Veguita resident receives NMDPSA Award


Leo Mendoza has earned the love and respect of the youth of Socorro.

Mendoza said one day he read about the after school program at the Youth Center, saw there was an opening, applied and has been there for 3 1/2 years. At 73, he said the youth show they appreciate him.

“Seeing the progress when you work with a kid a year or so, you can see the improvements in their behavior,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza, from Veguita, has received the governor’s New Mexico Distinguished Public Service Award. This award is for individuals who are recognized civic leaders and private citizens who have contributed to the improvement of public services.

He has held two jobs, one as a hair dresser for 16 years before becoming a farmer. Mendoza has been a board member at the Boys and Girls Ranch for 42 years, and said he has learned a lot from his colleagues. But he has always worked with children.

He said children need someone to listen to them.

According to Boys and Girls Ranch President Mike Kull, the ranch, located in Las Nutrias, is a place for teenagers who can’t live at home. They work with what they have left. Kull said they work with the families and the teens to keep the relationships going, to build the family back together.

“We are proud of Leo.” Kull said.

Mendoza has three sisters, Doris Abeyta, Idama Ulibarri and Margaret Chavez; and two daughters, Naomi Cordova and Cassandra Gliss.

He is working on two projects for the Veguita community. The first project is getting a health clinic in Veguita to be constructed as early as 2013, he said.

Other contributions Mendoza has made to the Veguita community include helping raise funds with the parish pastor for a land survey of Las Nutrias Church property and for a pipe fence for the property, he said.

“He is involved in many things and everyone has respect for him,” Kull said.

Kull has known Mendoza since the early 1970s and said Mendoza was the head of a state-wide organization to support the Boys and Girls Ranch. He has served on the board ever since. According to Kull, Mendoza has been involved with various projects, such as the building of La Promesa Elementary School, the health clinic, fire station and senior citizen center. Mendoza said the two men who have helped him with most of his projects are Brian O’Connor and Andy Romero.

“He is one of those people you can count on what he says to make it happen,” Kull said. “And he loves kids.”

The second project Mendoza is working on at the Boys and Girls Ranch is converting land to wetlands. Mendoza said he has been working on the land daily. The wetlands is 250 acres of salt cedars and the project will create jobs. The project will provide a model for the community and the state for fishing and hunting activities for schools. The wetlands will be a place where students can look at the environment, Mendoza said.

“You’ll be surprised how many students hear or don’t listen.” Mendoza said. “We all hear what’s going on, but we have to listen to understand.”

Deputy district director Barbara Romero and field representative Ron Morsbach, with Congressman Steve Pearce’s office, met with Mendoza. Romero said Mendoza wanted to work for benefits in the community through projects.

“Mendoza is a strong advocate for Veguita,” Romero said. “He wants the community to be bigger and stronger.”

Morsbach said for six to seven years, Mendoza pushed for a health clinic through the community development block grant for the Veguita community. He looked at the project seriously and he has a lot of interaction and keeps informed on what goes on there.

Romero said Mendoza is always there to help and gives his time.

Mendoza is a caring, compassionate person and is very humble, Romero said.

Morsbach said Mendoza works with everyone, from the school to the Boys and Girls Ranch.

“He’s involved with kids, the Boys and Girls Ranch and volunteers at La Promesa,” said state House Rep. Don Tripp. “He gives time and energy for the good of the area.”

Tripp has known Mendoza for 15 years from when he started running for office.

“Mendoza stays focused and works towards a goal. Like the Energizer Bunny he keeps going,” Tripp said.

New Mexico Tech vice president for student and university relations Melissa Jaramillo-Fleming nominated Mendoza for the award. Jaramillo-Fleming knows Mendoza because she grew up in Veguita and attended school with Mendoza’s daughters. She became aware of his work in the community and was impressed.

“I am aware of his commitment to the Veguita area,” Jaramillo-Fleming said. “He has self-motivated efforts to boost the Veguita area.”

Jaramillo-Fleming filled out the paperwork to get Mendoza nominated. She also gathered letters of recommendation from Tripp and Kull, who supported the nominations of the award for Mendoza, she said.

Beth Beers, director of community-based programs for Socorro General Hospital, has known Mendoza for 16 years. They used to work in the Veguita area together. She said he opened doors for people in the early days and helped accomplish a lot in Veguita.

“We share the same passion of improving the health and the well-being of people,” Beers said. “He is active in the Boys and Girls Ranch, and his whole life is about making a difference and making Veguita a better place.

“The best qualities Mendoza has is he cares deeply. Some people pretend, but he truly cares about people. He helps facilitate needs and truly cares a lot about people and is a passionate fighter in what he believes in.”