Eloy Jeantete, former Taos mayor and councilor, banker and luminary of the Taos community, has died. He was 94 years old.
"He was a mover and shaker of our community — and a good friend also," said Francis Cordova, a Taos rancher and New Mexico Army National Guard veteran who recalled spending a lot of time working on veterans issues with Jeantete, a veteran of the Korean War.
"He used to go with me to the legislature to fight for the veterans and to get the [veterans] cemetery going" in Taos, Cordova recalled. "And during the Christmas season, he helped feed the people in Taos, giving Christmas baskets every year" through Taos Feeds Taos, a philanthropic organization that has been feeding families here during the holidays for 37 years. Jeantete was an active participant in the organization for 35 years.
Jeantete built decades of experience and dedication in several arenas over the course of his life, including two-plus decades as an elected Taos official. Beginning in 1974, he served nearly eight two-year terms of office on the town council. In 1989, he was appointed mayor after then-Taos Mayor Lawrence Santistevan died. Jeantete was elected mayor again in 1990 and 1992.
Former state District 42 Rep. Fred Peralta was elected Taos mayor in 1994 after Jeantete decided not to run again. Peralta said he tried to continue the work Jeantete had begun during his tenure as mayor.
"I had wished he had stayed a little longer as mayor, but when he decided to retire is when I decided it was a chance for me to jump in and continue the work that he had started, and to work with the community and make it better," Peralta said, noting that one of Jeantete's biggest accomplishments as mayor was the "creation of the Taos Library."
"When I became mayor, I dedicated it, but it was really him and his council who were behind the new library," Peralta said. "The Harwood Foundation decided that they didn't want to have the library anymore, and the town took it over and then he and the council built a new library. That's one of the biggest accomplishments that I can remember. They also did a lot with federal funding that they got to improve the town streets and the utilities within the town."
In part because of his natural curiosity and outgoing personality, but also because Jeantete worked as a loan officer during part of his 46-year career with First State Bank of Taos (now U.S. Bank), Peralta said Jeantete was "very astute in knowing the people of the community and what their needs were. Because not only being the mayor or the councilman, he was also a loan officer, which helped him to understand what needed to be done in the community to make it better."
Daughter Catherine Aragon said her father used to say that most of his education was earned in "the school of hard knocks," and was proud of his own children and grandchildren's pursuit of education. Of his male siblings, Jeantete was the only one to gain a high school diploma.
"He said it was a privilege to go to school," Aragon said. "He used to tell me that he would have to run to the family pastures and move the cows at lunchtime from one pasture to another and then run back to school. He had a tortilla in his pocket, you know, so he made it back in time so that he could go back to class."
Aragon said her father was descended from French fur trappers who arrived in Taos in the 1820s.
"They came in from Canada, but I understand they were from Bordeaux," originally, she said. "My dad comes from a family of seven — he was in the middle — and he lived here all his life down in La Loma area. His and my mom's families were friends because they were both from La Loma."
Jeantete's other daughter, Rosemary Gallegos, said her father married Mary Gonzales, her mother, on Valentine's Day in 1951, "just before my dad shipped out to Korea."
"They were married for 69 years and raised a family; and she was his partner as he went through being president of the bank and mayor and all the civic things they did," Gallegos said. "My mom was in many of the organizations and was right there with him."
Mary Jeantete, who, like her husband, went to work at First State Bank of Taos after graduating from Taos High School, died at age 91 in October 2021.
"My mom was his devotion and he loved Taos," Aragon said. "And when he was mayor and in city council, you know, I never felt like he was a politician. He he just wanted to do what was best for the community. And sometimes those decisions didn't sit right with several people he had vision."
Almost anyone who ever met Jeantete will agree that he made friends easily.
"He knew everybody in the community, it seemed like," Aragon said. "And if he didn't know you and if you happened to meet him? Then you were his friend. He got to know you, wanted to know where you're from, which family you belong to — he knew how to make a connection."
Taos News Publisher Chris Baker noted that Jeantete was the newspaper's Citizen of the Year in 2002, and served on its Tradiciones focus group for more than a decade.
In a Taos News story that year by Denise Spranger, Jeantete is quoted saying, "When people ask me, 'Who are you related to?' I tell them I'm related to everybody in Taos County. We're all one family."
In the story, Jose Rodriguez, executive director of of Taos County ARC, described Jeantete as "the backbone of Taos."
Aragon said that although her father was involved in countless community organizations, and volunteered countless hours helping underprivileged and disadvantaged children and adults in Taos, he also showed unusual kindness to strangers in his role as a banker.
"You wouldn't believe how many times my sister and I go places, and they'll say, 'Oh my gosh, thank God for your dad, no one else would help us, but your dad helped us, you know, with loans' — and they were able to get a business off the ground," Aragon said. "Another couple had gone on a honeymoon to California and blew out a tire — and this is way back when the banks weren't like they are now — and they had no money, so they called my dad who gave them a loan to get the tire. And they made it home."
On Friday (Nov. 18), rosary will be recited at 10 a.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, followed by a funeral mass for Jeantete at 10:30 a.m. Interment will follow at the Las Cruces Cemetery, after which a meal in Jeantete's honor will take place at St. Joseph’s Hall.