County mourns loss of veteran, public servant
by Leota Harriman, Editor-at-Large

The church in the Manzano Land Grant is small, but the crowd of mourners at his funeral mass was large as LeRoy Candelaria was laid to rest, buried in the graveyard of the same church in which he was baptized three-quarters of a century earlier.

Candelaria was a Torrance County Commissioner, in the middle of his term of office. His Dec. 22 death leaves a vacancy on the county commission that will be filled by the governor.

He was also a veteran of the U.S. Army and a member of both the American Legion and VFW’s Estancia chapters. In addition, he was remembered as a faithful man who found a church to attend every Sunday when work meant travel.

Candelaria’s career included the state’s Department of Transportation and San Bar Construction. Giving his eulogy, Torrance County Manager Janice Barela said he was responsible for painting stripes on New Mexico’s highways and other roads. 

Barela remembered Candelaria as both a boss and mentor, and a father figure. She said his example heavily influenced her and her husband Ted Barela in their own career paths—both holding elected office and volunteering, along with other acts of public service.

Candelaria was an active member of the VFW and American Legion, and was an active member of the Catholic Church.

Torrance County issued a press release after Candelaria’s death.

“This is a hard day for Torrance County residents and staff. Today, we lost a dedicated public servant and friend,” said Commission Chair Ryan Schwebach.

“Commissioner Candelaria always had the best interest of the county at heart. His experience and wisdom were great assets to the commission”, said Commissioner Kevin McCall.

Candelaria graduated from Mountainair High School in 1968. He served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971, and was a Vietnam veteran in the 4th Infantry Division. He then served in the U.S. Army Reserves from 1971 to 1980.

He was an advocate for veterans and active-duty men and women in uniform as well as first responders.

Candelaria retired from the Department of Transportation in 1997, then went to San Bar, where he worked until his death. In both roles, he traveled the state of New Mexico extensively.

Candelaria represented Torrance County’s District 3, and had two years remaining in his term. He previously served two terms as Commissioner, from 2004 to 2008, and again from 2012 to 2016.

He served on the Claunch Pinto Soil & Water Conservation District board, the Estancia Basin Resource Association and the New Mexico Acequia Association.

Candelaria is survived by his wife of 35 years, Concepcion “Concha” Candelaria, his son, Anthony, and two daughters, Adriana and Miranda, along with his extended family. Funeral services were held January 14 in Manzano.