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It’s easy to look at New Mexico (and northern New Mexico in particular) and point out what is wrong with it.
In pointing out the flaws, we fail to nurture the successes and build upon them, and we fail to recognize the many individuals and organizations that have made dedicated efforts to change the status quo. Looking back almost 40 years, there are many teachers in our community of Española who have nurtured us and guided us, but few have had the impact of Mr. Robert Felix, retired teacher and band director at Española Valley High School (EVHS).
Several of us were fortunate to have spent six years under his direction, as he transitioned from Española Junior High School to Española High School in 1973, and on to EVHS when EHS and Santa Cruz High School merged in 1975. We’d like to share some of these experiences that changed our futures, and helped us to be successful in our careers and lives.
How do you build self-confidence, teamwork, discipline, integrity, resilience and perseverance? One student at a time, one day at a time. Band was the first class of the day, and many of us came to the band room the minute we got off the school bus or were dropped off early by a parent.
We spent evenings there as well, practicing for competitions and concerts. It was our social center, a refuge for some of us, our home away from home. Many of us played on school-owned instruments that were ours as long as we stayed in band. In high school, we spent many hours on the football field rehearsing for marching band, sometimes so late that our parents turned on their headlights to light the field because the sun had gone down and there were no stadium lights. We played during football and basketball games – their victories and losses were ours as well.
To raise funds, we sold greeting cards, candles and held countless pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners. We are thankful to those generous souls in our neighborhoods who did not close the curtains and avoid answering the doors when they saw us coming!
We remember Mr. Felix offering private music lessons before school. He even drove us to private lessons in the area on his own time and his own dime.
Many of us were in concert band, marching band, jazz band – if there was a band, we were in it. We even helped to design the band uniforms (we’d like to note with a grin that flares are back in style). We played at basketball games, in local and regional parades when the temperatures were near freezing (think Adams State College in Alamosa) and sweltering (late spring and summer).
We had band trips outside the state to competitions, where we often brought home both group and individual blue ribbons. Mr. Felix patrolled the halls, ensuring that we were all safe and accounted for – he got very little sleep in those days. In the years after our graduation, the EVHS reputation soared, and the band received an invitation to perform in the 1984 Rose Parade.
As we reflect upon our careers – as teachers and educators, lawyers and judges, researchers and professionals, community leaders and mentors, and every path in between – we owe much of our success to his dedication and sacrifice.
He had a vision of what we could be, and he raised the bar so that we would reach higher than the bar that we had set for ourselves. He was a surrogate father to many, a confidante, a mentor, and still some 40 years later, a friend.
The only way to properly thank him is to pay it forward, as he did, to lead by example, and to be ever grateful. He changed many lives in his tenure, and for that, our community is deeply indebted.
Besides Lopez, currently living in Loveland, Colo., this essay was signed by Levi Romero, Antonette Salazar, Elias Vigil, David Gallegos, Ron DeVargas, Ron Gallegos, Charlene Wiuff, and the EVHS Classes of 1976-1980, gathered through Facebook.