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OHKAY OWINGEH PUEBLO – The grand banquet room at Ohkay Casino Resort and Hotel was sold out Friday night, thanks to a big name and a worthy cause.
“I truly don’t deserve it,” Sen. Pete Domenici said near the end of an outpouring of gratitude from an evening of tributes. “But I might as well acknowledge it.”
Continuing on to his coming retirement, Domenici was the honored guest at the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation’s 12th Annual Banquet, a fund-raiser for a newly endowed scholarship fund in the senator’s name.
There were frequent references to his national and international leadership, but the emphasis for this occasion was his friendship and support of the people of the state.
A slide show of projects he helped fund seemed to include most of the significant projects in the state that have been built, acquired, developed or protected over the course of his 36-year career in the Senate.
According to the foundation’s plans, the Senator Pete Domenici Endowed Scholarship Fund will endow a four-year scholarship every year for each of the seven counties of Northern New Mexico.
On behalf of Los Alamos National Security, LLC, LANL Director Michael Anastasio announced a $500,000 donation to the fund.
Diana MacArthur, president of the LANL Foundation board of directors, along with Dynamac Corporation, Los Alamos National Bank and Los Alamos Technical Associates, contributed $25,000 each.
Many other companies and individuals contributed amounts ranging from $10,000 to $250.
Susan Herrera, executive director of the Foundation, recalled the story of how the Foundation began with an endowment that has now grown to $62 million.
The Los Alamos Employee’s Scholarship Fund, established in 1998 and administered by the Foundation has awarded $1.3 million to over 450 northern New Mexico students.
The Foundation has also bestowed more than $30 million in 1,700 small grants, as Herrera said, “to almost every school system and nonprofit in the region.”
Noting how hard it was to say “thank you” to someone who had done so much, she said, “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
Stealing away from his duties at the special session of the Legislature, House Speaker Ben Lujan, called Domenici “a giant among giants,” and jokingly thanked him for giving his son, Ben Ray Lujan, “a chance to run for Congress.”
The younger Lujan is running for the office of Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who is in the race for Domenici’s Senate seat against Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M.
Jill Udall, representing her husband Tom at the banquet, said Domenici was a legend in his own time.
“Senator, you will be missed, but never really replaced,” she said. Then added, “though some of us will try.”
Steve Pearce, running for the senate seat against Udall, told Domenici that it was not enough to say thank you, but identified him as one of a special kind of people, saying, “You carry the fire.”
Española Mayor Joseph Maestas was the Master of Ceremonies. He presented Domenici with a key to the city, which he said was the first he had ever given, noting that Domenici was always welcome.
In Domenici’s concluding remarks that responded to the outpouring of gratitude throughout the evening, he talked about the scholarships and the young people and “the long road after I’m long gone.”
He confessed the reason that he has had some success was that he was “blessed with the finest staff of men and women.”
He said, “They made me shine.”
Extending his thanks to his wife Nancy, who shared in the evening’s appreciations, he gave back in kind some of the affection he had received during the evening.
“You are my really great friends,” he said. “When I come through here, I know there will always be a friend. They can’t have all disappeared.”
A formal-ribbon cutting at the foundation’s new facility, the Center for Educational and Nonprofit Leadership, preceded the dinner.