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The Los Alamos Monitor has touched a lot of lives in its 50 years. It has not only marked milestones in the community and kept citizens informed, but at times has had a more personal impact, providing money to reach a cherished goal and at least once serving as matchmaker.
JoAnn Montoya was one of a handful of employees in the first few months of operations. She recalls the challenges of typing every word of news for the weekly publication, including having to continually adjust the spacing to fit the columns and trying to catch errors without spell check.
“Doing it hand-typed like that, there were more mistakes that were picked up in spelling,” Montoya said.
The publication was on a tight budget. The office was a large room above the space now occupied by Origami Japanese Restaurant. Montoya had to type sitting in a plastic lawn chair with a bucket seat.
Montoya said one early mistake publisher Mark McMahon made was setting up paper routes without taking the canyons into consideration. The young carriers couldn’t manage hauling their loads down canyons and up, so their mothers would have to drive them. The routes were soon rearranged to fit the terrain.
The paper was printed in Albuquerque and Montoya would sometimes drive down to pick it up.
“I can remember driving down to Albuquerque in my sports car —I had a little Austin-Healey Sprite — to pick up the papers. I almost didn’t have enough room,” Montoya said.
Montoya was just out of art school when she returned home and took the job. She estimates that lasted about six months before she was hired as an illustrator at Los Alamos National Laboratory. But those six months changed her life.
“My husband worked at Safeway, and I took an ad over for the boss to approve, and that’s how I met him,” Montoya said. “So the Los Alamos Monitor basically introduced me to my husband, and we’ve been married 48 years now.”
Georgia and Gerry Strickfaden also worked for the paper as carriers. They did not actually meet and fall in love until they were students at Eastern New Mexico University, but they distinctly remember each other. Georgia Ann Wilder made an impression, wobbling away with over 100 newspapers balanced on her sister’s Vespa motor scooter, and she remembers seeing Gerry collecting his papers with his mother.
Georgia had the largest route, which she kept just long enough to reach one goal.
“I wanted to buy a ’Topper letter sweater, and I wanted to earn it myself,” Georgia said. “My parents would have bought me that sweater, but I wanted to earn it myself.”
It took a few months to do that. The Strickfadens believe they were paid five-cents a paper. Every carrier was also given a few extras, which they could sell at 10-cents each and keep the entire profit.
Georgia accomplished her goal before winter set in, but Gerry was in it for the long haul.
“One memorable day was Halloween, when there was a good two feet of snow on the ground. We’d just had a big snowstorm. The papers were late — didn’t get in until well after dark,” Gerry said. “So I was charging around. But every now and then someone would think I was a trick-or-treater and bring me candy. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so cold and miserable.”
The Strickfadens recall some of the early challenges.
“It was a big deal when we finally got the bags,” Gerry said. “They didn’t have the bags that hung front and back, so you’d have to carry them under your arm and get your shirt all icky. And sometimes you couldn’t carry enough and you’d have to come back home and get another stack.”
Georgia was hired back over the holidays to help collate a special edition that was sent to skiers in Texas and surrounding areas.
John and Nancy Bartlit’s son, John, also delivered the Los Alamos Monitor.
“He was eight-years-old. He delivered in the Pajarito area. It took him an hour to deliver all his papers. If it rained or snowed, I drove him, and took about 15 minutes,” Nancy said. “It was a wonderful experience to walk around, thinking and composing music.”
John Jr. used the money to invest in a set of drums, and is now a professional drummer.
Nancy shed some light on just how much people may rely on the paper to stay informed. At one time she was in the news constantly, due to her numerous community activities. That has tapered off somewhat.
“Recently I ran into a lady who said ‘You’re alive! I haven’t seen your picture in the paper for a while and thought maybe you had died,’” Nancy said.
Both are appreciative of the Los Alamos Monitor’s long-time commitment to printing a column John writes for New Mexico Citizens for Clean Air and Water, originally titled “This land of ours.” He began writing the column soon after the first earth day in 1970. The Bartlit’s believe the newspaper’s coverage helped in the fight to clean up some of the state’s worse air polluters.
John mused over how things have changed since he began his column. Instead of writing and editing on yellow legal pads then translating the convoluted scribbling into typewritten form and dropping it at the office, he now sends it as a word attachment via email.
One outgrowth of that column may only have been possible with a small town newspaper.
“I and other activists worked with engineers at the power plants to coauthor a series of opinion pieces. The columns jointly told our story on clean air problems. One of us would write an article and we would pass it around to everyone in the group. The idea was that it had to be an article that everyone in the group could agree on,” John said.