By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Nearly a half century after a Portales organization recognized the need for New Mexico to have a salute to the state flag, the 2008 New Mexico Legislature will recognize members of the organization from that era this week.
Members of the Ellen W. Jones chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy of Portales are credited with writing the salute and pressing for its adoption in 1963. Four women who were members at that time will be recognized Tuesday on the floor of the House and the Senate.
Of those four, three are still active in the organization. Jan Compton-Ross of Clovis is the chapter’s current president, and it was her grandmother who was credited as forming the committee that pushed the salute. In their late 80s, Jane Mauk Hilliard and Margaret Smith both live in Portales and are still active in the chapter. Willie Vale Quaid, the fourth surviving member located, lives in Florida.
“I’m very pleased that they’re going to recognize the effort,” Ross said. “It could have just gone by the wayside.”
Of the four, Hilliard and Smith will be able to the Roundhouse Tuesday in Santa Fe with a Portales city staffer as their tour guide.
“We’re so looking forward to this event at the Legislature,” Hilliard said. “We’re so proud of the recognition it will bring to the chapter.”
All three local women claim little credit in writing the pledge. Ross says she was a young mother in her 20s and wasn’t even able to attend regularly at the time. Smith did the group’s typing, and Hilliard was a participant at the event that precipitated the group’s civic action.
While the Legislature approved the salute in 1963, its roots begin in 1955. At that time the chapter was involved in a project that secured historical highway markers around the state.
Local members were responsible for putting together a ceremony opening the Jefferson Davis Highway in southern New Mexico near Las Cruces and wanted to do the flag salutes but didn’t have one for the New Mexico flag. The predicament was solved when chapter member Hazel Petty wrote an unofficial salute to use at the ceremony.
That salute was slightly different than the one today. It read: “I salute the flag of the State of New Mexico, the Zia symbol of loyalty and united cultures.”
In 1962, at another dedication on the Arizona/New Mexico border, there was need once again for a salute and Petty’s words were used. Ross’ grandmother Lora Vale Oldham, the state UDC director, decided it was time for action to get an official salute.
“One day, Mrs Oldham said to me, ‘After 50 years of statehood, we need to push this to get a flag salute to the New Mexico flag,’ I said, well that’s fine,” Smith recalled. “So she took out her pen staff and her bottle of black ink — she always wrote everything with pen staff — and formed her committee.”
The committee consisted of Oldham as chair along with Mrs. T.K. Martin who was chapter president, Mrs. T.E. Mears Jr. and Mrs. James D. Turner. With help from various local sources, they rewrote the original salute and put together a resolution to present to the next Legislature, according to research from Ross’ family.
The measure was introduced in the House by Rep. Fred Boone and in the Senate by Tibo Chavez of Belen who had close Portales connections. The salute was adopted without change to the words and continues the same today.
“These women were so patriotic and so dedicated and willing to do whatever was necessary to get the job done,” Hilliard said.
“It just just has such a beauty of simplicity about it,” Hilliard said of the salute. “It just seems to me it was touched with a kind of destiny.”
Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega Jr. and others from city hall have had it in mind to honor the ladies from Portales who were a part of the history of the state flag salute for several years. Ortega said the effort finally came together this year with the help of Sen. Stuart Ingle R-Portales and Rep. Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa.
“Everytime we do the salute at a meeting, I think about it and how I wanted to know more about it,” Ortega said. “We’re proud every meeting to salute the flag.”