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Letters: Saddened at loss of coach, friend, teacher

I’m saddened at hearing about the loss of my coach, friend and teacher, Ernest Natonabah.

All these years I never really knew the man until just recently during the Wingate High School reunion. Back on campus he never dressed wearing his military greenies, just another teacher to me. Little did I know he was a Vietnam veteran (1967-70).

Maybe I should have known the way he changed our exercise routine along with coach Bob Stall, also another Vietnam vet (1967-70).

One cold Saturday winter morning with snow on the ground, they dropped us off in McGaffey, and told us to run back. We had never done this with the other coach who had quit on us after a humiliating loss to Grants High.

Within a week or two, team members started quitting like flies who could not deal with the stricter disciplinarian approach.

Another time, after a wrestling tournament in Bloomfield, we came back to campus only to find out we were left behind on Thanksgiving weekend. Many students had left for home.

Coach Natonabah and his wife invited us to their home for Thanksgiving dinner. It was excellent, something I will never forget while watching the football game, too.

My senior year came around and I saw one transfer student at the ol’ Shush cafeteria. He had medals on his letterman jacket from Winslow, and I thought he’d probably be the man to beat for the varsity job. At our first team meeting, coach Natonabah chose me to be team leader. I was the one to beat!

During the 2011 Wingate High reunion at McGaffey, coach Stall and coach Natonabah, who hadn’t seen each other since 1980, finally met again.

Mr. Stall introduced a turquoise bracelet and asked Natonabah, “You remember this?”

In 1978, Mr. Stall had these turquoise stones but didn’t know what to do with them. He showed them to coach Natonabah who took them saying, “I’ll see what I can do with it.”

After a while he gave the finished bracelet back to Mr. Stall and Mr. Stall kept it all these years and brought it along with him to the reunion.

At the closing of the reunion Mr. Stall gave the bracelet to me and I’m so proud to have this lifelong friendship as both my teachers and coaches.

Do your best in school and make your teachers your friends. They came a long way and they will stay with you — some for life.

RIP coach Ernest Natonabah. Love you so much.

“Ashem” Emerson Dayea
Wingate High Class of ’78
Pine Springs, Ariz.

Difficult year for northwest New Mexico

There’s no question that it has been a difficult year and a half for many in northwest New Mexico, as well as across our state and nation.

We’ve battled the worst pandemic our country has seen in over a century, faced record-breaking droughts, and continued to fight for the infrastructure and resources our rural region so desperately needs.

Amidst these trying times, as we always have, we endure by coming together, and as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, let us give thanks to our neighbors, friends, family, and community.

The unprecedented challenges we’ve all faced have shined a light on all that we have to be thankful for. After social distancing for much of the past two years, including last Thanksgiving, the mere act of safely gathering around the table with our family and friends is certainly worthy of great gratitude.

Whether you celebrate with turkey and dressing, or tamales and posole, I want to take a moment to wish all the families of the Northwest’s District 9, which I am honored to represent in the New Mexico House of Representatives, a happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday.

Let us all eat, drink, and be thankful together once more.

Rep. Patty Lundstrom
Gallup, N.M.

Delegate fails to support Sage Memorial leadership

As a member of the Steamboat community and patient of Sage Memorial Hospital, I am respectfully lodging my complaint about Mr. Vince James, our Council delegate, for failure to support the SMH administration and board of directors without any just cause.

Also, the delegate is not loyal to the interest or the benefits of his Navajo people on issues and concerns. He takes position against his people rather than other dominant society.

Our hospital serves many of our community members and our elected leaders should do all that is possible to enhance services to the people.

We have a young, very capable person from our community, Alden Joe, who is appointed as the new SMH CEO and is an asset to our Navajo Nation.

Again, as a patient of SMH and a concerned citizen, I repeat that my complaint to be resolved reasonably, diplomatically and as soon as possible.

Thank you for helping me share my letter with others of concern.

Don Berry
Steamboat, Ariz.

Looking for steel-gang workers

I’m a New Mexico railroad historian looking for former steel-gang workers, many of whom were Navajo and Hopi.

As a board member of the Historical Society of New Mexico, I have written and lectured about territorial and state railroads.

A lecture subject of interest to all audiences is one I’ve named “Steel Gangs, Native American Railroad Workers 1868-2000.”

The term “steel gangs” is railroad jargon for track maintenance and construction workers.

Anglo rail company track maintenance supervisors that I have spoken with repeatedly say that Native track workers were the best available. There are distinct reasons for that truth.

I have some questions to ask some of those workers that will strengthen the lectures, but am unsure how to identify those guys. The subject goes all the way back to the Navajo Treaty of 1868 through railroad labor strikes and world wars to the present.

The subject may also be an interesting feature story for the Times since I am sure many of your readers have family backgrounds affiliated with the Union Pacific Railroad, Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, and many others.

I can be reached at Thank you.

Fred Friedman
Santa Fe, N.M.


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