Ann Rustebakke—a community treasure
The Placitas School—The bell in the tower at the left is the one that the “old” Placitas Library installed at the present Placitas Elementary School. This house is still in use as a dwelling—first house east of the Randle’s house on Paseo San Antonio in the village of Placitas.
—Photo courtesy of the late Mrs. Elizardo Trujillo, mid- to late-1920-30s. She is one of the children pictured.
1964—Ann with school children in the 12’ x 12’ Placitas Library in its first “independent” home—the wood and coal shed behind the old condemned school building. According to Ann Rustebakke, “The Library Board put in a cement floor and the shelves. They borrowed Ron Ericksen’s cement mixer!”
Chile Hill is history
That’s right, Chile Hill Emporium is history. Longtime owner, Ann Rustebakke has retired, or as she says, “I aged out… Hey man, I’m eighty-eight. It’s time.” She says that she might find other things to do, but for now she enjoys the rocking chair on her porch where she writes letters and answers the phone. Don’t try to friend her on Facebook—Ann has never even used email, despite having a busy life full of involvement in the community.
Her friend Martha Liebert of the Sandoval County Historical Society suggested that the Signpost do this story. Martha wrote, “The life of Ann Rustebakke is the epitome of a true public servant, one who is unrewarded and unsung, but without whose contribution of time, energy, and knowledge, our society would be much poorer. Perhaps Ann’s greatest gift to her communities has been her open-minded, rational approach to life. In a radically diverse area, Ann has been a wise and accepting influence in the groups she has worked with.”
Consummate historian that she is, Martha did the research and provided us with some of the background material for this story, which includes details of Ann’s life as a parent, philanthropist, and businesswoman.
Ann has lived in Sandoval County since 1962 when she moved to a house in the Placitas Village with her husband and two young children. Throughout the years, she has been active in many fields, including education, agriculture, health, journalism, service to the county, art, and business.
When Ann first moved to Placitas, most of the residential activity was in the historic village. On horseback, she used to help round up cattle that ranged freely north of Highway 165, which was then a dirt road. She got to know most of the original Hispanic descendents, gardened, watched the hippies move into Tuwapa, and witnessed the development of subdivisions.
Ann’s children attended elementary school in a two-room schoolhouse at the San Antonio Mission Church where Mr. and Miss Baca taught three grades a piece. She says, “Both of my kids learned to read and write, went to college, and did just fine.” She helped start a Placitas library in an old wood and coal shed next to the church and borrowed books from Santa Fe.
During the breakup of her marriage, Ann leased her place in the Village, moved to Jemez Springs, and worked for Sandoval County for a couple of years as Chief Appraiser at the Assessor’s Office. “Things were always kind of shifty there, and one day I came to work and found somebody had taken my job and was sitting at my desk,” she explained with typical good humor. Later, she was the first editor for the Sandoval County Times Independent. She was also the reporter, ad salesperson, and delivery girl. “I spent a lot of time on the road.”
In 1978, Ann started what would eventually become Chile Hill Emporium, selling green chile before the invention of modern chile roasters, fresh produce, and jewelry at a retail outlet on Highway 44 near the present-day location of Kentucky Fried Chicken on US 550 in Bernalillo. When the road was widened to four lanes, she bought land west of the bridge and moved to what was then unincorporated Sandoval County. Anne said, “No businesses were out there yet, except for me and Mike’s little gin shack bar.” Chile Hill grew to be quite successful, until Ann leased part of the property to Jackalope in the Nineties. Jackalope’s marketing overlapped somewhat with Chile Hill, and they had what could be politely called a contentious and competitive relationship until Chile Hill burned down in 2006. Jackalope soon moved out and Chile Hill continued to market mostly dried chile at the Corner Store and Bernalillo Feed in Bernalillo until last year when Ann finally called it quits. “I’m still trying to get permission from the Secretary of State to decertify myself so they can quit sending me gross receipt tax forms.” Anne grumbled. “They don’t make it easy.”
After fourteen years, Ann is no longer involved with Bernalillo Growers’ Market, which was taken over last year by Zia Pueblo on its downtown property. “That’s okay.” said Ann. “I lost most of my apples and cherries to a late freeze. It doesn’t look like the market is going to open this year anyway.”
Ann was for many years something of a thorn in the side of developers in Placitas. She was one of the main opponents of the paving and expansion of Las Huertas Canyon for a loop road. As a founding member of Friends of Placitas, she was somewhat successful in opposing some residential development. She served for three years on the Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Commission, but was replaced in 2001, saying “It was not my decision.”
So, now it’s time for the rocking chair on the porch of the house where she has lived for 62 years. Ann doesn’t get around very well, but still drives to the post office in her old Volvo station wagon with the faded plate and ski rack. She still provides the Signpost with background information and insight. She is happy to still be living in Placitas. “What’s gonna happen will happen,” she said. “It’s good that the village has been left as a village. I just hope they leave it alone, at least as long as I’m here.”
Veterans’ Pass allows Cochiti Pueblo man to unlock his potential
Jeffery Chalan’s world looks a lot different than it did five years ago, and he thanks the New Mexico Rail Runner Express for it. Chalan is a military veteran who uses the train and bus system to get to school and his appointments at the VA Hospital.
“Five years ago, I was depressed and didn’t leave my room for a whole year,” he said from his Cochiti Pueblo home. “After an accident, I got a bone infection and had to have my leg amputated. My whole life seemed like it was over.”
After battling his depression, largely without anyone’s help, Chalan, then 42, found his way out of his room and to the local library where he learned about a Rio Metro bus route that could take him from Cochiti to the Kewa Rail Runner station. From there, a whole world of opportunity opened up for him. He could visit his grown children in Albuquerque or go to the VA Administration offices.
“I signed up for classes in criminal justice at Central New Mexico Community College,” he said. “I’ll graduate next year with an Associate Degree. I hope to become a federal probation and parole officer.”
Chalan wakes up early each morning to catch the Rio Metro Route 202 bus that takes him to the Kewa Rail Runner station. From there he gets on the Rail Runner to downtown Albuquerque and connects to an ABQ Ride bus to CNM.
“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” he said. “Whatever your situation is, you can turn yourself around. I know it doesn’t seem possible sometimes, but I can honestly say it is. It is possible to restart your life.”
In November of 2014, Rio Metro began a year-long pilot program that allows veterans with a VA Medical Card to ride the train for free. Veterans just need to come into the downtown Rail Runner office to show their card and then they will be given a pass to ride the train for free through the end of 2015. To date, more than three thousand passes have been issued and more than eight thousand rides have been given to veterans in the last six-months.
“This program makes me happy,” said Chalan. “I don’t have any excuses. I can ride the train, catch a bus and go to school. For other people, I would just say, don’t make any excuses.”
Sandoval County launches veterans hiring initiative
Sandoval County has launched an initiative to improve the chance of qualified military veterans being hired for county jobs. The county commission adopted a resolution approving the initiative at its May 7 meeting. The program does not offer any job guarantees for veterans. However, it does ensure that hiring managers will see the applications of any veterans who meet the minimum qualifications for open positions.
To be recognized as a veteran in the county hiring process, an applicant must fill out the Certification of Veteran’s Status form that will be included as part of every county job posting. The resolution establishing the county’s Veterans Hiring Initiative calls for the program to adhere to the following guidelines:
Detailed information on the Sandoval County Veterans Hiring Initiative, including a copy of the resolution approved by the commission, is available on the county’s website at www.sandovalcounty.com, or by calling 867-7500. The County offices are located at 1500 Idalia Road, Building D, Bernalillo, NM 87004.