Liliana Castillo Freedom New Mexico Vern Witten sits in a special chair in his Portales home. His grandfather came in from working one day and sat in the chair to rest and died.
Portales resident Vern Witten is the oldest of four and was milking cows and working in the field by the age of 10. He is an Army and Air Force veteran who served during World War II and the Korean War. After farming for a few years, he became a math teacher and taught at Eastern New Mexico University for 27 years.
After he retired in 1991, he volunteered as a math tutor and now his volunteerism extends to his church First United Methodist Church in Portales, the Wesley Foundation and Habitat for Humanity.
Why do you volunteer for Habitat for Humanity? The satisfaction of seeing the positive impact on a person or family as the move is made from sub-standard housing to an affordable new home.
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What do you enjoy about volunteering for Habitat for Humanity? The association with a group of talented people that give so much of themselves for the organization.
If you had another life to live, what would you choose as a profession? A teacher or a farmer. I have indeed been blessed to have enjoyed my professional life. I just finished two weeks of teaching at Dora.
You consider the teaching profession a great choice. Why? It provides you with an opportunity to make a significant difference in some students’ lives. For example, a Carlsbad ninth-grade student Drew Gaffney became an astronaut who specialized in the effects of space travel on the cardiovascular system. He designated me as his outstanding high school teacher and we were invited to the launch of his spaceship.
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How did you meet your wife? In 1955, my father had a heart attack and I returned to manage the farm for the summer. My father had recovered so that he could manage all business transactions. For some unknown reason, he sent me to transact some business at a wholesale and retail feed house. (No doubt, he was hoping his son would notice the fine attributes of the bookkeeper.)
Tell us about your first date. The following Sunday I drove seven miles west to see if the bookkeeper, Ida Lou Swofford, would accompany me to mail a letter in a town 17 miles to the east. Before I left for a teaching position in Carlsbad, we became engaged. We were married in Dec. 1955.
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What is your most prized possession? A retirement ring that my daughters designed that represents my 27 years as a mathematics professor at ENMU.
Who is invited to your fantasy dinner party? Einstein, Galileo, Pascal and Newton. Stimulating discussion on the relationship between religion, science and mathematics.
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What is your favorite smell? Fresh baked bread. That’s the farm boy in me.