Fran­cis Cór­dova

Taos’ 1st Sergeant

Tradiciones Heroes - - Contents - By staci mat­lock

It doesn’t take long for Fran­cis A. Cór­dova to make peo­ple around him laugh.

He has a gift for lev­ity, pok­ing gen­tle fun at him­self and those around him.

“I have horses,” he says to a vis­i­tor. “One is named af­ter me.”

Re­ally?

“Yeah,” he dead­pans. “Short of Cash.”

(His black stal­lion re­ally is of the Dash for Cash blood­line for those of you rac­ing quar­ter horse fans).

A few min­utes later the re­tired Na­tional Guards­man, who is a staunch ad­vo­cate for vet­er­ans and has helmed the Taos Feeds Taos hol­i­day food ef­fort at Christ­mas for years, men­tions St. Fran­cis Drive in Santa Fe.

“That street is named af­ter me,” he says with a twin­kle in his eye. “Mi­nus the saint.”

His wife and stal­wart com­pan­ion, Ernestina, sit­ting next to him at the kitchen table of their El Prado home smiles, and if she’s heard these jokes many times be­fore, she doesn’t show it.

They met at Taos High School.

Did he play foot­ball?

“No, I played left out.” He grins, then chuck­les glee­fully.

Re­tired Na­tional Guards­man Fran­cis Còr­dova poses for a por­trait on the 20 acres of land he helped se­cure to be­come the Taos Vet­er­ans Ceme­tery at the end of County Road 110. Mor­gan Timms

’IT’S A GOOD FEEL­ING TO HELP PEO­PLE OUT’

Cór­dova, 71, said he was part of a stand-out track team back in the day.

Both sides of the cou­ple’s fam­i­lies have been in the re­gion for gen­er­a­tions. She comes from the Abeyta and San­tis­te­van clans; he is part of the An­to­nio Martinez Land Grant. One of his grand­moth­ers was Ji­car­illa Apache.

Their par­ents grew up dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion. From them, they learned not to waste, to fix things that broke, to work hard and help oth­ers.

In Septem­ber, the cou­ple cel­e­brated their 51st an­niver­sary. “She’s a good part­ner,” he said.

“I was the first sergeant, but she was the colonel.”

“We’ve been to­gether through good days and bad, more good than bad,” he said. “We’ve been blessed. Our chil­dren have a strong foun­da­tion.”

They raised three daugh­ters and a son. Stephanie, the el­dest, re­tired from the Air Force and is an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer. Son Fran­cisco owns Di­a­mond Fin­ish Con­struc­tion. Yolanda works for the state Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion and earned a mas­ter’s de­gree in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion. Their youngest, Con­suelo, is a com­puter en­gi­neer and con­trac­tor for the fed­eral govern­ment.

Cór­dova joined the Fifth Army at­tached to the Na­tional Guard, but was able to stay in New Mex­ico for his ca­reer. Part of his job was to train new guards­men on equip­ment: tanks, mis­siles, trucks. Any new equip­ment or ar­tillery that came in, he learned to use it.

“I didn’t want to be out there and be em­bar­rassed by a pri­vate,” said Cór­dova, who re­tired in 2004 as a 1st Sergeant af­ter 35 years with the guard.

As things changed in the Na­tional Guard, Cór­dova shifted with them. When a gen­eral asked him years ago what he thought about hav­ing fe­males in the guard, “be­cause it has al­ways been all male units here in Taos and other places that I worked at. I told him, ‘My mother was a fe­male, my wife is fe­male and my girls are fe­males. I have all the re­spect in the world for women.’ ”

“I was lucky to have women join the force,” Cór­dova said. “You would see those young girls drive those (big) trucks all over and back­ing them up.”

Dur­ing the bru­tal 1980 riot at the New Mex­ico State Pen­i­ten­tiary out­side of Santa Fe, about 65 guards­men from Taos were sent down to help bring the sit­u­a­tion un­der con­trol. Cór­dova was one of them.

“Talk about PTSD,” Cór­dova said. “That was like go­ing to war.”

He later worked with Sen. Car­los Cis­neros to get some ben­e­fits for some of the Na­tional Guard who had been there.

“Guards­men needed to get the credit they de­served,” he said.

Af­ter he re­tired, he con­tin­ued to work on vet­er­ans is­sues, help­ing bring a VA clinic to Taos. He con­tin­ued to ad­vo­cate for lo­cal vet­er­ans who weren’t re­ceiv­ing the ben­e­fits to which they were en­ti­tled.

He helped fill out pa­per­work, call the Vet­er­ans Ad­min­is­tra­tion and push for their com­pen­sa­tion. He said he helped one World War II vet­eran from Tram­pas get his ben­e­fits. “He got a big pay­out for back ben­e­fits. I asked what he was go­ing to do with all the money. He said he was go­ing to buy him­self a new set of teeth and eat a big steak,” Cór­dova said, chuck­ling. “Isn’t that some­thing?”

Some of the vet­er­ans and their pa­per­work kept get­ting re­jected un­til Cór­dova stepped in.

‘ We’ve got­ten a lot of peo­ple their vet­er­ans ben­e­fits,” he said. “The wid­ows, too.”

Cór­dova may be good-hu­mored, but he also is re­lent­lessly com­mit­ted once he takes on a project, say those who have worked with him on a va­ri­ety of projects from Taos Feeds Taos to a vet­er­ans’ clinic to a vet­er­ans’ ceme­tery.

“Once Fran­cis is com­mit­ted to some­thing, he doesn’t stop,” said Cis­neros, the re­gion’s state law­maker from Questa who has worked with Cór­dova on fund­ing for a num­ber of vet­er­ans’ ini­tia­tives.

Taos County do­nated 20 acres of land for the ceme­tery. Cór­dova, Cis­neros and oth­ers have been work­ing since then to ob­tain state per­mis­sion and fund­ing to make it an of­fi­cial burial site for vet­er­ans.

“Fran­cis Cór­dova has been an in­cred­i­ble voice of the peo­ple all of his life,” said U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lu­ján. “I’ve worked with him on a num­ber of im­por­tant projects, in­clud­ing the estab­lish­ment of the Taos Vet­er­ans Ceme­tery, work­ing to help the he­roes in our com­mu­nity through vet­er­ans case­work, and nu­mer­ous oth­ers. We are all grate­ful for his ded­i­cated ser­vice to New Mex­ico, and all are bet­ter be­cause of his ex­am­ple.”

Cór­dova also served as com­man­der for the Dis­abled Amer­i­can Vet­er­ans in Taos for six years. Most peo­ple, how­ever, as­so­ci­ate him with aid­ing the hun­gry.

Cór­dova helped launch Taos Feeds Taos af­ter Jim Ulmer came to him with the idea in 1986. He needed a big place to put to­gether hun­dreds of bags of food be­fore Christ­mas for low-in­come res­i­dents.

Cór­dova sought per­mis­sion from Gen. Ed­ward D. Baca, now re­tired, to use the Na­tional Guard fa­cil­ity for the en­deavor.

“He gave us his bless­ing,” Cór­dova said. “The ma­jor­ity of the vol­un­teers those first years were guards­men. They didn’t get paid.” “When Fran­cis (Cór­dova) and Jim (Ulmer) ap­proached me about us­ing the guards­men, the ar­mory, and our ve­hi­cles to col­lect and dis­trib­ute food to the needy in Taos County, I saw the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to ac­com­plish all of our goals,” Baca later said of the project. “Taos Feeds Taos is an ex­am­ple of how the Guard can, and should, in­ter­act with (its) com­mu­nity.”

Cór­dova, then a board mem­ber of Kit Car­son Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive, used his con­tacts there to get the co-op in­volved. They’ve re­mained stal­wart vol­un­teers ever since.

Bill Knief, who serves on the Taos Feeds Taos board with Cór­dova, said it was Cór­dova’s broad con­tacts and abil­ity to get peo­ple work­ing to­gether that helped make Taos Feeds Taos hap­pen.

Now about 300 vol­un­teers from all walks of life, in­clud­ing lo­cal youth, gather at the ar­mory to pack up about 1,200 boxes of gro­ceries for de­liv­ery to fam­i­lies in need.

It is a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing re­quir­ing some­one who is hy­per-ef­fi­cient. That skill is what Cór­dova brings to the an­nual event, along with his hu­mor.

“He’s still the sergeant,” said Knief. “Com­mand and con­trol comes to mind. He runs a tight ship. For 30-some­thing years he’s been the heart and soul.”

The or­ga­ni­za­tion has to raise about $72,000 a year, most of it through pri­vate do­na­tions and an an­nual pan­cake break­fast to pay for the gas, food and other ex­penses. Taos gro­cery stores sell them food at cost to help out.

Each year, peo­ple ap­ply for the food bas­kets. Ernestina helps man­age the lists.

“There’s a lot of peo­ple who re­ally, re­ally need it,” Fran­cis Cór­dova said of the food ef­fort. “I think it is the best one in the state.”

What­ever boxes aren’t handed out are taken to church food pro­grams at Shared Table, St. James Epis­co­pal Church and Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church.

“It’s a good feel­ing to help peo­ple out,” Cór­dova said. “Be­cause what goes around comes around. If you help peo­ple it all falls back into place.”

‘ What goes around comes around. If you help peo­ple it all falls back into place.’

Fran­cis Cór­dova — 2018 Cit­i­zen of the Year

First Sgt. Fran­cis A. Cór­dova is hon­ored by friends and fam­ily as he re­tires from the 1115th Trans­porta­tion Com­pany of the New Mex­ico Na­tional Guard dur­ing a March 2004 cer­e­mony in Taos Civic Cen­ter Río Grande Hall. Greg Kreller/ Taos News archives

Cit­i­zen of the Year and pres­i­dent of the board for Taos Feeds Taos Fran­cis Cór­dova pre­pares for his open­ing re­marks dur­ing a past Taos Feeds Taos prior to the on­set of dis­tri­bu­tion at the Army Na­tional Guard Ar­mory. His shirt de­scribes his at­ti­tude to a T. Katharine Egli | Bot­tom: Fran­cis Cór­dova speaks with Brig. Gen. An­drew Salas be­fore dis­tri­bu­tion of Taos Feeds Taos food boxes got un­der­way in De­cem­ber 2015 at the Taos Na­tional Guard Ar­mory. “Bill Knief, who serves on the Taos Feeds Taos board with Cór­dova, said it was Cór­dova's broad con­tacts and abil­ity to get peo­ple work­ing to­gether that helped make Taos Feeds Taos hap­pen.” File photo

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