Melvin Montoya wears a smile and his ever-present cowboy hat. (Ilissa Gilmore Photo)
A true working-man, Melvin Montoya won’t let a little thing like retirement slow him down.
Though he recently retired after 26 years as road foreman at the Chaves County Road Department, he’s applied to other jobs, willing to work for “whoever decides they want this old man to work for them.”
“I can do just about anything,” he said.
Montoya had been in charge of almost every aspect of the department and had to be in contact with people from various agencies in the county and the state.
At times, he even acted as a mediator for landowners and the Road Department in an effort to, he said, “keep them from having ‘The Chaves County War.’”
He worked so long for the county, he even remembers times of snow and flash flood emergencies. As the years passed, Montoya picked up more and more responsibilities and outlasted many supervisors and employees.
“Some retired, some quit, some we had to let go,” he said. “We lost one employee on the job and that was tough. It’s just like you lose part of yourself.”
Montoya himself had a near-death experience as a young man. While breaking rocks for a company, dirt collapsed on Montoya, burying him alive. Only a small pathway of air helped him survive.
“When they finally got to me, they thought I was dead,” he said. “That was crazy; the man upstairs, he didn’t want me.”
Since he’s already been buried once, the 63-year-old prefers to “stay around and work on my feet all day and dance all night.”
“Everybody says that’s why I’m so slim,” he said. “I say, ‘No, I don’t eat desserts and I don’t drink Cokes.’
Road Operations Director Terry Allensworth compared Montoya to the Energizer Bunny.
“He never stops,” Allensworth said.
Born in Roswell and raised on a ranch in Picacho, Montoya grew up working the land and “got bucked off a horse or two” as a rodeo rider. Montoya said his father ranched all his life, still training and branding horses up until his death at 85 years old.
“You would have never thought there was a thing wrong with him,” he said. “He lived a happy life.”
Bernarr Treat, farm and ranch manager for Armstrong Energy Corp., recalls fondly Montoya’s time as a ranch foreman for his father, Tony.
Though Bernarr was quite young at the time, he remembers Montoya as a good worker and stockman, and “as a guy who, it didn’t matter what was going on, was always smiling and joking around.”
“Melvin was a guy who everyone wanted to be around,” he said. In some aspects, Montoya was a mentor to him.
What keeps Melvin grounded, Bernarr said, are his roots. To this day, Bernarr said Montoya still references his mother and father often.
Allensworth said Montoya was not only a very good foreman, but he also is well-known and well-liked.
“He’ll be missed,” he said.
For his last days at the Road Department, Montoya received quite a send-off and many accolades. At its April meeting, the Chaves County Board of Commissioners honored Montoya by declaring a day for him.
While he awaits responses for potential work opportunities, Montoya will probably keep busy by hunting or working in his garden.
“Everybody tells me I’ve got two green thumbs,” he said.
He and his wife Diana have three children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandkids. Montoya loves being around children and he and his wife treat neighborhood kids to cookies, ice cream or popcorn.
Whatever he chooses to do with his free time, it won’t be spent having to much of a restful retirement.
“I’m not a TV person, I’m not a computer person, I’m not a sit around and do nothing person. I’m blessed that I have the energy to do some things.
“I just can’t stand lazy people and I like to lead by example.”