Small Town News


Joe Willie Chavez - educator and leader

The Independent of Edgewood, New Mexico

- Advertisement -

When he celebrates his 8oth birthday at the end of the month, Joe Willie Chavez is sure to be surrounded by his beloved family at his longtime Moriarty home.

This week 'Mr. Chavez' reflected also on his extended family—all the students, teachers, staff, parents and administrators he came into contact with during his 30-year career in education. From humble begirinings teaching biology in Stanley to teaching and coaching in Moriarty schools, to Middle School principal to Assistant Superintendent, then finally the first Hispanic Superintendent in Torrance County, Chavez said, "I loved my job."

"The classroom is where it's at. There's nothing like it. The influence you have on kids as a teacher is amazing, if you do it right," said Chavez. He said he treated his students as individuals, adding, "Respect is most important. If you respect them they respect you."

After college graduation in 1957 Chavez began teaching in Stanley. He said, "Three of us came over from Stanley to Moriarty when they consolidated in 1962. It was not easy, but then I was nominated for teacher of the year. I was teaching elementary but my degree was secondary. After a while I moved to the high school where I taught Biology."

As assistant superintendent, Chavez said he carried a huge ring of keys. "I ended up doing everything—transportation, school grounds maintenance, special education, bilingual coordinator. If someone needed in a building, they called me," he said. Chavez went to Highlands University in the summers to get his Administration degree.

Other school districts may have had snow days, but in Moriarty we had "mud days," said Chavez, laughing. The buses couldn't run if the roads were too muddy.

Following his retirement, Chavez said he was honored when community member Henrietta Romero approached the school board and suggested the science wing at MHS be named after him. He said, "She had been one of my students."

Born Jose Guillermo Chavez in the tiny community of Tapia north of Clines Corners, Chavez said he and his 12 siblings attended a one-room schoolhouse from grades 1 to 8. After completing the fall harvest the family would move to Santa Fe where they went to school through the winter. Chavez grew up speaking Spanish and learned English in school.

A school bus route was established from Tapia to Stanley, and Chavez became a Stanley High School Cyclone student and athlete. Chavez was valedictorian but said with a laugh that his senior class had only seven students.

Chavez said he was the first in his family to attend college, and it happened accidentally. After working the summer in the fields of eastern New Mexico, he came home and ran into his good friend Joe Anaya. Anaya told him he was going to St. Michael's College in Santa Fe because their counselor got him a scholarship. Chavez said he never considered college before because he thought he couldn't afford it, but "sure enough the counselor helped me get a partial scholarship."

Chavez said he played basketball and baseball at St. Mike's. Coming from such a small school he said, "At first it seemed like they spoke a different language. We thought we'd never make it but we got used to it." Chavez worked his way through college at service stations. He got his degree in Biology with a Physical Education minor because "I wanted to be a coach."

While in college Chavez met his future wife Lila Ortega. She grew up in Lamy and was working in Santa Fe, and they were married at the Santa Fe Cathedral on June 15, 1955. Together they raised four daughters and one son, all of whom live in New Mexico.

One daughter, Roxie Encinias, said growing up it was tough, because all the teachers knew Chavez was her father. "He even kicked me out of science class once because I refused to call him Mr. Chavez," she said with a laugh. Encinias said her dad was strict but fair.

Lila passed away in 2009. Chavez said he still misses his "honey bunny." He is proud of his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and Encinias said they love their "Pompo." Chavez replied, "My kids spoil me."

On the first day of school, Chavez said he gives his grandchildren a blessing and asks them to "work hard, learn something, get along with everyone, and be a good student."

Regarding Tom Sullivan, the new superintendent, Chavez said, "He's an outstanding administrator; very honest." Chavez brought in Sullivan to teach in Moriarty while he was the middle school principal.

Today, Chavez said there are advantages in that so many courses are offered, but things have changed too. He said, "It used to be parents were on the side of the teacher. We were concerned with educating the kids, but it had to be fun as well."

"I never missed a game," he said, adding that his wife sacrificed a lot. "People don't appreciate or realize the time we devote to our job as coaches and teachers," Chavez said.

Copyright 2013 The Independent, Edgewood, New Mexico. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 6, 2013

More from The Independent