I did a double-take as I looked through the May 2012 issue of “Smithsonian” magazine. I realized I was looking at a picture of the little school in Mexico where I received my high school diploma fifty years ago. I borrowed the magazine and, first chance I got, read the entire article.
Some space was dedicated to the impact of the Mexican drug wars in the northern part of the country, then the article went on to give a little history of the settlement of the area by American members of the Church Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the mid 1880’s. The descriptions of the first pioneers and their descendants, I think, are fairly accurate.
But why would “Smithsonian” want to send a journalist all the way to that little out-of-the-way place to do an article for their prestigious magazine? One reason and one reason only: Mitt Romney, a candidate for President of the United States. Although Mitt Romney himself has never set foot in the little town of Colonia Juarez, his great grandparents were among the first “Mormon” settlers of the area and a passel of his cousins still live there prospering as ranchers and fruit growers.
The Juarez Academy, the school referred to above, was founded in 1897 and celebrated its centennial in 1997. During the festivities I was privileged to portray my grandfather, Samuel E. McClellan, in an original musical historical play. He drew up the plans and supervised the construction of the school building that is still standing strong today serving as a highly regarded center of learning in the state of Chihuahua. My father graduated from the Academy in 1930 and I in 1962. (Yes, I’m an old geezer!)
The Romney family has played a prominent role in the community from the beginning to the present. The first school in Colonia Juarez was held in a dugout home that belonged to Miles (Mitt’s great grandfather) and Ana Maria Woodbury Romney. It was dug into the bank of the river where the colonists first settled. Annie Romney, the first teacher in the colony of Colonia Juarez, relates:
“My school closed last Friday; we had singing, recitations and dialogues, besides the class exercises, and the afternoon passed off very pleasantly. Last Tuesday afternoon about three o’clock we had quite a heavy shock of earthquake. I believe if we had had decent houses here we would have had considerable damage done; but our low cabins and dugouts stood it all right.
“We were in school at the time and the house shook so hard that I was glad to get the children out of doors for fear it would fall, as it isn’t a very substantial building. When we got outside we looked toward the mountains in the west, the Sierra Madres, and we could see the dust rising in clouds caused by the falling rocks. Pretty soon the smoke began to rise, and some of the children were very much frightened, thinking it was a volcano, but it turned out that the rocks in striking together had struck fire and had set fire to the timber and is still burning furiously.” (From a letter Annie wrote to her sister.)
On May 8, 1887, Annie Romney wrote another letter to her sister: “I am at my old business, teaching school. We have eleven children to be taught this winter and we have no means to pay for schooling them at present, and I have come to the conclusion that while I am teaching our own I might as well teach the rest of the children in town and so help myself a little…the children have to be taught and I may as well do it as anybody.”
Mitt’s second cousin, Kent, said, “When a Romney drowns, you look for the body upstream—they don’t just flow with the current.” Kent is probably the only one to drive a pickup that sports Chihuahua license plates and a “Romney for President” sticker.
Today the town that the Romneys helped build boasts comfortable American-style homes surrounded by pleasant gardens and orchards where neighbors still watch out for each other. It’s a great place to raise children in spite of the recent violence that has plagued the surrounding area.
There were twenty-four graduates in my senior class. We hope to have a reunion this summer to catch up on each other’s doings and to reminisce, as is the wont of the elderly who refuse to grow up.