Obituary: Stella Chávez Usner: Nov. 25, 1922 – June 24, 2022

STELLA CHÁVEZ USNER Nov. 25, 1922 – June 24, 2022

Stella Chávez Usner passed away on June 24, 2022. She was born Maria Estela Chávez on November 25, 1922, to Abedón Chávez and Benigna Ortega in Durango, Colorado.

In 1928, “Stella” moved with her parents and new little brother, Leo, to Chimayó, where her parents were originally from. She entered the John Hyson mission school, where she was one of the few second-graders fluent and literate in both Spanish and English. Ever precocious, Stella left Chimayó when she was only 12—soon after her second brother, Robert, was born—to attend the Allison James boarding school in Santa Fe and then high school at Menaul School in Albuquerque.

She went on to the University of New Mexico in 1940, where she majored in education. Because of her confident bilingualism, in 1943 she was recruited by the War Department and stationed in Nogales, Arizona, to translate and scrutinize cables coming from Mexico for signs of German espionage. At the end of WWII, she moved to San Francisco, California, where she worked as a clerk for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

At the Avalon Ballroom, she met the love of her life, Arthur Usner, recently discharged from the Navy. Within a year they were married and living at Stella’s parents’ home in Chimayó. Art’s work at the nascent Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory compelled them to relocate to Los Alamos in 1949.

There, Stella took on the role of mother to five children with unwavering love and devotion. She and Art celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1998 and Art passed away a year later. The following year their home of 37 years was destroyed in the Cerro Grande Fire, taking almost all her possessions except for a trove of family documents from Chimayó dating to 1706 that she managed to save.

After the fire Stella moved to Santa Fe, where she lived out the rest of her days showering her love and support on her children and their families and enjoying the company of friends and relatives. She made frequent trips to her beloved Chimayó and assisted her son Don in translating documents and oral histories to produce books and articles about the history of the old plaza there.

Throughout her life, Stella took a genuine interest in knowing each person she encountered and touched the lives of hundreds with her generous love and her sparkling smile.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Art; her parents, Benigna and Abedón; her brothers Leo and Robert Chávez; and grandchildren, Jeremy, Rachel, and Emma. She is survived by her five children: Arturo Chávez (Patricia), Ellen Leitner (Hans), Janice (Les), Don (Deborah), and Carole Hunt (Steve); 14 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren.

There will be a funeral Mass at Santa Maria de la Paz Catholic Church on Friday, July 8 at 10 a.m. and a memorial service on Saturday, July 9, 3-5 p.m. at Rivera Funeral Home in Santa Fe, followed by a reception. Internment at the National Cemetery in Santa Fe will follow at a later date.

Visit the Rivera Funeral Home website at for more details.

LOS ALAMOS website support locally by OviNuppi Systems