Dan Ortega(Jessica Palmer Photo)
Dan Ortega, 60, has deep roots in Roswell and in New Mexico history. “I supposedly have family lineage that goes back to Billy the Kid.” He said that a relative showed him documentation to support that fact. He hopes as soon as he retires that he can research more on his family history to see if this is correct.
Ortega can trace his roots on his mother’s side of the family back to the Mescalero. “My great-grandmother lived in the Hondo Valley in 1850, and my grandfather was a true cowboy in Oklahoma. I respect that. It was a hard life.”
His family moved to Roswell during the Depression. His maternal grandparents came from Tinnie. His father came from Carlsbad. He grew up on the east side of town with his five brothers and two sisters, and attended school at St. John’s. He is a 1978 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University in Portales.
Ortega remembers the days when Walker Air Force Base was still active. “It was a booming town then. The population went down after the base was closed, then it began to pick back up again.”
His family used to sell newspapers and then his grandfather went into the construction industry. Ortega learned his skills as a builder from his father and his grandfather. Ortega still likes to work with his hands. “I love to get an old piece of furniture and refinish it. I did that as a kid with my dad.”
Ortega is a devoted family man. He and his wife Josephine (Montoya) celebrated their 39th anniversary this week. His son works for Chaves County and his daughter is employed by the Roswell Police Department. The couple have another son who teaches school in Las Cruces.
Ortega expresses similar devotion to Roswell. He did a short stint as city councilor in 2002, but he had to give it up because he did not have time. Ortega feels Roswell is a great place to raise his family. “It’s our home. We have family here, cousins and nephews.” The couple also take care of their three grandchildren.
He loves his job with the U.S. Postal Service, where he has been employed for the past 32 years. “They are a great bunch of hard-working people.” Ortega achieved the rank of supervisor, but switched back to his position as mail carrier because he didn’t want to be transferred from Roswell. “I’m happy delivering mail. You get to know a lot of nice people and you get to care for them.”
Ortega served in Vietnam from 1970 through 1971. He worked in personnel with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade and in the Aviation Material Center with the 34th Support Group. He remembers when the troops returned from Cambodia, which he referred to as a terrible thing. His experiences in war have left him with memories of its negative effects. “It breaks up too many families. It hurts too many people.”
Despite that, he spent some time in the National Guard, from which he has now retired.
Ortega loves history, especially New Mexico history. “I know a lot about the buildings in the Historic District. A lot of the same families still live in them.”
His current projects include helping to remodel his daughter’s home, collecting coins and stamps, hunting and fishing.
Record Staff Writer