He is a small man, but even at age 87 has large hands which are gnarled with the work of decades on the ranch, running over the smooth wood of his walking cane—which was carved by his father more than 80 years ago.

Sitting in the kitchen of his roomy and comfortable Moriarty home over “cafecitos,” Socorro Hernandez talked about his life as a rancher, switching seamlessly from English to Spanish as many New Mexican old timers do.

Born in Sierra Blanca, Texas in 1932, Hernandez came to Carlsbad, New Mexico as a teenager.

Asked about the most memorable time from his childhood, he recalled being hoisted up to the front of the saddle, on horseback in front of his father. “And I said, ‘Ooooooo!’ I’ll never forget.”

He remembered hauling water from a river, baling hay with horses going around in a circle, crying as a young boy over baby lambs whose mothers had rejected them, growing vegetables and corn, and riding his father’s horse to school. That school had one room and a handful of students.

His father died when he was very young, and that meant that Hernandez did not go to school past the second grade. He got emotional talking about his children, who attended college and achieved what their father did not. “I’m so, so, so, so proud of my family and kids,” he said, adding, “All my kids got education.”

He recalled his first girlfriend, at about age 15. Her parents lived on the neighboring ranch, and he would go over to do chores. “I used to go help him, pull weeds, landscape in the yard,” Hernandez remembered. “That’s when I met his daughter—she used to help me pull weeds.” The pair would also pass notes to each other through their mailboxes.

The farm and the ranch were where Hernandez spent his life, before retiring after 45 years working on the King Ranch. Actually he had worked on the ranch before the Kings bought it, and joked that he came along with the land.

Hard work, honesty, integrity, and faith in God have been the hallmarks of his long life. “Work. Be a good man. That’s what I tried to teach,” he said. “¿La cosa más importante? There are lots of ways I can say it, mucho modo,” Hernandez said, answering that the most important thing in life is, “My family, my wife.”

Highlights from his ranch career included falling 20 feet to a concrete mill floor and cutting hay in a tractor when it exploded and sent him flying. Another close call was when he was checking on a well and fell into a sinkhole. He was caught by a gas pipeline, which came up between his legs, and was looking 200 feet down. “It would be an awful feeling to die,” is the way Hernandez described what he felt before being pulled out of the hole with a shovel.

His moments of greatest pride came “to see my corn, to see my crop grow healthy.” He grew the best corn on the King Ranch and new hands would hear, “Is it one of Socorro’s fields?” when they asked how he did it. “I was real proud of it,” he said.

Asked what his advice for young people is, Hernandez answered in both English and Spanish: “The main thing, have respect in this world and have education. Take pride in everything they do—para tener buena vida, to have a good life. Tener Dios todo el tiempo, tener Dios en los corazones,” he said, which means to keep God in their hearts all of the time. “Without God, we are nothing. That’s my belief.”

Socorro Hernandez in 1988.

Hernandez has seven children, five from his first wife Dolores, and two boys he raised as his own from his second wife, JoAnn. His first wife passed away after 25 years of marriage; he’s been with JoAnn for 32 years, and married for 29.

His yard is still lush and beautiful, although Hernandez does not garden like he used to. “I’m very old,” he explained with a laugh.

His wife JoAnn clearly admires her husband: “The pride he takes in his work. That’s the dignity in him. That’s the hard work installed in him. He worked on the farm like it was his. … He taught his kids to work hard, and to give 120 percent. That’s dignity.”