Touching Our Health & Our Senses: Los Alamos’ Newest Living Treasures

Special to the Los Alamos Daily Post by Janet “TJ” Taub

On Sunday, April 15, 2012, Edward Macmann, Rosemary O’Connor, and John and Nancy Bartlit will be recognized and honored as the newest members of Living Treasures of Los Alamos (LTLA).  The ceremony and reception, sponsored by Los Alamos National Bank, will commence at 2 p.m. in the Betty Ehart Senior Center.  The public is warmly invited to attend.

This annual event is an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of individuals who have so greatly enhanced life on the Hill.  Friends, family and co-workers are encouraged to participate in the ceremony by sharing stories and remembrances about each new Treasure.

Living Treasures of Los Alamos pays tribute to seniors whose activities have made a notable difference in the quality of life for community residents.  These remarkable individuals are role models and mentors, providing inspiration as they demonstrate commitment, perseverance, hope, heart and wisdom.  Their contributions are wonderfully diverse but they share a common outlook which is to live life to the fullest.

LTLA honors these special people by sharing a glimpse into their lives and acknowledging their unique and inestimable contributions.  More information about the Living Treasures program may be found at

Please join friends, family and LTLA in recognizing Ed, Rosemary, John and Nancy as they are acknowledged as Living Treasures of Los Alamos.


John R. & Nancy R. Bartlit. Photo by Jim Gautier

John R. & Nancy R. Bartlit

John and Nancy Bartlit – whose combined destinies seem to have been preordained – have become a tapestry, a living illustration of a multi-faceted story as inspiring as it is instructive. 

John Bartlit was born in Chicago and raised in a suburb south of the city.  Nancy Reynolds Bartlit was born in Linthicum Heights, MD and from there lived in New Jersey, Kansas City, and finally Wallingford, PA where the two eventually met.  John was working a summer job at Sun Oil in nearby Marcus Hook along with several other young men who were all invited to dinner one evening at the home of the company’s public relations manager.  When the manager’s daughter heard they were all looking for dates, she pulled out her old high school yearbook and ticked off various girls she knew for each young man.  She looked at Nancy’s photo and declared she would be perfect for John! 

John was working on his Bachelors Degree in chemical engineering at Purdue University and Nancy was an underclassman at Smith College.  That first meeting was in 1955 but they didn’t see each other again for more than two years.  They started dating and Nancy proposed to John, but he wanted to finish his PhD before getting married.  So, Nancy took a job in Japan! 

Nancy’s next two and a half years were busy and inspiring.  She taught English as a second language to high school and college students, a class at UNESCO and scientists at the University of Tohoku in Sendai.  She traveled Japan extensively, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and visited 17 countries on her 60-day return from Tokyo to Philadelphia. 

John and Nancy did finally marry in 1961 when she returned (after John won her hand in a watermelon seed spitting contest with her father).  And there was another bit of delay due to a bad sledding accident John sustained.  He says he fantasized starting down the aisle on crutches, then flinging them aside and robustly striding to his bride’s side  – but he was already off crutches when the ceremony took place.

John took a summer job in Los Alamos in 1959 and initially wasn’t very taken with the area, but it started to grow on him.  He happily accepted a full time job with the lab in 1962 where he remained until retirement in 1993. 

Once in Los Alamos, the two settled in, started a family and in 1966, moved into the home they built in Pajarito Acres where they still reside.  Nancy was at home with the children but was beginning what would be her extensive career as a volunteer.  John was happily buried in work at the lab until that fateful day he attended an air quality hearing at the New Mexico Legislature at Nancy’s urging.

Another Los Alamos resident, Joe Devaney, had been doggedly striving to bring attention to New Mexico’s declining air quality and loss of its beautiful turquoise skies.  His persistence finally resulted in a legislative hearing.  That’s the day John says he became an environmentalist.  He didn’t react due to pollutants utility companies and others were dumping into the air.  He reacted after quickly learning the companies were misleading legislators by insisting the best, state-of-the-art pollution control equipment was being employed in their plants.  In fact, companies were using outdated technologies to avoid the cost of newer, more efficient ways to limit contaminants entering the air.  As John puts it, “there was a sea of engineering information that bore directly on this large public problem,” none of which had been discussed at the hearing.  The Bartlits took up the fight.

In 1969, the New Mexico Citizens for Clean Air & Water was founded in the Bartlit’s living room and the two spent the ‘70s at air quality hearings and producing testimony.  They drew on training Nancy received while attending a government/League of Women Voters co-sponsored conference on how to bring public participation into federal law decision-making. 

John became a tireless advocate for stringent emission requirements and dug into the economics.  Nancy became a volunteer for the American Lung Association, eventually serving on both state and national boards for several decades.  They both worked to improve outdoor air quality and reduce acid rain, and were often joined in their efforts by former Los Alamos Ranch School headmaster, Fermor Church.  John discovered Fermor’s wife, Peggy Pond Church, was a cousin!

Nancy also pushed efforts to clean up indoor air, starting with efforts to ban smoking in elevators.  In time, the endeavor to limit smoking in public led Nancy to run for office and influence public policy.  Sen. John F. Kennedy, keynote speaker at Nancy’s college graduation, had admonished the graduates to do something with their lives – a philosophy Nancy took to heart.   And, her parents had taught her that politics was not a dirty word – it’s the art of finding answers to problems, as is engineering.  Nancy won three terms on the Los Alamos County Council in the 1980s and served as Council Chair in her final year.  During those terms she was also on the boards of directors for the New Mexico Association of Counties and the Women Officials in the National Association of Counties.

History has become an absolute calling for Nancy.  She is a member of the Los Alamos Historical Society, the Fuller Lodge/Historic District Advisor Board and the Historical Society of New Mexico, serving in a variety of capacities.  Her work with those groups is extensive and impressive.  Some of her more prominent accomplishments include guiding the purchase of the Oppenheimer home for preservation, sponsoring a Los Alamos ordinance establishing the Art in Public Places, and chairing the historic sculpture project that thus far has brought statues of Oppenheimer and General Groves to the lawn at Fuller Lodge. 

The New Mexico Historic Women Marker Initiative was created in 2005 by the New Mexico Women’s Forum to recognize women’s contributions to New Mexico in a permanent manner.  Nancy worked to get the marker, now located by Ashley Pond in Los Alamos, recognizing Peggy Pond Church and Marjorie Bell Chambers.  Additionally, since 2004 Nancy has worked locally to establish a Manhattan Project National Historical Park that would be ‘headquartered’ in three locations – Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, TN and Hanford, WA.  She is a member of the Southwest Oral History Association, adding to historic preservation through preservation of oral histories. She is an author and Chautauqua speaker for the New Mexico Humanities Council.  In her spare time she earned her Masters in Communication and took a two and a half year graduate study program called Japanese Industry and Management of Technology, both from the University of New Mexico.

John and Nancy are both writers.  John has been authoring columns for the Los Alamos Monitor for four decades.  He describes an engineer as a person who designs systems, noting, “that’s what the environment is, and that’s what a town is too – a system.  There is too much time spent looking at pieces instead of the system in which it operates.”  His columns, therefore, are what he describes as “many sided”.

They both contributed to an anthology, “Voices of New Mexico”, published in 2011 to celebrate the state’s 100th anniversary of statehood in 2012.  Nancy co-authored, with the late Professor Ev Rogers, the 2005 publication, “Silent Voices of World War II: When Sons of the Land of Enchantment Met the Sons of the Land of the Rising Sun ”, written after interviewing a widely diverse group of WWII veterans – from Navajo Code Talkers and Bataan Death March Survivors to Manhattan Project physicists – learning how New Mexicans helped shorten the war.  Nancy is co-chairing a Symposium on WWII Internment of Japanese Americans in New Mexico, including the Santa Fe Camp, at the NM History Museum this spring.  The Bartlits both find great irony in how their professional and personal lives have brought together the cultures of Los Alamos and Japan.

Not surprisingly, these examples are only a portion of the Bartlits’ activities that so richly enhance the Los Alamos and New Mexico we know today.

Rosemary O’Connor. Photo by Jim Gautier

Rosemary O’Connor

At 92, Rosemary O’Connor is a delightful bundle of energy and enthusiasm, traits that have been instrumental in delivering her continuous and ongoing contributions to Los Alamos since 1947.

Rosemary was born in Boston to parents whose personal passions would become her own.  Her mother was a musician – a classically trained contralto – and her father a nationally ranked swimmer.  Rosemary was introduced to the violin at the age of five and she is quite sure she was still in swaddling clothes when her father first dropped her into the water.  Today, she still plays the violin and swims.

Following high school, Rosemary enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music.  In 1939 she met and married her husband, Leonard, and continued to play violin in orchestras and chamber groups.  Leonard came to Los Alamos in late 1946.  But with one young son and another on the way, Rosemary didn’t want to be in “an old military hospital” to deliver her child and waited to join Leonard until after the baby was born.  She still lives in what became the family home in 1950.

After attending a local concert, just weeks after her arrival in town, Rosemary quickly met other local musicians and discovered there was no community group to accommodate them – musicians simply met weekly to play in various homes.  Rosemary was drawn into that society, joining a quartet that played every Thursday evening.  She and others, “a kind of raggle taggle group of people”, she laughs, shortly formed what became the Los Alamos Sinfonietta, now the Los Alamos Symphony Orchestra (LASO).  In 1948, under the direction of Kay Manley, the group showcased its first production, “HMS Pinafore”.

The group grew and performed.  Early Sinfonietta members wrote letters requesting funds from the town’s governing body to purchase music and would, periodically, get $100.  During the 1950s to early 1960s, Rosemary and other Sinfonietta members also performed with orchestras in Santa Fe and the Albuquerque Symphony. 

Today there are 40-50 instrumentalists in LASO, including Rosemary, who rehearse every Monday night as they have since 1947.  LASO and the school system have been partners for decades, sharing music and giving students opportunities to perform with an adult orchestra.  Rosemary also promotes the LASO scholarship program to help young musicians. “I’ve worked very hard to keep this organization going,” she says, “It’s very rewarding and I’m happy.”

And then, there’s swimming.  For 25+ years, Rosemary taught swimming at all levels, including water safety instructor training.  In 1975, the local Red Cross sent her to the National Aquatic Safety & Aquatic Center in San Francisco to enhance her instructional skills.  While there, she also earned certificates for teaching the handicapped and CPR, becoming the first person in Los Alamos certified to teach CPR. 

Rosemary was instrumental in getting the high school swimming pool built in the late 1940’s.  Its windows on the south side dropped to six inches above the floor “and it was beautiful”, she says, smiling.  But condensation and sun meant a constantly wet deck and guards couldn’t see into the pool!  So the windows were shortened.  Rosemary has also served on the boards of directors for the Larry R. Walkup Aquatic Center and East Park Pool Association. 

Anticipating four college tuitions, Rosemary went to work for PHERNEX – Pulse High Energy Radio Emitting X-rays – at the lab.  In total, Rosemary gave 33 years to the lab and says she thoroughly enjoyed her work, which included digitizing the Zapruder tapes of the Kennedy assassination.

A member of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, Rosemary taught Sunday school and was in the Altar & Rosary Society.  She was a Den mother for Cub Scouts.  She didn’t teach music but encouraged her children Lonny, Tom, Ted & Rosemary as they began taking up various instruments – flute, oboe, piano and violin.  She has played in the pit orchestra for all but two or three of Los Alamos Light Opera’s productions in their 60 years of operation, and she served two terms on the board of the Los Alamos Concert Association.

Besides swimming, Rosemary walks.  A lot.  She used to walk downtown to the grocery where Leonard would arrive later to pick up groceries – Rosemary walked home!  She doesn’t particularly like hiking, explaining, “you have to stop and look at things that catch your eye!” and doesn’t care for that interrupted process.

In her spare time, Rosemary is an active participant in County meetings covering discussions of street lighting, utility relocation, the municipal building, capital improvement projects, highway projects, a leisure pool for the Aquatic Center and other issues.

Rosemary O’Connor has, from day one, been an integral, valuable contributor to her community.

Edward N. Macmann. Photo by Jim Gautier

Edward N. Macmann

Los Alamos has always been more than a collection of well-educated scientists whose skills and expertise focus on their work at the lab.  In fact, from the early days to today, numerous lab employees and family members have been (and are) gifted, enthusiastic musicians, adding dimension and texture to life in Los Alamos and surrounding areas.  Ed Macmann is one of those talented musicians who has shared his upbeat music with the community since 1945.  He’s a cheerful, humble man, wired with the sparkling energy that fires a true jazz musician.

Ed was born in Brattleboro, VT but spent most of his early years in Reading, MA.  He graduated in 1941 with his Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Northeastern University and from there, moved to New York City to work for Babcock & Wilcox Co., manufacturers of power plant boilers.  The company transferred him to Barberton, OH where he met and married his wife Wilberta in 1943 – “the best happening of my whole life”, Ed says with a big smile!

In 1944 he joined the Army, training to be a rifleman.  But after two months of basic training, the Army transferred him to Oak Ridge, TN where he worked for ten months for the Fercleve Co. in their thermal diffusion operations.  In 1945, Ed was transferred to Los Alamos and was assigned to a weapons group where he remained until his retirement in 1984.

Music became a part of Ed’s life at the age of nine when he took up the violin, an instrument he continued to play for five years.  When he got to high school, however, he was told the band needed an E flat alto horn player – the ‘pa’ response to the tuba’s initial ‘ump’ – as Ed describes.  He played that horn “for a while”, but then was told the band needed a double B flat tuba player!  So, he played the tuba for another couple of years.   One day he found an old cornet his Dad had played, and that instrument finally seemed to be the right fit.  When he had enough money saved he purchased a used trumpet and the rest is history.

Once ensconced in Los Alamos, Ed and his trumpet joined the Army’s big dance band – the Keynotes – and played with the group for about four years.  Ed said at that time “everybody danced” and there was “lots cooking every Saturday night, and in between!”  But as the war effort wound down, many Army people and others began to leave Los Alamos, depleting both the band and the number of dances.  So Ed put together a combo that performed on a regular basis.  In addition, he could pull together a big dance band whenever one was requested for an event. 

In the 1960s, a group was created to promote music to grade school students.  The Student Concerts organization raised money to bring professional performers to the elementary schools and Ed’s big jazz band, called the All Stars, played for several Harvest Moon Balls as fundraisers to support that objective.  Ed also spent some time in the Santa Fe Jazz Band and has played Taps for many Memorial Day services. 

Today Ed still plays in the Los Alamos Big Band, led by Jan McDonald, performing for three or four dances each year in Los Alamos.  Ed also continues to be a member of Los Alamos Light Opera’s pit orchestra and has played for almost every one of their Broadway show productions. 

One Sunday each month, Ed drives to Albuquerque to join the Rio Grande Jazz Society for an afternoon jam session.  He plays extemporaneously and says, “it’s good exercise”.  He enjoys seeing people dancing to the music and having a good time.  And trumpet is not his only musical instrument – Ed has been singing in the United Church choir for almost 30 years. 

Ed and Wilberta have been in their home since 1953 where they raised two sons.  They added to the house – inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright – and did most of the work themselves, including construction of a beautiful rock fireplace and an impressive rock garden that Wilberta maintains with creative plantings each year.

Ed comments that they have thoroughly enjoyed their lives in Los Alamos and he feels they couldn’t have done better.  “We’re pretty darn happy to be here,” he says!

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