2014 Los Alamos Living Treasures Revealed!

The newest  Los Alamo Living Treasures from left, Teralene Foxx, Gene F. Mortensen and John N. Stewart. Photos by Jim Gautier

Living Treasures of Los Alamos News:

It’s once again time to celebrate the contributions of three special people who have made enormous contributions to enhancing life in Los Alamos.

Living Treasures of Los Alamos will honor Teralene Foxx, Gene F. Mortensen and John N. Stewart at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 13 at the Betty Ehart Senior Center, 1101 Bathtub Row. The public is invited to attend and honor the newest Los Alamos Living Treasures.

Living Treasures of Los Alamos was founded to honor our elders, those older community members who have greatly enriched the lives of others. It is again time to gather together to celebrate the contributions of these giving people who have made a difference.

Each Living Treasure is introduced during the ceremony and those in attendance are invited to share stories and remembrances. Each Treasure then addresses the gathering. The celebration concludes with a reception, sponsored by Los Alamos National Bank.

Teralene Foxx. Photo by Jim Gautier

By Colleen Olinger

Throughout her life, 2014 Living Treasure Teralene (Terry) Foxx has felt close to nature. “When I was six, we moved to a wheat ranch in Idaho on the Little Camas Prairie. Every spring the Camas lilies bloomed. We would walk along the road and my mother would talk about the lilies or pick up a snake and let us touch it. That was my introduction,” Terry’s interest was cemented atthe College of Idaho. There she took a seven- week camping field trip from southern Idaho intoMexico, studying the flora and fauna of Mexico and the Southwest. Later she earned an MS inbiology from Kansas State University.

Terry and her husband Jim arrived in Los Alamos in 1969 with two daughters Alison and Erin. He had accepted a job as an inorganic chemist at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. Their third daughter, Kerri, was born in Los Alamos. Terry credits the pull of Los Alamos’ natural setting as an immediate attraction. “I have a heart for the mountains. I never got use to the flatness of Kansas. It was a chance to come back home.”

Terry started teaching at the newly established University of New Mexico-Los Alamos as its first biology adjunct professor. She taught for seven years finding teaching especially satisfying. In her classes, some of her students were middle-aged men and women taking advantage of an opportunity to study again. Others were high school or freshmen college students. “The diversity made the discussions very dynamic.” One of her pupils was Dorothy Hoard. They became close friends, co-authors, and collaborators. For over 40 years they gave hikes and classes on wildflowers, helping people love the out-of-doors. Their book “Flowers of the Southwestern Woodlands” is out of print but being revised.

In the mid-1970s, Terry was involved in archaeological studies of the flood pool of soon to be Cochiti Lake. Soon after, she began to do threaten and endangered species surveys for the Laboratory’s first EIS. The work developed into a regular staff position and culminated in the late 1990s as an acting group leader of ESH-20. While at the Lab, Terry participated in biological assessments for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) investigations. This included botanical work for the Romero Cabin, which was later moved to its present location near the Los Alamos Historical Museum.

“My most significant contribution to the Laboratory, I believe, came when we finally did a threatened and endangered species habitat management plan. This provided a process to assess impacts of projects to species prior to project initiation. It also provided upfront baseline data for plants and animals.” Terry believes it is important for an organization to have baseline data. “How do they know what the impact is unless they have that information?”

For 37 years, Terry has attempted to understand the dynamics of fire on the ecosystem. “In 1975, I began to work with Dr. Loren Potter of the University of New Mexico.” Dr. Potter had a grant to determine the frequency of fire in the ponderosa pine forest. The study would provide information for a fire management technique called prescribed burning.

“We studied fire frequency from the 1800s to 1976 using dendrochronology. In June 1977, the La Mesa Fire burned the plots we had set out.”

“Rather than a tragedy, this turned out to be serendipitous for our research because we could study fire frequency before and after that fire. It started a lifetime of observation of forest recovery for me.” Dr. Potter and Terry found that if an area had not burned in the last 20 years, all the trees in that area died. The tree-ring studies indicated fires return was on the average of every five to 10 years before 1900, but because of fire suppression, over 80 years after 1900.

“The 1977 La Mesa Fire was one of the first real chances for many researchers to come together and study the dynamics of fire in Jemez Mountains,” Terry said. Studies ranged from hydrology to birds, aquatic insects to wildlife. Two symposia were given on studies and provided a baseline for understanding fire in the ecosystems of the Jemez Mountains.

“My fire work marked a real cultural change for me. I discovered not all fire is as bad. Surface fires can make a forest healthier. When you see plants sprouting within days of a fire or aspens a foot tall after fire, it does something to your heart – it makes you feel like there’s hope.” This experience helped Terry understand loss and recovery after the Cerro Grande fire burned into Los Alamos.

“Many people grieved, and still do, the loss of a once tree covered landscape. But by looking beyond the burned trees, seeing how nature recovers, there is a sense of hope. My contribution to the healing process was getting people out to see the miracle of rebirth out of the ashes of the burned forest. I am amazed how quickly nature begins to heal the scars of a wildfire.” These experiences led to writing the stories of loss and recovery in several publications: Lest We Forget and Touched by Fire and a children’s book, The Forest and the Fire.

Terry is a certified lay minister in the Methodist Church. Her church association has contributed to a personal passion: storytelling. She is a Master Storyteller trained in a four-year apprenticeship. This apprenticeship allowed her to travel to other countries-Iceland, Ireland, and England as well as the regions of the US to study storytelling. Fellow apprentices came from all over the country. “To this day we are very close because we shared stories.” They meet once a year someplace in the US.

“I use storytelling to help explain about the natural world. I like to talk about the science and then how various cultures understand the world. I have done this in schools, churches, and various workshops. Stories talk to the heart; science to the head. Children and adults need both. There’s a storytelling voice and there’s a science voice and they support each other. Telling our stories of evacuation and loss were important in helping people heal after the Cerro Grande and other fires.”

Last June Terry had fun incorporating stories and science into a PBS Science Café talk on ravens at Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC).

PEEC,  the Fuller Lodge Art Center and the  Los Alamos Historical Society have benefitted from Terry’s participation. She has given talks for the Historical Society, had a children’s book published, and exhibited a “Then and Now” photographic display. She was president of the Art Center board and is now president of the board of PEEC. “I have found being on a board is lot of responsibility. Board members are wonderful, dedicated people.” PEEC board members and staff are tackling a big job.

Approximately a year from now, PEEC will move from its current home on Orange Street to a newly constructed County nature center on Canyon Road next to the swimming pool. In addition to displays, the new nature center will serve as a community meeting place and house a planetarium. Her involvement at PEEC has included teaching classes, leading hikes and participating in programs.

In retirement, Terry has also become active in the Los Alamos art community. “I didn’t think I could draw until in my 40s. I began to take art classes, often the only adult in a children’s class.”

She was first self-conscious about displaying her work but has become known for her photography, water colors, colored pencil, and fabric art. After suffering a heart attack 15 years ago, she sought a creative outlet to help her heal and took up quilting. “I strongly believe creativity helps in the healing process. I had given up sewing many years before, but both painting and sewing helped me through that difficult period.”

Thinking back about her life,“What a life I have had! I have learned so much about the natural world. I have a beautiful family. And I’ve been fortunate to do what I loved – being outdoors, teaching, storytelling, painting, and writing.”

Terry has authored or co-authored some 25 Laboratory publications, among them: Threatened and Endangered Species Habitat Management, Los Alamos National Laboratory, The La Mesa Fire Symposium; and Status of the Flora of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Environmental Research Park (3 volumes).

Other publications include:

  • The Forest and the Fire (children’s book about renewal after fire), with daughter Alison Carlisi, available at the Los Alamos Historical Society
  • Out of the Ashes, Lab request after Cerro Grande 2000 Fire – natural renewal after fire, given out to employees to help provide hope
  • Touched by Fire, a 10th anniversary follow-up on writings in ‘Lest We Forget’ done immediately after the fire. The books feature stories of both adult and children’s reaction to the disaster and their status 10 years later. Available through Terry.

Gene F. Mortensen. Photo by Jim Gautier

By Colleen Olinger

“From Sullivan Field here in Los Alamos, welcome to Hilltopperfootball!” … “From Edward Medina Gymnasium in Espanola, welcome to Los Alamos Hilltopper basketball!” … “From Santa Fe, Farmington, from Silver City, Las Cruces, … !” 2014 Los Alamos Living Treasure Gene Mortensen – the radio voice of Los Alamos sports, the “Voice of the Toppers.”

Owner of a beautiful baritone (and a quick repartee) Gene Mortensen is one of those rare adults in Los Alamos, a native New Mexican. Gene grew up and met Gail, his wife of over 54 years (also a New Mexico native) in Albuquerque during his student days at the University of New Meico. “That was it for me; I was ‘one and done’ as they say.”

Gene and Gail and their family of six young children (Larry, Debbie, Russ, Tammy, Dean and Kent) arrived in here in 1968/69 when he began work as an analytical chemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s then GMX-3 (retiring in 1993). “I was expecting that this would be a really nice place for the kids to grow up in. …The thing about the kids, we never had to worry about them. If they wanted to go downtown or to the high school or go to the gym or go see a game, they could walk over and walk back and we never worried about their safety. We were living in a safe environment in a really nice and beautiful community.”

Gene started PA (public address) announcing in 1979 for the Los Alamos Little League. That small beginning progressed to PA work for Topper junior varsity football and then varsity basketball and football. Ultimately his PA announcing expanded into soccer and volleyball. 

Radio broadcasting came along in 1985 when KRSN asked Gene to play by play announce the state soccer tournament. At the time KRSN was the only radio station in the state broadcasting high school soccer. Gene also agreed to serve as secretary on the PAC-8 Board. By the late 1990s, the radio work had become “full-fledged,” he says. “I broadcast football, boys and girls basketball, volleyball, soccer, softball, baseball.“ In addition to a spectrum of local games, Gene began announcing New Mexico Activities Association (NMAA) tournaments in 1997 and, soon, as event manager and PA announcer for the Class 3A State tennis tournament.

“With radio, you follow the team.” Gene has traveled over much of New Mexico, going as far afield as Silver City, Deming, and Las Cruces. “It’s a lot of fun to go on the road—you see different gyms, different schools and towns.” He seldom ran into hostile fans, but he laughingly recalls one basketball game here in Los Alamos with Taos. “The gym was absolutely packed. We were #1 in the state and they were #2. A huge contingent of Taos fans came.  All the Taos people brought a newspaper; the idea was that as I introduced the Toppers, they would start reading, bored. My son Russ leaned over and whispered a suggestion to me. So I said, ‘Now ladies and gentlemen, here’s the home team – the Hill Toppers! And if you’ll read your newspapers, you will see that Los Alamos is the #1 team in the state of New Mexico!’ The gym just absolutely erupted. … The irony of it was that Taos beat us.”

Over the years, Gene has been especially supportive of girls’ sports. “I think I was one of the first in the state to do girls basketball on the PA. Parents would come and tell me how great it was. In fact, my sister had a good friend from Moriartywhose daughter came here to play. She went back and told her mother, ‘I felt like I was playing in the Pit. I had never been introduced, never had my name announced while I was playing.’ It made a big difference. The girls didn’t feel like they were second class. They were getting the same treatment as the boys.”

As a former high school basketball captain, football quarterback, and track (hurdles) star, Gene’s interest in sports came naturally and he started volunteering for the various activities his kids took up. “The first time I went over to sign up one of the kids, they were looking for coaches. I said I wouldn’t mind being an assistant coach. Then they said they were short on head coaches and could I help out.” That was the beginning. Over the years, Gene also coached basketball (his favorite sport), flag football, soccer, and little league.

Gene was an early proponent of T-ball. In 1978, the Little League asked him to come on the board as vice president in charge of T-ball. He organized the first T-ball league here. There weren’t any rules and he had to write all of them, organizing and monitoring and running the league for two or three years. “I was really happy to get T-ball off the ground. Before T-ball, when everything was pitch ball, you’d go out to practice or a game and you’d stand there and hope you had a kid who hit the ball and you hoped you wouldn’t hit the kid. With T-ball, you’d put the ball on the T and they could whack it and they could run and the kids could field; the kids learned the fundamentals. But the biggest thing was that they loved it and it was fun.”

Gene Mortensen is no newcomer to awards He has accumulated a host over the years:

  • Distinguished Service Award from the New Mexico Activities Association (2009) for his public address coverage and event management of the New Mexico State Class 3A tennis tournaments
  • Induction into the New Mexico Broadcasters Hall of Fame (2010), covering all of the state’s broadcasting media, commercial and noncommercial.  For Gene, this was “an unbelievable honor … the pinnacle of my broadcasting career.”
  • Spirit of the West Community Assets in Action award (2012) from the Los Alamos Juvenile Justice Advisory Board and Chamber of Commerce for his long-term devotion to community athletics and young people.
  • Division 4 Excellence in Broadcasting – Top New Mexico Sports Play by Play from the New Mexico Broadcaster Association (2013). ].  Division 4 includes high school teams as far afield as Artesia, Portales, Deming, Silver City and Las Vegas.
  • Member of the Clendenen Award Committee annually honoring a high school senior boy and girl role model athlete.

Gene and three of his children (Larry, Russ, Debbie and her husband Mike Katko) owned Tony’s Pizza from 1988 to 1998. As such, they were among the original organizers and sponsors of Gordon’s Summer Concerts.

Today? “I’m still at it full time. When Gail died in 2010, radio work pretty much kept me going.”                

“I love Los Alamos. It’s a nice community; it’s a beautiful community. What else could you ask for? The weather here is fantastic; the climate couldn’t be any better. If I want to take the dog for a walk in the woods, it’s an eight-minute drive. If I want to go uptown, it takes no time at all.

“Along the way, you help out when you can. You don’t think about it and it turns out that over the years, you end up getting involved in a lot of things. What an honor to join the members of the Living Treasures community. I find it very, very exciting. I am humbled by it.”

John N. Stewart. Photo by Jim Gautier

By Colleen Olinger

“If everyone in the world had a neighbor like John, this would be a wonderful world.”

Behind most endeavors is someone who just does his job, keeps things going, avoids the limelight – and is indispensable. Such a one is 2014 Living Treasure John Stewart.

John was born in New York City and raised mostly in Richland, Wash., where his father worked at the Hanford Atomic Site. He graduated from Washington State College with a degree in psychology, but two years in the Army convinced him that a different specialty might enhance his job prospects. Returning to school, he earned a master’s degree in mathematics. He and Margaret married in 1955; a 60th wedding anniversary beckons. John hired on at the Los Alamos Laboratory in 1959 as a computer programmer (later system manager). He started working in an astronomy group, then oceanography, and ended with seismology.

“When I retired, I didn’t know what to do with myself, what to keep me off the street.” John reached out to the community.

For several years, he taught an HTML web page design class and other classes at the Betty Ehart Senior Center.  Currently he has two jobs with the Los Alamos County Senior Centers – managing the website and serving as the newsletter editor. The newsletter comes out once a month, is nine pages long plus a standard outer cover, and comes in color when obtained over the internet. It takes “two full solid days” to do the editing. He does this at the Center (rather than at home) because contributors come in at different times with their articles. 

“I call myself a layout editor. I take all these articles and in some way I try to paste them all wherever they can go to fill up the sheets.” Besides routinely having to remind people by phone to get their articles in, “another difficult thing is rounding up pictures. … I love it when we are short on articles and I can look on the internet for filler sayings or jokes.” John singles out Senior Center Director Pauline Schneider for her support.

His volunteer work often involves the office of treasurer, a job generally hidden – but fortunately not thankless.

  • He served as Unitarian Church treasurer. Then as house/grounds chairman, managed the laying of a stone patio at the front of the church; he now helps with the sound system.
  • He served as treasurer on the board of the Los Alamos Retired and Senior Organization (LARSO), which runs the Senior Center with a paid bookkeeper.
  • He is the treasurer of the Friends of the Senior Center of Los Alamos, he is currently on the board of the local AARP chapter 492 – as treasurer, and also is treasurer of the Laboratory Retirees Group (LRG), as well as editor of its newsletter.
  • He is legislative chairman of the Retired Public Employees Association (RPEA) of Los Alamos board which supports those who are retired under the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) of California.

As suits his low-key demeanor, John does not mention the fact that his name (with that of Art Cox) is on a famous Russian language Cox/Stewart article in a Russian astrophysical publication (1969) on stellar opacities (energy flow through materials).

John served on the Little Theater board for several years. He remains active – passionate about working backstage for Little Theatre and Light Opera productions. “I enjoy building sets. … I’m like a little kid given pieces of wood, nails and a hammer who happily hammers away. The sets for the Light Opera in particular are just wonderful.  They are so great to build up and up sixteen to twenty feet.” Ingenuity is the name of the game when bringing sets through a stage entrance opening which is only twelve feet high. The stage crew adds hinges to a set and then back-braces it onstage during the performance, an innovation requiring energy and fast action. For several years John helped with stage lighting for Light Opera. It was fun, he says, crawling along the ceiling adjusting lights according to instructions from a master in the light booth.

John was treasurer for the Atom Mashers Homebrew Club for a number of years. Members would bring homemade beer so others could try it, sometimes ‘judging’ the beer to improve it and exchanging recipes. John no longer brews beer, but he still takes an interest in the club. The big push now for the Atom Mashers, he says, is the beer co-op scheduled (hopefully) to open in Los Alamos in about a year. (People can join the Atom Mashers by contacting Mike Hall.)

John’s community volunteering began long before he retired and centered on his children. When his son, Bruce, was old enough to join Cub Scouts, leaders were in short supply. “I thought, oh well, they’re having a hard time with the Cub Scout group, so I went and joined and became a pack master to keep it going.” He continued through Boy Scouts until his son attained Eagle Scout. “Then my girls, Laurie and Julie, were about the right age and I continued being a scout leader for them.”  John and his co-leaders took both Boy and Girl Scout Groups camping every month, winter or summer. “Several times we camped in the snow by the Ski Hill area. … We mainly just dug a trench in the snow – then covered it over with a tarp and put snow on top. It turned out very warm.”  

Swimming was also important in the Stewart household, involving all three children and both parents. Margaret was President of the Los Alamos  Aquatomics; John helped out at Aquatomics and High School swim meets. Both John and Margaret served as Barranca Mesa Pool Association officers.

How does he sum up his and Margaret’s experience in Los Alamos? “Los Alamos is a wonderful town to live in. There’s so much you can do and the people are very nice. We feel sheltered compared to what we read about in other towns. We are very thankful that we’re here. .. I’ve enjoyed it all, and I hope I can continue doing these things for many more years.”

So does the rest of Los Alamos.


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