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Melveta Walker, director of the Golden Library, reading to children.
Melveta Walker, director of the Golden Library, reading to children.

Melveta Walker, director of Golden Library at Eastern New Mexico University, has known most of her life she wanted to work in a library.

"I did not allow any obstacles to get in my way or deter me for very long," Melveta said. "When I was a second-grader at Lindsey Elementary in Portales, my teacher made weekly assignments for class helpers.  The very first week of school, because my last name started with a 'B,' I was assigned to be the 'librarian.' Just before the class went to the library, I was supposed to straighten the books in the library down the hall and help boys and girls find a good book they might want to read, then stamp the books with the date due.

"I did that, and I thought I had done a good job because I was ready to do it again the next week. To my utter despair, Miss McLain selected someone else to do that job – someone whose name started with a 'J.'  Oh, how I wanted to do that job again. My parents had a convenience grocery store, so the next Monday, I took a Hershey Bar to school, and as soon as Miss McLain appointed someone whose name started with a 'P,' I offered her my candy bar to let me do her job. And she did, of course. World War II had only been over a couple of years and sweets were not yet back on the everyday list." 

Melveta says after several weeks of this subterfuge, the teacher caught on, and "after our explanation, and probably a few tears, she agreed to let the 'payment' stand since everyone was happy. The next year, I got to do the job without reverse payment when I was transferred to Central Elementary (Brown).  I have worked in libraries in one capacity or another ever since – 70 years."

Melveta's job is to see that the research and information needs of the students, faculty and staff at ENMU are met, and the citizens of the state of New Mexico have access to the information contained in federal and state documents.

She plans, directs and oversees the personnel, financial and operational functions of the library and reports to the vice president for Academic Affairs. She plans, budgets, prepares new programs, supervises, interviews, selects, trains and evaluates library staff and represents the library on University committees and represents the University on library issues at the state level.

Melveta was born in Portales and attended Portales schools, where she "received a very well-rounded education, at least my parents and their friends thought so."

Melveta says she was a typical teenager, walking around with her head in a book—but also participating in school activities, playing softball in the summers and was assigned a lot of chores.

Her parents lived on a large truck farm, raised vegetables, ran a dairy, owned a grocery store and her dad was a carpenter who worked on almost all the original University buildings.

"I grew up knowing how to do almost everything associated with the first three, and can still drive a nail into a 2x4 with one blow."

She had one brother three years older and a sister six years younger. 

They were a "pretty typical farm family from Portales and Roosevelt County: church activities, 4H, athletics, band, class plays, football at ENMU in the fall and winter, basketball at the ENMU hangar winter and spring, county fairs, etcetera."

Melveta began working at ENMU as a freshman library assistant in 1958. Her fiancé, Jerry, worked in the film library in the basement and they married that semester.

"I think that was the happiest moment of my life, and the saddest was the day, 47 years later, that he died and I realized that I would walk the rest of my days on Earth without him."

They worked in the library for three years, then moved to Carlsbad where Jerry worked as a chemist at the mines. They had two baby girls while Melveta worked as an assistant accountant and bookkeeper. 

After returning to college, Melveta took classes, kept books for Sam Sanders Sand & Gravel (Blackwater Draw) and worked in the library afternoons and night as a supervising student, closing the library at 9 p.m. George Reynolds, ENMU Police Chief, walked her to her car every night after closing even though "I thought it was completely unnecessary. It was such a safe place."

One afternoon she was asked to take a folder to the ENMU Placement Office in the Student Union Building (now SAS). The Placement officer whispered, "Can you please talk to these Bureau of Indian Affairs people. I forgot to make any appointments for them, and I think they are getting a bit upset." 

"Sure, I'll help you out," Melveta responded. "Boy, that was a super lucky day for me by being in the right place at the right time. I loved their program, and they paid Civil Services wages to boot, and they needed a librarian and a junior high teacher (her husband). 

"They made us such a marvelous deal that we agreed to go for a year."

Twenty-five years later, they retired from the BIA as librarian and superintendent, respectively, and moved back to Portales. Melveta came back a couple of months before Jerry did (he had to train his replacement) and she volunteered for a year to help put the library collection on a database to use as a catalog. 

"Jerry built me a ceramics shop, and that is what I did at the end of that year. Not many months passed, and Dr. (Ed) Dowlin, the library director, called to ask if I would be willing to take over the circulation department while Pat Erf stayed home for six months with her one-year old and new baby. They did not want to hire someone, train them, then have to let them go when Pat came back. I said yes, and I am still waiting for her to come back--29 years later," Melveta said.

After three months, she was asked to be the assistant director for public services, then three years later to be the assistant director for the library. When Dr. Dowlin retired, she was asked to be the interim director. That lasted until "they must have gotten tired of writing 'Interim' and changed my position title to Library Director in 1999."

Melveta says what she loves most is helping young people find information, whether it's in a book, online or physical observation. 

"I love to see their eyes light up when they realize that there is more than enough information for what they need, or just something new. And the thing I enjoy least is having to say 'I couldn't find anything.'

Melveta says she keeps working because she hopes that she can pass on her passion for seeking knowledge and organizing information, especially from books. 

"It fulfills my need to be of service to someone other than myself. I am currently living my ultimate career goal. I can't think of anything I would rather be doing except maybe bugging my kids and grandkids."

When Melveta, who has a master's degree in library science from Northern Arizona University, first moved to the Navajo Reservation, she set up the first school library on the reservation and Jerry taught 8th grade, the highest grade of the largest boarding school in Bureau of Indian Affairs Education Department.

In his class, there was a young, very talented young artist named Bahe. Jerry worked with him all year so that he would be ready to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), a prestigious Santa Fe art school that many Hollywood actors helped sponsor. That school started with students who had finished the 9th grade. Fort Wingate High School was in the process of receiving its first students, so Jerry and Bahe went to see if the administration would make sure he went to IAIA after his freshman year. They were not interested in helping him go somewhere else because they wanted an art program of their own.

 Jerry and Bahe returned to Tuba City, Arizona, very disappointed, but decided Bahe could live with them and go to the public school, with his parents' permission, for a year and then go to IAIA. 

Unfortunately, his father died that winter. The mother now had five boys and four girls to try to keep in school. Because of their close relationship with Bahe, they told the mother that if she could keep the four little girls (all 6 and under) in school, they would take the boys, keep them in school and send them home (50 miles) on the weekend and make sure she had food, wood and water. They became a "large blended, blessed family."

Melveta says as her husband and she got closer to retirement age, they began looking around the United States for some place that was cool in the summer and warm in the winter. "We visited Oregon and thought that Medford was just about right, but, really, it was just about like Portales without the rainfall. That fall, there was a national librarians' meeting in Portland. The governor came to extend a welcome and said, 'We are so glad you came to visit in our state and spend your money while you are here, but I sure hope you don't want to stay because we have all the people we need here already.'

"That was the clincher. We called my parents and told them to start looking for a farm we could buy. We would be moving back to Portales when we retired."

The parents found them an 80-acre farm two miles east of Portales with a tiny two-bedroom house.  They drew up plans for a 3,300-square house and her dad agreed to build it. It cost them a "pittance."

Melveta loves crafts, "making something of value out of almost nothing."

She works with Quilts For Kids, a national project that provides a comfort quilt for children with catastrophic diseases. She first heard of the program when her nine-year-old grandson had to have hip surgery to manage the regrowth of the ball of the femur so it would conform to the socket, and he received one. Ten years later, he still had the quilt and she decided that was a good program to join. The project now has started including natural disaster victims who need help. 

Of course, Melveta also loves to read books, but not on a computer, tablet or phone.  "I want to hold it in my hand and be able to read, even if my phone battery is down, or there is no plug or if I'm in a plane or a car or under a tree. Just my book and me."

She also enjoys traveling and seeing new places. She has been to all but two states, and someday wants to go to Europe and see "if my imagination matches reality."

In addition to their two girls, Jerry and Melveta acquired the four foster sons when they lived on the Navajo Reservation. Her daughter Koetta and her husband live in Abilene, Texas, and they have a daughter and three sons who in turn gave her five great-grandchildren.

Michala (Micky), her other daughter, and her husband live in Holbrook, Arizona, and they have two girls and a boy. 

Her foster sons, Bahe, Billy, Ed and Hank Whitethorne, live in Arizona and have 15 children who have "given me many great grandchildren."

Koetta is an accountant for the Air Force, Micky is a Superior Court Judge and the boys are all artists. 

"Next to my Christian relationship with God, my family is my greatest joy," Melveta said. "I love spending time with them individually or in groups. That house my dad built really gets full of love on holidays. 

"Because I have worked with young people for all of my 54-year career, I try to keep in mind this quote from an anonymous source: 'Those privileged to touch the lives of children and youth should constantly be aware that their impact on a single child may affect a multitude of others a thousand years from now.'"

melveta with mom and siblings
Melveta and Jerry at Four Corners on the reservation.
melveta with mom and siblings
Melveta’s daughters, Mick and Koetta.
melveta with mom and siblings
Melveta with Jerry, Koetta, Bahe and Micky.
melveta with mom and siblings
Four generations: Melveta, Baje, Bahe Jr., Suzie, Dakodi and Dawson.
melveta with mom and siblings
Melveta’s family at granddaughter Keosha’s college graduation.
melveta with mom and siblings
Baje and Melveta’s grandchildren, Taina and Bahe Jr. (Bahe Sr. changed to Baje professionally)
melveta with mom and siblings
Melveta’s library on the reservation in Tuba City, Arizona.
melveta with mom and siblings
Melveta with her mother, her brother, Kenneth, and her sister, Aileen.
melveta with mom and siblings
Melveta with her mother, her brother, Kenneth, and her sister, Aileen.