Josephine Bassett’s house is bustling with activity seven days a week. Her sons run a construction company and cattle ranching business, and the 89-year-old answers the phone and greets visitors.
“This lady is iconic,” said Matt Kehoe, stopping in for a visit. He recalled a story from when he was in 4th grade and lived nearby. “When we kids got home from school we found out that our mother was rushed to the hospital. Mrs. Bassett was there and she took over, feeding us and telling us to do our homework and not to worry. ‘Everything is going to be just fine,’ she said. And when Jo says that, you can believe it is true.”
In 1950, Jo Hoeffner left her family in New York, setting out for New Mexico. She was 24 years old, and came because the weather was appealing and she had a job. Her new girlfriends invited her to a rodeo in Estancia.
On the drive back to Albuquerque, the girls’ car had a flat. Hoeffner was wearing a brand new pair of Levis, but the others were dressed in slacks, so she got under the car to adjust the jack.
Meanwhile her friends flagged down another driver. His name was Carl Bassett. He fixed the flat, and a year later at a dance in Moriarty, he remembered the girl in Levis. They were married on New Year’s Day in 1952.
The couple raised six children, near what is now Smith’s, where they grew beans and silage. The school was just down the road. Drought and dust storms lasted from 1950 to 1957, and many settlers returned to Albuquerque.
She remembered one time when she walked 10 blocks during a dust storm. She had always walked to work in New York. But this time, every seam in her blue dress held a line of thick brown dirt. She had left a window open at her house and found that every inside surface was covered in dirt.
The rains finally returned in 1957. Jo Bassett found that she needed to dry diapers on a rack by a heater. By 1961 there were only 10 students still at the small Edgewood school and it was closed. “We have seen things grow and then shrink. The drought comes in cycles and so do the people,” she said.
As her children started school, Bassett found a passion in registering voters. For 50 years she got to know most of the residents in the area because she personally encouraged them to register and vote, oftentimes knocking on doors. “One time a man called me. He was mad and he wanted me to give him the phone number to call a Senator in Washington,” she recalled. “He wanted his road fixed. I told him, ‘You have to start local and go through channels. Washington doesn’t fix New Mexico roads. Get to know the county commissioners.’”
Over the years, Jo Bassett has noticed a sharp decline in civic awareness. When she asked a woman if she was registered, the young mother said she didn’t know why she should bother. “I told her, ‘You have kids in school. If you want to see things improve, find out who is on the school board and in government. You can make a difference.’”
One man, Jake Perea, put it this way: “She is the Google for us older folks. Jo helps people find help. We don’t need a computer because we have Jo.”