“Sí se puede y ustedes también pueden cumplir con sus sueños.”
EL RITO, NM--Mrs. Gonzales’ much-anticipated end-of-year El Rito Elementary class field trip to Denver’s Museum of Nature and Science--the closest museum of its kind at the time--was on the verge of cancellation because there wasn’t a bus driver available. Even so, the determined Esperanza enlisted her own husband and fellow-educator Nelson Gonzales to acquire a CDL license and drive the bus himself.
“The last day of school when all the teachers were checking out to go home for the summer, ‘thank god the school-year’s over,’ Mrs. Gonzales and I were heading to Denver with a bus-load of kids,” Nelson shared.
There is no shortage of memorable stories like this, which serve as testaments to the work and deep commitment of Esperanza and Nelson Gonzales to their community and lives of young people in Northern New Mexico: school-age children cleaning up trash along the road way, installing and maintaining a large symbolic ‘E’ along a local mountainside, establishing an inclusive cemetery, and even uncovering the area’s pre-colonial history.
“She tried to inspire people to have pride in El Rito and pride in themselves,” Nelson said of his wife.
Nelson said Esperanza’s educational values and commitment to community service were born from a difficult childhood and a desire to help children overcome similar adversities.
Esperanza had a humble upbringing in El Rito raising some of her eight siblings in a two-room house with no electricity or running water. Even so, Esperanza graduated from El Rito Normal School in 1955 at the top of her class as valedictorian earning a music scholarship to attend Highlands University. She later graduated from Los Angeles State College (now known as California State University, Los Angeles), with a Bachelor of Arts in Math and a minor in Education, eventually returning to New Mexico and Highlands University to obtain her Master’s Degree in School Administration.
While Esperanza attended school, Nelson supported the family by working as a machinist for the aircraft industry, and upon their return to New Mexico, the couple traded places; Esperanza worked as a teacher at West Las Vegas Schools, while Nelson pursued his teaching degree.
“When you’re raised in an environment that’s so depressed, that’s where these values are established; these values to achieve, the value of work,” Nelson said of his wife. “She was always very attuned to working with the underprivileged children--financially, emotionally or academically--she seemed to gravitate to those kids especially. She cared for all kids. That was reflective of how she wanted to help others.”
Esperanza passed away September 5, 2020, and Nelson recalled a significant outpouring from the community, especially from a former student who extolled Esperanza as an invested educator. He explained that Esperanza had made a significant impact on his life by guiding and tutoring him from sophomore to senior year so that he may go on to college to pursue engineering and become an engineer, which he was able to accomplish due to her support and encouragement.
While a significant vacuum has been left in the El Rito community by Esperanza’s passing, she and Nelson are not only leaving a remarkable legacy of life-time service, but also establishing a generous new scholarship fund. Nelson has established the Nelson O. and Esperanza Baca Gonzales Scholarship Fund to honor Esperanza, her family, and to encourage and inspire future generations through both her and Nelson’s experiences, lessons and hopes for the future.
The Nelson O. and Esperanza Baca Gonzales Scholarship, established as a $100,000.00 endowment with the LANL Foundation, will provide scholarships in perpetuity for students from Northern New Mexico pursuing a bachelor’s degree, associate's degree, or certification in a trade. Scholarships will be awarded to those who embody the Gonzales’ commitment to community and service, and financial need is strongly considered in the selection process. Students from Mesa Vista High School will receive top priority, with Española High School students as the secondary target audience for the scholarship.
“We are honored that Nelson and his family have entrusted the LANL Foundation to steward this generous endowment. Hearing Nelson speak about his love and respect for Esperanza and her commitment to the people and communities of Northern New Mexico is deeply moving. We hope that others choose to contribute to this fund so that we can serve even more students for years to come.” --Mike Ammerman, LANL Foundation Scholarship Program Manager
Learn more about this and other scholarship funds, and how you can donate by visiting www.lanlfoundation.org/give. You can also donate by downloading the scholarship pledge form and sending a check to the LANL Foundation.
Students interested in applying for a scholarship through the LANL Foundation can apply via a one-time application here. The deadline to apply is January 19, 2021. Any questions about the application process can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org