Community Honors Three Los Alamos Living Treasures

Nina Thayer speaks about 2016 Living Treasure Nona Bowman during Sunday’s annual event at the Betty Ehart Senior Center. Photo by Carol A. Clark/
The annual Living Treasures of Los Alamos ceremony Sunday afternoon drew a standing room only crowd to the Betty Ehart Center. Photo by Carol A. Clark/
2016 Living Treasures of Los Alamos
NONA BOWMAN. Photo by Jim Gautier

If you lived in Los Alamos any time during the last 35 years, you were bound to see a small, dark-haired, cheerful woman pitching in at a community project downtown, or at Mountain School, County Council, the United Church, Rotary, Casa Mesita … : Nona Bowman, southern accent and western energy, a 2016 Los Alamos Living Treasure.

Nona has been a fixture on the Los Alamos volunteer scene since 1982, when she, husband Charlie, and their two young children, Brenda and David, moved here in response to Charlie’s job offer from the Los Alamos Laboratory. (He subsequently managed the neutron science program, became a Lab fellow, and started his own technical business.)  

Nona began teaching in the Gate – gifted student – program, earning a reputation as an energetic teacher able to bring difficult concepts alive. She retired at age 64 in 1998 after more than 15 years commitment to her students.

Nona also immersed herself in the larger community. Her best-known Los Alamos role centers on her eight-year Los Alamos County Council membership. Elected in November 2002, she was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2006 and served a stint as Council Chair – evidence of her colleagues’ respect. Nona solidly established herself by providing measured and thoughtful input to Council discussions. She shared both her time and knowledge, putting in hundreds of hours preparing for and attending meetings and work sessions, and she appeared at many, many public events.

Nona’s reputation for sincerity, unselfishness, and honesty (and the ability to stand her ground on issues she believed in) furthered numerous County projects. According to a fellow Council member, Nona personally led efforts to repair infrastructure, clean up untidy neighborhoods, and align County strategic goals with those of the public schools.

She was a force behind the new justice center, jail renovation, the new White Rock visitor center, downtown beautification (including Arts in Public Places, flowered light posts along Central Avenue, Trinity landscaping/bike paths, funding for a Rose Garden fountain, and Ashley Pond renovation), the County/schools maintenance center, Canyon Rim Trail, Trinity Site development to bring in school funding, the new golf course club house, the new Nature Center, and Manhattan National Park.  

Aware of regional concerns, Nona influenced the Council to join the Espanola Basin Regional Issues Forum (EBRIF), a fourteen-member northern New Mexico intergovernmental forum focusing mainly on water conservation and waste water issues. Selected to represent Los Alamos, she worked strenuously to cooperate with our neighbors. She provided a positive image of Los Alamos, engaging critics with meaningful attention.

Nona is a prime example of the saying, ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person.’ She has served as chair or member of the boards of Casa Mesita, Art in Public Places (during which she helped initiate sculpture exhibits at Ashley Pond), United Way, Los Alamos Opera, Los Alamos Concert Association, Rotary, PEO international philanthropic education society, Los Alamos Republican Women and Central Committee.
She was chair in the 1980s of the Fuller Lodge renovation committee which remodeled the Lodge interior after many years of neglect. She is a member of the Historical Society, American Association of University Women, and League of Women Voters. Gary Carruthers appointed her in 1989 to the New Mexico State Youth Advisory Board to evaluate New Mexico troubled youth facilities and programs. She is a lifetime member of the Delta Kappa Gamma honorary teaching society.  

Nona has filled a number of positions at the United Church, including superintendent of the church school and vice president of the executive board. She has been a member of the mission, membership, evangelism, personnel, and elders’ boards.

Perhaps most important of all, Nona is known as a good neighbor, a good friend. Thoughtful, sensitive, able to listen. Her friends and colleagues praise her willingness to help out, her empathy. According to a supporter, “Nona and Charlie have the capability to show compassion toward those in trying circumstances. They open their home simply because they see a need to be of service to others.” – What does Nona say? “The people who live here care for each other in time of trouble. … If it needs doing, I try to get it done.”  
“I fell in love with Los Alamos’ beautiful setting when our family drove up the mountain in 1982. I also experienced early the friendliest people I had ever met. Our first home was a rental on Loma del Escolar. One morning, two ladies appeared at my door when I was unpacking and invited us to dinner that night. How thoughtful. I have found Los Alamos people very caring and helpful when you need help. Both Charlie and I cherish the friendships we have in Los Alamos.”

 The Bowmans enjoy two grandchildren, Lindsey and Parker.

Born Nov. 21, 1932 in Missouri, Nona Bowman hales mostly from the Roanoke, VA, area. After graduating in 1955 from Radford University (then the Virginia Tech women’s division), she married Charles Bowman and attended Duke University graduate school  while teaching  5th grade full time in Durham, N.C. Charlie received his PhD in physics from Duke in 1961 and the couple moved to California’s Livermore National Laboratory. Nona taught special reading classes until 1964 when the Bowman’s two children were welcomed to the family – Brenda in 1964 and David in 1967. With two small children and remarkable energy, Nona began her life-long unpaid community involvement.  

In 1971, the family moved to Gaithersburg, MD, where Charlie began work at the National Bureau of Standards. Nona taught special reading classes in the Montgomery, MD, school system; she was selected Teacher of the Year. Seeking more education, Nona attended Hood College in Frederick, MD to become a certified teacher of gifted students. True to her nature, she somehow found time to involve herself in her Maryland community.

CHUCK TALLMAN. Photo by Jim Gautier

‘Quietly effective and caring;’ ‘absolutely reliable;’ ‘hardworking;’  ‘friendly;’ ‘outgoing;’ ‘competent;’ ‘sincere;’ ‘deeply respected;’ ‘can’t say no;’ ‘our community could use a thousand more like him.’ Charles Robert Tallman is being honored as a 2016 Living Treasure for many reasons – none more so than this high personal regard.
Chuck Tallman belongs to that group of long-term residents who form the backbone of much of Los Alamos’ civic life. After his arrival here in 1962 with his wife Janet and two children, David and Katherine, Chuck wasted little time embracing his new community.
The Rotary Club loomed very large. “Rotary’s motto is ‘service above self;’ this is really important to me.” Chuck has been a loyal member for over four decades, participating in innumerable service projects and assuming leadership responsibility – Group Study Exchange chair, Ambassadorial Scholarship chair, secretary, treasurer, twice president, counselor at Rotary’s Youth Leadership Award camp.

Chuck’s driving passion has been the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. He managed it many years as the local Exchange officer. During over 20 of these, he served as Rotary District Youth Exchange chair for all of New Mexico, which included some fifty Rotary clubs.

The Los Alamos Exchange Program has nurtured several hundred students from all over the world. Teenagers live abroad for a school year. They often have three host families selected by the Rotary Club, spending about three months in each family.

Typically, the community receives the same number of exchange students from each country as it sends. Youth Exchange’s success is heavily dependent on behind the scenes, sometimes pressure-laden, minutia involving host families, school activities, visas, passports, and last minute travel surprises. Time spent abroad is life changing. Daughter Kathy became an exchange student to Finland – where she met her future husband. The Tallmans themselves have hosted at least a dozen students. “Of all the things I got to do at the Laboratory, my work with the exchange kids is probably of most value.”

Seeing a need, Chuck worked with the United Way, serving at one point as co-chair. He became a Mesa Public Library board member and served on the library building committee. He taught a course in instrumentation electronics for seven years at the Los Alamos UNM Branch. He provided individualized weekly tutoring in math and science to teenagers. He became a member of the Los Alamos Photo Club; his landscape photos on notecards are sold by Rotary at the Fuller Lodge Art Center.

He and Janet are active in the United Church, where both have assumed a number of responsibilities and Chuck sings in the choir. At 85, Chuck is a member of the Lemon Lot Hikers, a group of mostly retired people who hike together each Wednesday.

Chuck is a high baritone – a notch above bass and a step below tenor, he says.  Soon after coming to Los Alamos, he joined the Los Alamos Choral Society. The Choral Society has existed in Los Alamos for some 70 years; Chuck has been a member for more than half of these. He has been its president and secretary and is currently treasurer. Behind the scenes, he sets up and takes down backstage operating equipment. The Choral Society gives two popular concerts a year to local audiences.

The Society has also performed before enthusiastic people at Cochiti Pueblo’s spring festival. Chuck says that singing outdoors can be difficult; there is no room reflection and a wind is generally blowing. He would miss the Society acutely should it go away, he says, the people as much as the music.

For almost eighteen years, Chuck has also been a member of the Lads of Enchantment Barbershop Singers, another group he would miss sorely if it disappeared. The Lads present a community concert plus several smaller programs annually. During February, ‘singing Valentines’ take over. Several Lads’ quartets offer personal Valentines to the community, crooning old-time love songs to astonished recipients. Chuck oversees logistics and it is not uncommon to find him out with one of the quartets.

Asked to comment on his active community life, Chuck gives enormous credit to his wife. “Janet is extremely supportive. I could not do what I do without her. Our life together has been very loving and caring.” The couple celebrates sixty years of marriage this year. They met in California after being introduced by mutual friends. (Chuck took her to see Madam Butterfly on their first date.)  Janet, who has a master’s degree in social work, spent many years working at the Los Alamos Family Council. The couple enjoys five  grandsons: Will, David, Andy, and twins Daniel and Isaac.         

Chuck Tallman was born in 1931 in Oklahoma City. At the age of 12, he and his mother and brother traveled Route 66 west to California. The three had an old car with worn tires; WWII rubber rationing meant that every hundred miles or so, a tire would give out. Chuck had the job of changing the tires. The family would stop at a filling station to repair the damage  or find a replacement.  But the Tallmans reached California.

Chuck’s high school was only six miles from Pasadena’s California Institute of Technology. Cal Tech’s proximity, with its world-famous science faculty, would determine much of Chuck’s career; the best was right there. Following high school graduation, he gained admittance to Cal Tech after successfully completing two days of physics, chemistry, math, and English exams. Paying his own way through school by working, he graduated (1953) in electrical engineering.  

Chuck began work at the Los Alamos Laboratory in the early ‘60s on assignment from his employer, Aerojet. His job was to investigate the effect of radiation on rocket instrumentation as an industrial staff member, part of the ROVER program. Four years after his arrival, the Lab persuaded him to become a staff member. (“It didn’t change a thing but the paycheck.”)
Over his subsequent career, Chuck obtained a master’s degree in materials science, worked on isotope separation, and gained renown as a laser technology expert. Of all the lasers Chuck worked on, the most well-known was the Excimer ultraviolet laser, used today in eye Lasic surgery.  Although Chuck ‘retired’ in 1991, he continued working some eight more years as a consultant to the Lab and elsewhere.  

SELVI VISWANATHAN. Photo by Jim Gautier

2016 Los Alamos Treasure Selvi Viswanathan is unique. Always dressed in a colorful sari, you can’t miss this charming import. You see an intelligent, soft-spoken, feminine woman who takes time to make people around her feel comfortable.  

It is never easy to fit into another culture, even when that culture is known as a melting pot; Selvi achieved this and prospered in the process. The first 29 years of her life were spent in Berhampur Odisha, in Tamil-speaking south India.

In 1967, fresh from an arranged marriage, Selvi traveled alone from Bombay to New York City, delayed a week from accompanying her new husband, V.K. (Nathan) Viswanathan, by a visa holdup. Although she had taught teenagers for eight years in India, Selvi  had never really been alone – never walked outside without family or friends, certainly never taken a plane trip by herself.  She managed her fright and took the trip because “it had to be done.”

Selvi is being honored primarily for her efforts to popularize the beauty and utility of in-town wilderness. Native vegetation enfolds the Viswanathan yard, testament to the fact that wild plants can be beautiful while reducing water consumption and supporting animal life.

Selvi is very committed to the Los Alamos Garden Club. As a member, she has taken a lead in encouraging nature-friendly gardens throughout Los Alamos.

To this end, she helped organize, manage, and publicize educational tours of yards friendly to native vegetation and wildlife.

Sponsored by the local garden club, Selvi won the New Mexico Garden Club butterfly garden first prize in 2013. Her butterfly garden is very special because it memorializes her mother, who tended their family garden and inspired Selvi’s own efforts. (Selvi has planted a hummingbird garden in memory of her only sister.)

In 2014, the New Mexico Garden Club awarded Selvi’s bird garden first prize. In 2015, her yard was runner up for the National Garden Club conservation prize. “My latest thing is a sensory garden,” she says. This is a contained area divided by plants unique to each of the five senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.

In 2004, Selvi attended a Pajarito Environmental Education Center program and was encouraged to join the new organization. Not content with being solely a member, she assisted over time with the children’s nature club and various duties and was elected to the board, retiring only this year.

As a board member, Selvi spent many hours helping plan the new Los Alamo Nature Center. She still volunteers as a docent, and you can often see her at the counter on weekends.

Selvi became a force behind PEEC’s goal of having the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) designate Los Alamos as a Community Wildlife Habitat. The very good news is that after two years effort, an eight-member PEEC team has met all requirements. NWF is sending a representative from Washington, D.C., to make the presentation at the Nature Center on Earth Day, April 23.

“This has been my dream and my passion,” exclaims Selvi.

Selvi’s love of nature was initially triggered by an interest in birds stimulated by her parents. Her scholar father would take her outside to see sparrows and other local birds. She had the task of feeding the wild birds each morning before breakfast, a practice she continues to this day.

While living in Manhattan, Selvi became intrigued by the bird exhibits at the Natural History Museum. After Hari was born, the two began watching birds together.

The Viswanathan home sits between two canyons, Bayo in front and Barranca in back, and is an oasis for canyon wildlife. Selvi has counted over 100 bird species. Selvi and Hari started photographing their visitors using critter cams, automatic cameras triggered by the presence of objects. Bobcats, deer, mountain lions, bear, squirrels, birds, foxes, bats – all have all appeared at Warbler Pond, a small waterhole Selvi named because of its popularity as a birdbath.

Many animals arrive after dark, and the two have taken up night photography. A large number of these pictures have been shared with PEEC and can be seen on its website and Facebook.

School children ranging from elementary to high school entered Selvi’s home on field trips to experience a taste of India’s food, clothing, and religion. Selvi built a large model railway with an actual Indian landscape so that Hari wouldn’t lose his physical heritage. In fact, on a visit to India as an adult, he was able to recognize actual landscapes and buildings from the railroad model.

Once this remarkable model became known, school classes, particularly those of Mrs. Jean Nereson, came to view, exclaim, and learn about India. While Hari was in high school, Selvi cooked Indian food to help fund the Topper tennis team. She cooked routinely for Laboratory visiting scientists.

The Viswanathans have a deep interest in Indian culture. Selvi and Nathan recently returned from a trip to India, taken in part because Nathan was invited to speak at the birth centennial celebration of the famous traditional singer, M.S. Subbululakshmi.

Long ago, in 1966, a friendship started between the two when Nathan helped with a United Nations concert in New York. Subbululakshmi later hosted a traditional marriage dinner for the Viswanathans in Chennai, India – an honor to the couple.  

Selvi  volunteered at the Fuller Lodge Art Center for several years, and Nathan organized an art show there based on the family’s collection of paintings by water colorist S. Rajam.  Selvi contributed captions approved by Rajam. The show ran for six weeks.            

“I have never known a more generous nature than Selvi’s,” says a neighbor. She tells of Selvi  bringing her Indian food every day when she was recovering from a hip replacement – and adds that Selvi can always be counted on to look after neighboring yards when owners are away.

How does Selvi, in turn, feel about her adopted community?  “Everybody’s nice to me. I fell in love with its flora and fauna. I feel very lucky about Los Alamos. It gave me my opportunity to do my things. Los Alamos is a heaven.”

Selvi and Nathan Viswanathan first met two or three weeks before their marriage. Nathan was working in the space program in New York. Selvi’s parents had assumed she would get married, but had never imagined this would mean leaving India. Nathan’s reputation for family responsibility, his education, and a positive horoscope played a big part in bonding the couple’s two families.

The couple started marriage life in a Manhattan studio apartment because of Nathan’s appreciation for that area’s cultural and musical vitality. Their only child, son Hari, was born in New York in 1971.

In 1976, Nathan accepted a job at the Los Alamos Laboratory working on laser fusion and the family moved to New Mexico. Arriving in Santa Fe, they migrated up the hill two years later. Nathan became a U.S. citizen in 1971, Selvi 11 years later while living in Los Alamos. They have resided at their current Barranca Mesa home since 1985.

After Hari entered middle school, in 1984, Selvi joined Mary Deal Realty full time, working there for the next 11 years until Nathan retired from the Lab.

The Viswanathans enjoy a 7-year-old grandson, Aditya, and admire their daughter-in-law, Gowri, who, like Hari, is a scientist and works at the Lab. Two of Selvi’s three brothers live in the United States, one translates their father and sister’s writings from Tamil into English; the other, a computer engineer, places these translations on the web. Her eldest brother lives in India; he initiated her marriage – the reason she is here in the USA, says Selvi.

Nona Bowman, Chuck Tallman and Selvi Viswanathan are honored during Sunday’s Living Treasures event at the Betty Ehart Senior Center. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Sunday’s 2016 Living Treausres of Los Alamos event filled the meeting room at the Betty Ehart Center to capacity and the overflow of individuals watched through upstairs windows. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

View from the upstairs windows of Sunday’s event. Photo by Carol A. Clark/