Leadership Los Alamos Gets Their Culture On

Leadership Los Alamos met in historic Fuller Lodge for its November session on culture. Photo by Martha Katko
LLA’s November walking tour started at the statues of Groves and Oppenheimer. Photo by Martha Katko
By Nancy Coombs
LLA Co-Chair

The Leadership Los Alamos Class of 2015-2016 met last month at the historic Fuller Lodge to learn about the broad range of cultural influences on and within Los Alamos: pueblos of the Rio Grande Valley, Hispanic history of the mesa and valley, homestead and ranch school days, the Manhattan Project and LASL/LANL.

The session chair Heather McClenahan, Executive Director of the Los Alamos Historical Society, is passionate about preserving and sharing the history of Los Alamos. McClenahan flavors her history with stories of the people who have lived here as the town evolved from a site for homesteaders to the home of the Ranch School to the secret city of the Manhattan era to today and our recent designation as a National Historical Park.

This year each session of LLA begins with a Toastmasters activity led by Eastgate Toastmaster Doris Prokop. Public speaking is a valuable leadership skill, and most people never have the opportunity to get constructive feedback on their spoken presentations.

The speeches ranged from humorous to heart-wrenching, as participants shared personal experiences. Afterward one class member reflected, “Seasoned or not, courage was the days’ underlying message! Facing your fears and living fearlessly.”

To warm up for a day spent examining history, the class played a game of Los Alamos Cultural Trivial Pursuit. Players divided into teams and the competition was fierce as McClenahan threw out questions that tested both well known and little known facts about Los Alamos. For one particular true/false question, players were automatically disqualified if they answered incorrectly. “True or False. Robert Oppenheimer attended the Ranch School.” McClenahan says that is the most common question visitors ask.

Georgia Strickfadden, owner of and tour guide for Buffalo Tours, then took the class on a whirlwind historical overview of Los Alamos, complete with slides. Strickfadden was born and raised in the “nuclear age” of Los Alamos as she calls it, so she has a very personal understanding of many of the nuances of this town’s growth from infancy to adulthood.

She began her narrative before the modern age, discussing the ancestral pueblo people, then the homesteaders on the Pajarito Plateau. Pictures from the Ranch School era and then the Manhattan Project days helped illustrate her narrative of the madcap development of a brand new secret city.

After this foundation of history the rest of the day was spent on Los Alamos today: what it provides to its residents and what it provides to people visiting the area.

Ryn Herrmann, class member and Marketing Manager for the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce, talked about the Creative Cultural District, developed to share the unique creative heritage of Los Alamos with residents and visitors by highlighting arts, culture and science in our downtown. The On Tap Series and the summer Tuesdays at the Pond are brainchildren of the Creative Cultural District.

Linda Matteson and Jason Lott discussed the vision for and the realities of the Manhattan National Historical Park. (How do you take visitors behind the fence? Where do you build restrooms?)

With all this information swirling around in the heads, the class had a chance to leave the classroom and take a walking tour of Bathtub Row led by McClenahan, including the Romero Cabin and a visit  inside the Hans Bethe house.

The day finished with three representatives from the San Ildefonso Pueblo, all of whom are Bandelier employees, sharing their perspective on maintaining their cultural identity as ancestral pueblo people. Myron Gonzales, Michael Martinez and Earle Sanchez all feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to visit archaeological sites that are now on LANL property and not accessible to non-LANL employees. Gonzales mentioned that they worked with relics that even many of the elders had never had a chance to see.

Leadership Los Alamos is now is gearing up for their next session Friday, Dec. 11 at the Los Alamos Fire Station #3 in White Rock. This month the focus is on economic development in our community, chaired by Rick Reiss. The class is looking forward to an information packed day to arouse their enthusiasm and identify areas in which they can participate in supporting our community.

Leadership Los Alamos was founded to identify current and emerging leaders in the Los Alamos community, enhance their leadership skills, and deepen their knowledge of the challenges and opportunities facing our area. The class of 2015-2016 will learn about both the inner and the outer workings of community organizations, cultural aspects, youth, education, local government, economic development and environmental issues.

Melanie Pena and Jonathan Creel laugh out loud while playing Los Alamos Cultural Trivial Pursuit during November’s LLA session. Photo by Martha Katko

LLA participant LeAnne Parsons at last month’s session. Photo by Martha Katko