Friday, May 28, 2010

Living Memorials

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — This Memorial Day, I’ve been thinking about some of the artists and community leaders who will leave legacies that should be around to delight and enlighten future generations.
Anyone who writes a book, a poem, a play or a movie, who paints, sculpts or creates anything that can be preserved, has a shot at immortality.
Even the more ephemeral arts, like music and dance performances, will live on in memory.
As Oscar Butler, 93, talked to me about his farewell concert with the New Horizons Symphony Orchestra, I thought about what a lovely tribute it was to his late wife, Virginia Holman Butler, who died in April.
“She was a beautiful singer,” Oscar said of his wife of 70 years.
The concert will be a treasured experience for all who heard it, along with his visiting friends and family members and three of the couple’s children who played in the orchestra.
Oscar Butler’s story is really the history of much of our musical heritage and I couldn’t help nagging him to write his memoirs. He was part of a team at New Mexico State University that nurtured a choral department and later a symphony orchestra that produces some world-class performances and talents, continuing milagros, especially for a city our size.
Maybe it’s something in the water. Las Cruces seems to produce extraordinary souls who remain creative throughout long lives, well into their seventh, eighth, ninth, even 10th decades.
I think of people like Jackie Clark, who last year, at age 86, finished a two-year project designing and making 20 stained glass windows for Mesilla Valley Hospice Chapel.
It’s a wonderful memorial to the creative life here in high desert country, and a fitting tribute to Hospice programs, which offer loving, compassionate and sometimes even artistic ways to transition to the next realm.
In recent years, some of our most creative citizens and their families have collaborated to preserve capsules of our culture, our way of life and collections of our creativity.
Two of my all-time favorite adobe homes and compounds will someday become places that my grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great-great grandkids can visit and enjoy as much as I have.
Educator and long-time state Rep. J. Paul Taylor and his late wife, Mary, a talented photographer and historian, left their beautiful and historic Mesilla Plaza adobe home and a remarkable collection of art and artifacts to the Museum of New Mexico system, which will maintain the home as a museum after J. Paul’s death. The place where the couple raised their seven children will be known as the Taylor-Barela-Reynolds-Mesilla State Monument.
And last year, Dr. Kent Jacobs and Sallie Ritter announced that, upon their deaths, their art collection and their 6,500-square-foot adobe house south of Las Cruces will be donated to the Museum of New Mexico to become a branch museum known as the New Mexico Museum of Art Jacobs-Ritter Compound.
Ritter, an internationally renowned artist and her husband, a retired physician who now writes novels and mysteries, said they wanted to help bring art and major exhibits south of Albuquerque, so there will be a memorial that not only preserves and celebrates the past, but also nurtures, inspires and showcases artists of the future.
This month, the Museum of New Mexico Regents came to Las Cruces to meet and visit both the Taylor home in Mesilla and the Jacobs/Ritter home in Las Cruces.
In the rose gardens of the Jacobs-Ritter home that will one day be an art museum, the regents’ president, Karen Durkovich of Santa Fe, acknowledged the treasures that both regional couples will bequeath for future generations.
It seemed like a perfect way to celebrate Memorial Day.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

A challenge to reconcile

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — This Memorial Day, Charles “Chuck” Miles is harboring no hard feelings for those who shot at him when he was a teen soldier in the last days of World War II. In fact, he has just presented a plaque that has a place of honor in the Möckmühl, Germany, cemetery where he and his fellow soldiers took refuge on April 7, 1945.
It’s the latest development in a story of forgiveness and synchronicity that stretches back through more than six decades of world history.
Miles, 84, also coauthored the 2002 book “Once Enemies, Now Friends,” which tells the story of two young World War II soldiers (Miles and German native Felix Pfaeffle) who met as friends and neighbors in Las Cruces and realized that long ago, they had been shooting at each other in a remote rural area of Germany. The book was translated into German and Miles and others have since toured Germany and France together, making friends, signing books and sharing stories with history buffs.
A plaque, dedicated in German and English “in memory of the America and German soldiers and civilians who died during the last days of the Second World War in Möckmühl” was presented in April 10 ceremonies by Wolfgang Schlauch of Mesilla Park on behalf of Miles, whose health prevented him from making the trip to Germany himself.
Historical plaques are important to Miles, a retired textile manufacturer and lifelong history buff. During his 20 years in Las Cruces, he has headed the Doña Ana County Historical Society and has personally donated five plaques in honor of local historical events and figures, now featured at sites from the Branigan Library to Las Cruces City Hall and Veterans Memorial Park.
“It’s my way of giving back to the community I love,” he said.
He figured a plaque would also be a fitting act of closure marking the 65th anniversary of a war that is still vivid in his memory.
“On the morning of April 5, 1945, a company of American soldiers of the 63rd Infantry Division moved through Rogheim, Germany, meeting little resistance,” he said. “We hoped our luck would continue, but it was not to be.”
As squad leader that day, Miles was the first American soldier to enter the village of Möckmühl.
“We charged through an orchard into the town cemetery. Then bitter house-to-house fighting followed as we battled their way through the town on to our next objective.”
On April 20, 1945, he was wounded, he said.
He dismissed it as “just a flesh wound,” rubbing the scar he still carries on his neck.
It’s clear that he’d rather talk about the recent friendships he’s made in Germany.
His personal post-war détente campaign started when Doña Ana Community College history professor Donna Eichstaedt invited Miles and Pfaeffle to speak to her history class.
“They’d never met, but discovered in the class that they were neighbors in Las Cruces and once had been within two miles of each other in Germany in 1945, two teenage soldiers on opposite sides, shooting at one another,” said Eichstaedt.
“Miles never forgot that cemetery or the town of Möckmühl and after writing a book about his war experiences in 2002, he was invited by the local historical society for a visit. Wolfgang Schlauch, Chuck Miles, Felix Pfaeffle, my husband Carl Eichstaedt and I traveled to Germany in 2002 and visited many of the villages where Chuck and his 63rd Infantry Division had fought. We were treated royally and gave talks and met a few German veterans,” she said.
“I developed some warm friendships with the people of Möckmühl, especially village historian Dr. Karl-Heinrich Kraft, who later visited me here in Las Cruces,” Miles said.
He learned their historical society was contemplating a plaque to commemorate the Battle of Möckmühl and the end of World War II by remembering those — both Americans and Germans — who lost their lives.
“With input from Möckmühl Mayor Ulrich Stammer, Dr. Kraft and Professor Schlauch, Miles decided to have a plaque made for the wall of honor in the village cemetery — the same cemetery he found himself in on that fateful day in 1945,” Eichstaedt said.
“I had the plaque made by Trophy County in Las Cruces and on April 10, my good friend Wolfgang (Schlauch) traveled to Möckmühl and presented it to the mayor and citizens of the town,” Miles said.
“There were about 50 people there from the town and the reaction was very positive. It was a very somber presentation. There were some old people there who remembered the very dark days of World War II. They thought it was a very generous gesture of Charles Miles, commemorating the war and also a way to think of peace that would hopefully last,” said Schlauch, 75, an Eastern Illinois University professor emeritus of history who now makes his home in Mesilla Park.
Schlauch, now an American citizen who has lived in the U.S. for 45 years, was born in the German village of Bachlingen.
“Chuck was shot just a few miles from my village. I was about 9 then,” said Schlauch, who has surprisingly fond memories of the post-war American occupation forces.
“I loved the American soldiers. I remember the first soldiers we met were black and they were very kind to the children. They gave us chocolate and we spent whole days with them.”
Schlauch brought back photos, newspaper articles and a special message to Miles from Möckmühl’s Mayor Ulrich Stammer.
“All citizens here in Möckmühl have enclosed him in their hearts. When former enemies reconcile and send such a signal, this then means something very special. This should be a challenge to all of us to constantly search for reconciliation,” Stammer said.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450

Friday, May 14, 2010

A job for Superman?

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — It was one of those flying dreams.
I nodded off watching coverage of the Gulf oil spill, volcanic eruptions, terrorist attempts and more economic collapses. In the anything-is-possible transition to dream time, it suddenly hit me.
This is a job for Superman.
Oh, Superman, where are you, now that we really, really need you?
I know Spider-man, Batman and Ironman have attracted more attention in recent decades, but frankly, we need more than boffo box office numbers at this stage in human history.
Spidey and the Bat and Iron guys are pretty good with criminal masterminds, but frankly, they’re all homeboys and their terrestrial superpowers are too puny to deal with the consequences of corporate supercrimes and our burgeoning pile of manmade messes.
The Man of Steel could simply gather all that pesky vocanic ash clouding the jet stream and screwing up our weather and flight plans. With his super strength and high-temp gaze — or whatever super skill sets the occasion calls for — he could melt the ash into some kind of super-strong ceramic dome and use it to cap the oil leak.
As I learned from inventive Pacific Northwest ceramics artists who used Mount Saint Helens volcanic ash in their creations, such a superdome might even be beautiful, an artistic underwater tourist attraction.
And, of course, there are other great reasons to rely on the Man of Steel, who wouldn’t have frittered away precious time making excuses for fail-safe systems that in fact, did fail, or hauling in impromptu Rube Goldberg contraptions and wistful funnel devices, days after the first waves of oil had already begun to poison the Gulf of Mexico’s fragile marshlands and estuaries.
Superman could suck up all the oil, spit it into a refinery that separates oil from seawater, then inhale all the air pollution caused by the refining process, as well as pollution from cars, cows and coal, along with radioactive waste and other unsavory industrial biproducts, and maybe fly it all off to some distant and more advanced planet where they know how to detox it safely.
And speaking of planets, if we can decide banks and car companies are too big to fail and worthy of extraordinary bail-out measures, why can’t we recognize that our ecosystem is too fragile and precious to fail? Maybe we’re supposed to figure out that it’s a job too big for Superman, too important for magical thinking and too late to put off any longer.
Actually, we may be just as much in need of a mild-mannered superhero journalist these days. Would we have listened if Clark Kent had warned us about financial shenanigans, terrorist threats, ill-advised military actions, corporate arrogance and greed, and the consequences of our wasteful and violent environmental pillaging?
Oh, Clark, where are you? We know you were always a print journalist. Did the Daily Planet go under, along with so many other once-great metropolitan newspapers? Were you fired because your exclusive relationship with Superman was no longer enough to keep you from being scooped by online streaming MoJos (Mobile Journalists)?
Is that why Superman has been keeping such a low profile, because there’s no place for his secret alter ego on the planet these days?
Or maybe Clark took refuge online and has taken the Superman brand with him, and is now lost in an oil-slicked cybersea of bitter bloggers, a cacophony of Facebook and MySpace chatter and frantic, ineffectual Twitter alerts. Look, up in the sky, or at your iPhone or iPad! It’s a bird, a plane, or maybe Superman, who was trying to tell you that the Big One is about to knock California into the ocean, but was jammed because you were texting the coast about your breakfast pizza that morning.
Maybe this is the way Superman and the world end, not with a bang, but an unheeded Tweet.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Remembering our "other" moms

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Happy Mother’s Day.
If you’re lucky enough to have a mom nearby, you’ll have a lot to celebrate today.
If she’s far away, you can send her a card, flowers, or something else you know she’d love and, of course, call her up and tell her you love her. No matter high tech your mom is, this is the time for snail mail sentiments or voice and/or webcam contact, not e-mail or texting.
If your mom is no longer on the planet, there are many ways to honor her memory. Make a donation to a cause you know she supported. Say a little prayer. Take a bouquet of flowers to her grave. Call your siblings or other friends and relatives who knew her and share favorite mom stories or get together for a meal and drink a toast to her.
About this time of year, when I’m remembering my own one-of-a-kind wonderful mom, I ponder her creativity, her kindness and the fact that she was a great mom not only to my sister and brother and me, but also to the hundreds or maybe thousands of kids whose lives she touched as a teacher of art and American history and a scout troop and community leader.
And I find myself thinking about the other “moms” in our lives. It’s a good day to honor some nurturers, mentors and role models who may not have had any biological kids of their own, but who made big impacts in our lives. Most of us could make a list.
My list would include Sister Beth Daddio, cofounder of Jardín de los Niños, a center that has given generations of homeless and near-homeless kids and their families a chance for better lives, and a sense of hope and safety in secure, beautiful and fun surroundings.
If you haven’t been keeping tabs, Sister Beth is back in Las Cruces, after working with community service programs in Iowa for many years. Many days, you’ll find her at Jardin’s chic boutique, La Tienda de Jardín, at 355 La Colonia, at the intersection of Main, El Paseo and Alameda. Stop by and say “Hi!” Clean your closets and donate goodies to benefit her kids and maybe even find a vintage treasure for yourself or your mom.
Cecilia Lewis is another role model who has stepped up to nurture kids in very difficult circumstances. When she was just a few weeks old, she and her mom and dad, British nationals working in China, were taken to a Japanese prison camp, where the family remained until World War II ended.
With a beginning like that, you’d think the last place she would want to be would be a prison of any kind.
But she founded the Fresh Eyes photography project, working first with adults and then with juveniles incarcerated here. She shared her considerable photography and social skills to show kids new ways to relate to each other and the world. The Las Cruces program became a model for similar programs throughout the state and the nation, from Santa Fe and Albuquerque to New Orleans and New York.
Though she never had biological kids of her own, when I went to see a Fresh Eyes exhibit at he New Mexico State Capital Building, it was clear that she’s been a dream mom to many incarcerated kids and a source of hope and encouragement to their families. You could see her influence in their photos: Cecilia learned grim truths about the world when she was very young, but she also learned, and now shares, the hopeful wisdom and creativity that transcends despair and makes fresh starts possible.
I bet you know some heroines like this, too. While you’re celebrating your mom today, send other inspirational souls a card, too, or make a little extra time to say the words that are the best gifts of all: “Thank you” and “I love you.”

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.