UNM-LA honors Jeannette Wallace

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Higher education > Lecture hall dedicated in her memory

By Arin McKenna

The University of New Mexico-Los Alamos’ newest lecture hall was dedicated to the late New Mexico State Rep. Jeannette O. Wallace in a ceremony last Sunday.

“It’s the very first named structure we’ve had on this campus and I don’t think we could have found another individual that was more deserving of it,” said Campus Resources Director Lisa Wismer. “And it’s also a wonderful inspiration for generations to come about what one person can do.”

Wallace died in April 2011, while serving her 11th term as state representative for District 43, an election, which she won at the age of 76.

In UNM-LA Executive Director Cedric Page’s letter to UNM’s naming committee, Page calls Wallace a friend to the university. The letter reads, “She wrote letters of support for capital improvements, advocated for bond referendums that benefited our library acquisitions and worked to minimize budget reductions in higher education. In the 49th legislature she introduced a Joint Memorial in support of the UNM Los Alamos initiative for Environmental Science Education for Northern New Mexico.”

Wallace held positions on the House Appropriations and Finance Committees.

“She was mindful of the needs in this community and fought for appropriations that would be directed this way,” Wismer said.

Wallace also served on the Health and Government Affairs committee. She had previously served on the Los Alamos County Council and was one of the co-founders of Leadership Los Alamos.

It took UNM-LA staff two years to reach Sunday’s milestone. Wismer credits Page with the suggestion to name the hall for Wallace to distinguish it from the campus’ older hall. Page said the idea grew out of discussions with his colleagues.

To meet UNM naming standards, staff had to develop a rationale and justification that supported an educational and community focus.

Page then had to convince the committee that the hall would reflect “the ideals and values of the individual after which it is named.” Page outlined those ideals for the Los Alamos Monitor.

“The ideals that Rep. Wallace presented in her professional life and certainly in her personal life were commitment to education at all levels, a desire to see individuals persist in seeking the next level of education that will lead to career opportunities and life opportunities.”

Page also stressed Wallace’s sense of community and her inclusiveness.

“I can remember being at certain legislative hearings where she would certainly invite my colleagues and myself to come up and share our perspectives if it related to some policy that the House Appropriations and Finance Committee was addressing.

“So we wanted to make sure that the Wallace Hall is inclusive in terms of who uses it going forward. Community organizations, professional groups and certainly all of our students in whatever course they may take will have a chance to utilize that space.”

“One last ideal that we want to maintain in naming that facility, is it will be available to the continuum of those seeking education,” Page said. “She was always concerned about what was going on at the schools, kindergarten all the way up to the college level. And we want to make sure that space is used by all groups and all age levels in the community that are seeking some educational training or just greater awareness of what it means to be a resident of Los Alamos.”

The committee approved the name on the first hearing in March of 2012.

Wismer then worked with Wallace’s family and artists Don Taylor and Ken Nebel to design the plaque for the lecture hall.

“We wanted to design something that would be respectful to Jeanette, as well as something the family was comfortable with,” Wismer said. “I worked mainly with her daughter, Janice Wallace Parra and we sent samples back and forth and tried to collect some of the awards she had won while she was serving. We were also mindful of her personality, which was nothing very flowery or over the top. She was dedicated to the community without a whole lot of fanfare.”

Page and Wismer were pleased by the public show of support at the dedication Sunday.

“This was something that we’re very, very proud of,” Wismer said. “I think a lot of folks in the community have a very deep respect for her, so it was nice to make a permanent honoring place for her.”