Know Your Neighbor: Ira Vandever


Do you know a person who's the subject of his or her own Wikipedia page? Ira Vandever has one and recently discussed this and other topics in his office at 1519 Weimer Road, across the street from Holy Cross Hospital.

Vandever, director of marketing for Holy Cross Hospital, didn't elaborate on the Wikipedia information, but the online article speaks for itself, especially regarding sports. The website and a personal interview provide a composite picture of Vandever.

He was born on the Navajo reservation in Haystack, New Mexico. Obie, his diesel mechanic father, and his mother, Mary, taught special education. They raised their children in the Navajo (Diné) culture.

Vandever's grandfather, Joe Vandever Sr., and grandmother, Bessie Vandever, plan to celebrate their 72nd wedding anniversary soon. Joe Vandever served as a code talker during World War II and as a medicine man on the Navajo Nation. Ira Vandever's grandmother raises Black Angus cattle and churro sheep, weaves and owns a catering business known for delicious lamb and beef dishes. She speaks no English.

Ira Vandever moved to Florissant, Missouri, at age 14 and produced impressive records in football, basketball, baseball and wrestling. A freak accident in a basketball game resulted in 50 stitches on Vandever's face. After the accident, Vandever opted to play football in college as opposed to other sports in which he excelled. Throughout his college career at Drake University, Vandever's stellar athletic career included championships and records.

"I graduated with majors in communications and marketing, as well as some postgraduate work at Drake," Vandever related. "Then, I moved to Europe to play pro [American] football on the Stuttgart Scorpions team. I also learned to speak German." The trilingual marketer also speaks Diné, the native Navajo language, and English. Eventually, the football player returned to the United States. He and his wife wished to raise their child and future children close to Navajo land, where they could learn their language and culture.

Ira Vandever met his wife, Gabrielle, 10 years ago through a friend at the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, Arizona. Their children are Chasen, age 7; Essian, 6; and 9-month-old Seneca. Essian and her mother both weave.

Another aspect of Ira Vandever's life includes a blend of the arts and culture. He learned silversmithing from Kee Largo, his late uncle. Later, Jacob Lee taught the fledgling jeweler. Ira Vandever creates rings, bracelets and necklaces "from scratch," meaning silver and turquoise. Working on his creations provides therapy for Vandever. The jeweler also paints, writes songs and produces music.

During a discussion of culture and tradition, Vandever referred to the Treaty of 1868 with the United States government, in which the Diné people regained their traditional lands. His family traveled to these lands and the general area around Taos during Vandever's childhood. They traded, gathered wood and conducted business. "We came to Taos through the mobile matanza at the [Taos County Economic Development Corporation]. We dropped off the meat, had it processed and wrapped and picked it up for use for ourselves, feasts, the Navajo Nation Fair, Lilac Festival and Mother's Day in the Park."

Once he discovered the Taos area, Vandever said, "It always felt like home to me. I related with the mountains and rivers. When I thought about a move to this area, I wanted to figure out how the Navajo fits. It is my desire to find a place in the quad culture [Caucasian, Native American, Spanish and Mexican]. I feel that the Spanish and Mexicans are very different, just as Diné is from the pueblo culture. Moving here, I knew I wouldn't be able to participate in ceremonies or language. My family and I moved anyway," he said with a smile.

Realizing that his family needed the open spaces, Ira and Gabrielle (who hailed from Navajo Station, Arizona) Vandever moved the family to Dixon, where they enjoy agriculture and long walks by the river. The couple felt that home ownership versus renting represented a greater investment in their community, so they sought to buy a home with agricultural land.

Barbara Ann Downs and Wilhem Van Carlsen sold the couple the perfect space and home. "It's in the area where one of my favorite movies, the 'Milagro Beanfield War,' was filmed. It's close enough to visit Truchas and Chimayó through the 'High Road' and perfect for gardening and animals. The property contains a well and an acequia. We actually live on Picuris Pueblo land. I'm close enough so that I can drive through some beautiful scenery from Peñasco to my job," Ira Vandever said.

Once he arrives at work at Holy Cross, his duties include market analysis, strategic marketing, planning and policies and procedures. Social media includes websites, YouTube and Facebook. He heads the newsletter, fundraising and grant writing. Other work includes health fairs, outreach education, empowerment and events, all of which revolve around a community needs assessment and focus groups. Two part-time employees (Ruben Hernandez and Valerie Alfaro) provide help in the busy hospital department.

"My job isn't solely about ads or the website. If it was, I'd be done without accomplishing all that I wish. To me, marketing is more successful if it's considered on a long-term basis and if we coordinate with others," Vandever said.

Vandever mentioned a certified program for adult education available through Holy Cross Hospital. Students may earn credentials for emergency medical technician, medical billing and coding. The job-skill training non-degree program lasts three to six months. Employment partners help defray the expenses. Some partners include University of New Mexico-Taos and the Sunrise Program. Eighteen participants have already completed the program. Some at-risk residents found success through this program, Vandever said.

Vandever shared his future plans, which include family visits to the Navajo Nation, adding a Navajo touch to the Taos Wool Festival and possibly opening a restaurant or a place to sell family-grown meat. "All that I have learned leads to a life in which my family, training and culture blend in a most beautiful way," he said.