devoted his retirement to helping others heal.
These four, friends and family gathered at the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial and Museum on Monday to be named New Mexico True Heroes for their contributions to their communities. They were chosen from dozens of nominees from around the state.
“We come together today to honor the inaugural group of heroes,” said Gov. Susana Martinez. “Days like today are what makes being governor amazing. They had the courage to stand up and do what is necessary for their community.”
Vietnam veteran Chuck Howe said he tried to retire to Angel Fire but instead he started a National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center after learning about alternative treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder. The center brings together New Mexican veterans suffering from PTSD and their partners in a weeklong retreat including equine therapy, reiki, acupuncture and yoga. So far, Howe said, they have helped 195 couples – not necessarily romantically involved – and a recent contract with the state’s Behavioral Health Services Division will give them enough funding to serve 350 more.
Jan DeMaggio of Albuquerque has spent the past three-and-a-half years helping children with life-threatening illnesses make a space where they can forget their troubles. The Albuquerque chapter of the national Special Spaces organization has redecorated 21 bedrooms for sick children and their siblings and relies on volunteer labor and donated funds. DeMaggio said she was inspired to start a local chapter as soon as she heard about the organization in other cities.
“They spend so much time going to doctors and getting tests, often times their rooms are just pretty neglected,” DeMaggio said. “We have air brushers, artists, painters and plumbers come in to fix it all up and make their room into their special space.”
Biker Jim Stogsdill of Albuquerque helps children battling a different menace – child abuse. Stogsdill is the vice president of the Rio Grande chapter of Guardians of the Children – a national organization of bikers that offers moral support to children who are called to testify against their abusers.
“It’s not about being a biker or riding a bike,” Stogsdill said. “Yes, that’s what we do, but really we’re all just here for the kids. It’s just a matter of not having to be alone in the courtroom feeling vulnerable. We empower them to tell the truth and give everyone an edge.”
Social studies teacher John Masterson at Berrendo Middle School in Roswell has helped many children every day through the course of his career, but his actions on one terrible morning last winter earned him the title of a New Mexico True Hero. On Jan. 14, Masterson saw the suspect discharge several shots in a crowded gym. He intervened, yelling at Mason Campbell to drop the gun and successfully averted further casualties. Campbell seriously injured two students, but both recovered.
“All these other people they’re doing great things for our state every day,” Masterson said. “Me, I was just put in the right place at the wrong time. No one ever wants to be in that place.”
The heroes will be recognized again in Roswell and Angel Fire as well as on ESPN’s Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 20. The state Tourism Department said it hopes to make this an annual tradition.