Our Newest Tesoro

Written by David Roybal

Wilfred Romero, 76, of Chimayó, is a believer: You get the best results “when you treat people like people” – even in difficult situations, he says.

A Taos native, Romero knows all about difficult situations. He was a captain at the Penitentiary of New Mexico south of Santa Fé during the February 1980 riot when 33 inmates were killed by other convicts and numerous guards were injured. Mismanagement during years of neglect and horrible conditions at the prison were instrumental in leading Romero to embrace a philosophy that might seem trite to many.

Romero has been selected as the newest member of “Los Tesoros,” a program sponsored by the Chimayó Cultural Preservation Association that recognizes lifetime contributions of community members.

“Wilfred is one of the best among us. His work contributes to the very culture that is at the core of this beautiful farming valley,” said association president Victor Archuleta.

Romero called his selection “a big honor.” He has lived in Chimayó for 40 years.

“It’s good to see that someone appreciates the work that you do. And there’s a lesson in it: Thank yous are important. They inspire the recipient and they inspire those around him. You get the best out of people when they know that they’re appreciated.” Before focusing his attention in Chimayó, Romero rose through the ranks during 27 years at the Penitentiary of New Mexico. He was part of reforms following the riot, securing the ranks of major then deputy warden, a post that he held for five years.

“We spent a lot of time making positive changes, looking to see how we could better address needs of incarcerated individuals,” he said.

“A lot is very basic: If you treat humans like humans, they will act like humans. If you treat them like animals, they will act like animals.”

Classes at the College of Santa Fé augmented Romero’s real-life experiences. “Behavior of the human being is hard to read. It’s important to learn how to treat a person,” he said.

Romero was director of the Santa Fé County jail for five years after leaving the state corrections department. He also worked as an advisor to the Española City Police chief, recommending that the city’s old jail be shut down. “Conditions were not fit for individuals,” he said.

Romero early in the new millennium was asked to run Casa de Corazón, a home in Española for troubled teens. “That for me was the most interesting job because you had a chance to correct problems faced by people when they were still young,” he said.

He thought he was retiring when he concluded that he “had enough and came home to rest” in Chimayó, Romero said. But he was promptly asked to serve on the commission of the Acequia de la Cañada Ancha, which is the largest acequia serving the Chimayó Valley. The irrigation ditch runs from just above Río Chiquito west to lower Chimayó near La Puebla. It serves nearly 750 irrigated acres and 268 parciantes, or ditch members.

For years, Romero has served both as a commissioner and mayordomo of Cañada Ancha.

“Nobody else has wanted to step in,” he said.

“I’m trying to set up operations kind of like a business so that things can run more efficiently and parciantes can rely on work getting done on the acequia,” he said. “All of the parciantes are different. Some are happy and some can be difficult. The key to success in managing these situations is good communication. Instead of fighting for limited water, we want to work as good neighbors.

“That’s the main mission: to be good neighbors.”

Romero was president of the Truchas Land Grant east of Chimayó for eight years and in that role, was instrumental in rehabilitation efforts on Borrego Mesa following a wildfire there years ago. “I applied for funding and we were able to clear roads and get ponderosa pine seedlings,” he said. “We contracted with the youth corp in Chimayó to do the planting. It was a very dry period. Me and my wife, Brenda, and my daughter, TriniRae, would go up in my truck to water the young trees. We ended up with 40-percent success.”

And something else has tugged at Romero’s time. “I’ve been an elder at the Buen Pastor Presbyterian Church in Chimayó since Brenda and I got married, maybe 40 years. I basically manage their properties,” Romero said.

Romero was formally recognized in December at a dinner at the Restaurante Rancho de Chimayó.