Know Your Neighbor: Bettie Martinez

Surrounded by family

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Bettie Martinez gave birth to four children, but she actually served as a mother figure for hundreds of children during their youth. In her career as the secretary at Taos Junior High, now known as Taos Middle School, she helped many young people.

“My favorite memories and times are those spent with my family – children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and a great-great grandchild. During my 25 years at the school, I also ‘mothered’ many of the students,” said Martinez during an interview at her El Prado home.

Martinez considers Llano Quemado as her home of origin. Her actual name is Beda, but she tired of others mispronouncing of her name, so during a moment of independence, she changed her name, including the unique spelling.

The eldest of five children, Martinez was born to the late Cosme Romero and the late Lillia Mondragon Romero. Her siblings are as follows: Ophelia Romero Gold (the late George), the late Olmedo Romero (the late Flora), Cecilia Santistevan (Robert) and Elma Esparza (the late Manuel).

During her childhood, Martinez attended St. Francis School. She walked to church from Llano Quemado, just as her grandma did. Her grandmother also visited the sick and Martinez aspired to be like Matilde Mondragon, her mentor-grandmother, so she also performed this act. Education was important in the Romero household to the point of mother Lillia doing the dishes so her children could complete their homework. Young Bettie Martinez loved to read, and this was her entertainment – in addition to providing the material to complete class reports. "The Hardy Boys" and "Nancy Drew" were her favorite reading series.

The family moved to Wyoming, a place the young woman didn’t like. She returned to Taos after high school graduation and worked at the Motor Vehicle Division in Santa Fe. Later, Martinez had a job with Dr. Reynaldo Deveaux, working with patients of all ages.

Dances were special to Martinez, especially after she met Menard Martinez Sr. at a dance in Ranchos de Taos. “When I first saw him, I thought he was a nice-looking guy. He wore a white scarf, which made him look even more attractive. He had just returned home from the service,” said Bettie Martinez. The couple wed in July 1948 and moved to El Prado, where she lives to this day.

The couple was married for 67 years until Menard Martinez Sr.’s death Jan. 22, 2014. The marriage produced four children. For Martinez, raising her children wasn’t the difficult task; it was when her eldest child died. The late Loretta Martinez-Rael and her late husband Wilfred produced three children from their marriage: Tammy Rael-Romero (Juan), Brian Rael (Rosita) and the late Jason Rael (Renee). The second product of this marriage, John “Al” Martinez, and his wife, Louella, raised four children: Ryan Martinez (Anita), Janice Mutu (Jason), Lisa Martinez and Lori Martin (Jonathan). Jimmy Martinez, the next son in birth order, is the father of three girls: Rianna Herrera (Jesus), Sophia Sanchez (Justin) and Erika Romo (Carlos). The youngest son, Menard Jr., enjoys his three sons: Menard Martinez III, Antonio Martinez (Parveen) and Carlos Martinez (Naomi).

As the Martinez children grew and attended school, their mother began to consider working outside the home. Menard Jr. was the only child not attending school at the time. Bettie Martinez went to work at Taos Junior High and Menard Jr. remained in the care of his grandma, Sofia Martinez.

At school, Bettie Martinez’s duties included distributing school supplies, dealing with mail and preparing attendance and other reports. Martinez’s family can attest to the fact that on occasion, she took work home in order to meet a deadline to complete reports. Another important duty included keeping track of free and reduced lunches. The secretary’s desk always included Band-Aids for the youngsters.

“I still dream about reports,” said Martinez. “I loved and appreciated my office girls and sometimes rewarded them with ice cream. I enjoyed the friends I made at the school. Sometimes, I’d have lunch with Pauline Mondragon and Lorraine Mondragon (Sanchez). Pauline and I continued our friendship when she went to work at the Administration Building and even today.”

The Taos Junior High secretary retired in 1985. At the time, the district still used typewriters instead of computers. Hundreds of youngsters received nurturing kindness from Martinez, and their fondness of her didn’t end when she completed her service at the school.

“I try to stay active. I always have coffee ready for visitors. I learned to cook from my grandma, but she didn’t make tamales, so I learned how from Sophie Cisneros. I don’t watch much TV, but I like the Hallmark Channel and EWTN. I read and especially check out mysteries. I discuss mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark with my granddaughter, Tammy,” said Martinez about spare time activities. In her opinion, reading The Taos News also comprises a good way to spend time.

One of Martinez's favorite recent activities was the recent 90th birthday party her family planned for her. Attendees included “friends and neighbors who are like family.” Another favorite activity includes “the kids [children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren] stopping by, which makes my day.” She also enjoys her weekly trips to the beauty salon, where Stella McGinnis cares for Martinez’s hair grooming. “My husband always wanted me to look good, so I have made hair care a part of my regular schedule,” shared Martinez.

The retired secretary likes basic colors: navy blue, black, white and red. Her favorite reading genres are history and mystery. Martinez enjoys attending church and talking to people she knows. When asked about her favorite food, Martinez said that she prefers some native food, the likes of which her grandma created. Despite her small appetite, Bettie Martinez likes natillas (a custard-like pudding), sopa (bread pudding), enchiladas, beans, red chile, bread, atole (blue cornmeal), chicos (cooked, dried corn) and posole (cooked corn-based stew-like food).

Martinez may be a part of a small group of women – a 90-year-old texter. She wishes the person with whom she’s texting "good luck" or a "good day," "good morning" or "good evening." She sends messages to children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, those celebrating birthdays and people who are ill.

How does a person like this week’s subject plan to celebrate the upcoming Mother’s Day? She envisions her day as one “surrounded by family.” Martinez’s granddaughter, Tammy Rael-Romero (who was present at the interview), describes the popular mother figure with the description, “She’s always a mom and a grandma.” No doubt, the many children who formed a part of Bettie Martinez’s life couldn’t agree more.

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