Award luncheon at 11 a.m. Dec. 3 at the Embassy Suites Hotel.

This year’s recipients are:


KELLER: Gets food for homeless pets

KELLER: Gets food for homeless pets

An animal lover, for years Margaret Keller carried pet food and water in her car to offer to homeless people with pets who might otherwise have been unable to feed their adopted animals.

Keller figured out a way to get donations of pet food and related supplies, such as collars, blankets, toys and leashes. Then she designed a distribution system. Finally, she found veterinarians and staff who were willing to hold free wellness clinics for homeless animals. The story was written by Charles D. Brunt.


ORNELAS: Helps victims of molestation

ORNELAS: Helps victims of molestation

Dr. Renee Ornelas is one of only two board-certified child abuse pediatricians in New Mexico. As such, she regularly sees the most heartbreaking cases, the ones that involve sexual abuse of young children. Because of the frequency of these types of crimes, Ornelas in 1994 lobbied the state Legislature to secure a $500,000 annual budget for the establishment and operation of the Para Los Niños clinic.

She has been treating the physical, mental and emotional wounds of these children since. Ornelas also serves as an expert witness for law enforcement agencies prosecuting the offenders of these crimes against children. Story written by Elaine Tassy.


Doug Schneebeck sits in the rear seat, behind his wife, Jean Bannon. Schneebeck, who has ALS, continues to cycle and blog about living and competing with his illness.

Doug Schneebeck sits in the rear seat, behind his wife, Jean Bannon. Schneebeck, who has ALS, continues to cycle and blog about living and competing with his illness.

A former lawyer and top-ranked mountain biker, Doug Schneebeck was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, in 2010. Even as the neurodegenerative disease limits his mobility, hand function, speech and ability to eat, his wife, Jean Bannon, and a tight circle of friends, help him compete in cycling events. Riding a two-person, three-wheeled TerraTrike, he has qualified for the US National Para-cycling Team. Schneebeck also continues to blog at about living and competing with ALS. Friends say Schneebeck inspires them to be better athletes, while teaching them what it means to be a man. Story written by Leslie Linthicum.


SENA: Converted old greetings to DVD

SENA: Converted old greetings to DVD

Vietnam veteran Art Sena was a 20-year-old jet engine mechanic with the New Mexico National Guard “Tacos” fighter squadron in 1968 when he was called away from the flight line at Tuy Hoa Air Base in South Vietnam. Told to report to a makeshift theater, a projectionist there caught him by surprise with a 2-minute black-and-white film in which members of his family sent their Christmas greetings.

The film was a collaborative of the Air National Guard, Sandia National Laboratories and the Albuquerque Tribune.

Recently, Sena tracked down the original 39 reels of 16-mm film sitting in a file cabinet at Guard headquarters in Albuquerque. At his own expense, he had each of the greetings converted to digital files and DVDs for the families of the 269 Tacos who viewed the originals in Vietnam. Story written by Charles D. Brunt.


MECHENBIER: Farm for kids without families

MECHENBIER: Farm for kids without families

Mike Mechenbier is the recipient of the Spirit of New Mexico, Harry E. Kinney Good Neighbor Award, named for a former mayor of Albuquerque.

Owner of Sundance Mechanical and Utility Corp., as well as a rancher and farmer, Mechenbier had been financially assisting struggling families through various programs and organizations, but he also became concerned about the children who had no families and knew they too needed food, shelter and education.

Toward that end, he helped establish the public charity, not-for-profit El Ranchito de los Niños. In this alternative to foster care, children and children with siblings can live and grow up in a family farm setting and bond with animals they care for as part of the therapy to heal the wounds of their traumatic pasts. Story written by Jessica Dyer.