Lopez lived in the area all of his life
The month of August was always special for A. R. (Ben) Lopez. Every year, on Aug. 15, he would celebrate his wedding anniversary with his longtime wife, Angie, in the simplest of ways — by wishing her a “Happy Anniversary” as he headed off to work. This was his routine for 58 years.
This year will be different. Ben, age 88, died in Albuquerque on Tuesday, May 22, 2012, after an extended illness. In the end he died as he began the marriage, holding hands with his beloved wife Angie.
Ben was born on March 15, 1924, to Nemesia Maria (Armijo) Lopez, a seamstress, and Martin Lopez, Jr., a teacher, in Polvadera in a rented adobe and plaster house. He grew up during the Great Depression in a large family. His extended family included educators, businessmen, civil servants and farmers. His great-grandfather, grandfather and father were educators. In addition to his teaching job, Ben’s father operated a number of businesses, was active in city and county government and served as the local justice of the peace.
Ben’s father was his teacher in the primary grades. Education, he was taught, was the key to creating opportunities and changing one’s life. Ben graduated from Socorro High School in 1941 and entered New Mexico Tech at age 17, where he studied mining engineering. He went on to study civil engineering at the University of New Mexico and University of Oklahoma.
Ben’s college education was interrupted by World War II, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army and fought with the 103rd Division, 411th Infantry “Cactus Division” in the European Campaign, including battles at Ardennes, Rhineland, Central Europe and the Battle of the Bulge where he was awarded three Bronze Stars with Valor Device for bravery in combat.
After receiving an honorable discharge Ben worked as an assistant manager for the Socorro Electric Cooperative, then as a supervising civil engineer with the State of New Mexico and Susquehanna Engineering. He met Angelina Griego in Santa Rosa. They were married on Aug. 15, 1953, raising three sons and one daughter. Ben’s profession took his family throughout New Mexico, Iowa, Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota and Texas.
With his young sons entering school, Ben declined a managerial position in Florida, retired from engineering in 1959 and returned to his hometown of Socorro where he opened, owned and operated White’s Auto Store on California Street for many years. He started with $3,400 in the bank, and operations were in a small building owned by the Lopez family. In its infancy, White’s sold car parts and accessories. It later branched into hardware, plumbing, furniture, appliances and other household items.
Ben Lopez was the ultimate self-made man. As a teen, doing things himself was the impetus for the family business. With little to no education or experience in business, Ben learned from attending seminars, emulating others and advice from his father, who had owned and operated businesses. Known to many as “Mr. White” Ben continued his business endeavors with Lopez Home and Auto and Kimo Self Storage until his death. His businesses withstood fires, family deaths and recessions, and continues to survive him.
“My dad had a tremendous work ethic,” his son, Martin, said. “He worked six days a week up until the last six months of his life. Even then he still had input in family and business affairs. He was a great mentor and a savvy businessman. He taught me many lessons, such as to work hard, embrace challenge, seek higher education and spiritual peace, and most importantly, take personal responsibility for your life.”
Ben believed that all you need for a good business is a commitment to your customers, and it’s important not to lose that philosophy. He saw his customers as friends, and he loved Socorro because he loved his hometown and its people.
Ben was a long time member of San Miguel Catholic Church where he served as an altar boy in his youth. He was an active member of the Knights of Columbus for 59 years, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion Post 64. A Socorro businessman for over 53 years, he sponsored youth baseball teams and was a Socorro High School athletic and band booster throughout his life.