From left, the four new inductees: Reinaldo Garcia, John Smith, Tony Otero and Theresa Saiz. (Herron photo)
ALBUQUERQUE – Deprived by the pandemic of their official ceremony, the four newest members of the Rio Rancho Public Schools Hall of Honor got their time in the sun June 7 at the Enchanted Falls Event Center in northwest Albuquerque.
Back in June 2019, the RRPS Board of Education approved the nominations of four people who contributed to the district to comprise its Class of 2020, with the formal induction ceremony postponed due to COVID-19 until this year.
Established a few years ago, candidates may be nominated in any of five categories: former school board members; community/business; former RRPS staff members; government; and district volunteers.
That “Class of 2020,” approved by a 5-0 board vote, is made up of Reinaldo Garcia, Tony Otero, Theresa Saiz and John H. Smith.
- Garcia, who served two stints on the school board, also filled the remaining term of N.M. Sen. Craig Brandt when he stepped down in 2011
- Otero was nominated for the honor in part for his willingness to hire RRHS students to work at his Dairy Queen on Southern Boulevard.
- Saiz served with the district as far back as 1995, initially as the transportation director and lastly as the district’s lobbyist at the Roundhouse.
- Smith, now 99 years old, may have been the most-popular substitute teacher in the district’s history. Telling the audience he was in good health, he didn’t need any assistance climbing onto the stage to be recognized.
At the 2022 Employee Recognition and Hall of Honor Banquet, each of the four got his or her moment after long-time RRPS employees, including recent retirees, were honored.
Rio Rancho regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jerry Schawlow was the event’s master of ceremonies, and told attendees that RRPS is “the No. 1 reason people come to Rio Rancho over other Southwest cities.”
Superintendent Sue Cleveland read from a script and each honoree was featured alphabetically in short videos.
Garcia, Cleveland said, was “analytical and careful in analyzing all types of issues before making a decision … and always wanted to get the information first. He brought considerable experience about how board policies and decisions would actually play out in our schools. … he led by example and was a true gentleman.”
Garcia credited his father for instilling the importance of education into his life.
“You must finish college, and if you don’t, it will kill me and it will be your fault,” he recalled his father telling him.
Otero, she said, is “a true-blue Ram” who often provided area students with their first paying jobs. He provided food at RRPS events and sponsored an annual girls’ basketball tournament that honored officials. Humorously, she noted, his DQ always had Dilly Bars at Rio Rancho Stadium’s press box freezer, and she admitted to grabbing one or two there while attending a Rams game.
Otero, also a member of Rio Rancho High School’s Sports Hall of Fame, said this Hall of Honor was a “great honor” and he was thankful his role with RRPS led him to meeting RRHS former athletic Director Gary Hveem, his best friend.
Saiz, “a cheerleader for our district,” Cleveland said, “came to our district in the second year” and did a great job getting all the procedures and policies in place for the transportation department, where “she came early and worked late. It was not unusual to see her for 10- to 12-hour days.” Saiz was “the ultimate team player,” Cleveland added, thrilled when Saiz took on lobbyist duties for RRPS. “Her warm personality and tenacity opened many doors for our district.”
“Everybody knows I’m a crybaby,” Saiz said, and “humbled, blessed and very excited” after handed her plaque. “Rio Rancho Public Schools has always been my second home.”
Smith became a substitute teacher for RRPS when he was in his 70s, after moving here from the East Coast. He subbed for the district until the 2017-18 school year, when he was in his 90s. “A member of the Greatest Generation,” Cleveland said, she first learned about him from students’ reports about him and how interesting his World War II stories had been. One RRHS valedictorian named Smith as the teacher who’d made the greatest impact on his life.
After telling folks about his health, Smith revealed he speaks nine languages.