Anna Muller spent her summers as a young girl visiting her family’s ranch in Los Cordovas, New Mexico, outside Taos, riding horses and herding sheep on the property their family owned for over 300 years.
But her sister, Frankie Veronda, spent her summers at home in the Projects in Oakland, California. And while Veronda liked to read romance stories, Muller liked to read the encyclopedias her mother bought from a traveling salesman.
"We were just as different as night and day," said Veronda. "And she would say 'We're more alike than you think.'"
Muller's combination of intuition and self-discipline helped her to become one of New Mexico's most admired and beloved business figures.
Petite, standing at 4 feet 11 inches, blue-eyed, and dressed impeccably, Muller had a way of commanding a room. As a small business advocate, she tirelessly negotiated on behalf of her clients and her community.
Muller died on Oct. 22 at her sister's home in Fremont, California. She was 77.
Muller was born on the Fourth of July, 1943, in Albuquerque. Her family lived in a close-knit community where everybody helped each other. Muller's grandmother, the matriarch, provided her with lessons in leadership.
After Muller's parents divorced, her mother moved them to California, and went to work in the factories. Muller and Veronda falsified their age so they could work canning peaches, in order to pay for their Catholic school uniforms.
Those lean days left their mark on Muller -- she would forever be known as a spendthrift.
Muller returned to New Mexico as a young adult, hitchhiking her way back to Albuquerque. She worked as a waitress to pay her way through college.
"You know how every state has its really colorful people? Anna was one of those," said Nancy Salem, a lifelong friend of Muller. "She was just one of those one-in-a-million."
A champion for small business
In 1969, President Richard Nixon signed an executive order expanding opportunities for minority-owned businesses. Muller was recruited by members of the National Hispanic Leadership to coordinate those efforts, and she developed an expertise in the field.
Soon after, Muller founded NEDA Business Consultants Inc., which specialized in helping minority-owned companies secure financing and government contracts. She bought and renovated the historic John Pearce House in downtown Albuquerque, where she set up her office.
Muller continued to buy and renovate historic properties in New Mexico, and built a powerful network of business contacts along the way. She earned a reputation as a shrewd businesswoman with unerring instincts.
"I've been on the plaza for 45 years -- and the reason I'm there is Anna," said Ranee Malanga, founder of Artwares Contemporary Jewelry in Taos. With the help of Muller, she was able to move out of her tiny storefront and into an anchor shop on Historic Taos Plaza.
"She knew that it's the relationship that gets you where you need to go," said Malanga.
Muller helped establish the Downtown Neighborhoods Association and ended the practice of red-lining in downtown Albuquerque. She lobbied state and national politicians, earning the respect of now-U.S. Sen.-elect Ben Ray Luján and outgoing U.S. Sen. Tom Udall.
Always true to Taos
She remained a fierce advocate for businesses in downtown Albuquerque, but never forgot her roots in Taos. Muller kept a second home there and would travel between the two, hosting friends at her favorite restaurants and supporting small businesses.
Muller often attended services with her mother at San Francisco de Asís parish in Ranchos de Taos, where they were longtime members. She would never miss the service on Good Friday, followed by a walk to the morada.
In her sister's care
In her later years, Muller suffered from memory loss and physical decline. Her sister brought her back to California and was with her the night she died.
"We came from poverty. She was a self-made millionaire. She was very smart, very wise, very shrewd," said Veronda."It seemed like everything she touched turned to gold."
Correction: The original version of this story stated both sisters spent their summers at the ranch near Taos.