The Independent

Old Timers: Torrance County’s first female county commissioner

By Judith Costello

Thirty-two years ago, Shirley Davis (now Shirley Maldonado) became the first female County Commissioner in Torrance County. It was Gov. Bruce King who insisted she run for office because she was working to improve the lives of the elderly and he knew this feisty lady was the one who could keep things on the right track.

On Sept. 11, Maldonado turns 80, and is still working to bring about positive change in the Estancia Valley.

It was back in 1963 that her foray into politics began. The young mother of five joined the federally-funded Community Action Program which was a part of the War on Poverty. Her group was assigned to identify the primary problems in rural Torrance County, and over the next few years, the group administered 13 surveys. “But all the government wanted to do was to take more surveys!” Maldonado picks up papers and slaps them down. “I think folks would have strangled me if I asked ‘em to fill out yet another survey.”

But the Community Action Program had identified three primary problems: There were no telephones in the mountainous areas; there were no ambulances, meaning that help had to come from Belen or Albuquerque; and there was no public transportation.

Since the government was moving slowly in addressing these needs, she took action, starting a non-profit called Amigos Inc. She discovered there was funding available. Working with a group that had been trying to set up senior centers, Maldonado and Amigos had seven senior centers open within a few years. These centers became bus stops for vans which took seniors and others to appointments in Albuquerque. The senior centers began offering meals and classes.

But she had always felt that elected officials should oversee publicly funded taxpayer programs, so she worked to merge Amigos with Torrance County.

In 1980 the county took over and Amigos closed. But procedures for getting and keeping grants from the federal programs were not followed. “I had learned how to document everything,” Maldonado said. “We had followed every procedure, but the commissioners at that time were allowing the county manager to make decisions and our programs were faltering.”

King told her she had to run to be a commissioner because she was the only one who could fix the problems. The first woman to run for that office in Torrance County, she was elected two two terms, serving from 1982 to 1986.

“My commission term was about to expire when my husband passed away. And then my mother needed more care. So I stayed home to care for her and other family members,” she recalled with resignation in her voice. “Contracts for senior services began to be awarded to groups in Albuquerque or even outside the state. Where before it had always been local people helping local people, we now have outside agencies who are concerned more about the bottom line than the needs of lonely seniors living on isolated dirt roads.”

But Maldonado has never been a person who gives up. She stayed involved with the Senior Advisory Board. Then in 2005, she and Cindy Abbott started a new non-profit. They had no money so IRS documents were filed and re-filed by the determined pair. They were awarded a grant from the Healy Foundation and soon Enchantment Legacy Inc. was in operation. Enchantment offers domestic services and transportation for the elderly and disabled. Maldonado remains an advisor to the board of directors. She said, “We just got a United Way grant to offer more help to low-income folks so I hope people will call. Nowadays, most of the people out here qualify for help.”

She credits growing up during the Depression with giving her the kind of grit she has needed to keep going. “We ate the beans and vegetables we grew and bartered our eggs and milk to get other things. My mom made all my clothes out of feed sacks. I didn’t have a store bought item of clothing until my grandma bought me one before I got married at age 17.”

Shirley’s family, the Scarboroughs, came to the Estancia Valley in 1922 and stayed on their section of farmland through drought, sandstorms and economic disaster. “We were a real community in this area back then. Whether you liked people or not, everyone helped out when someone needed it. And you don’t go hungry if you have beans!”

Sometime after her first husband died, she met a butcher who had just started working at Mike’s Friendly Store. Bob and Shirley Maldonado have now been married for 27 years and have raised grandchildren together; he is her biggest supporter.

A birthday party will be held for Shirley Maldonado at the Moriarty Lions Club on Sept. 13. The public is invited.