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In the Trenches
Meet 5 everyday folks making Las Crucens' lives easier.

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The 24 Club does good works without bragging.

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In the Trenches

Do you take the tech-support guy or the convenience-store gal for granted? Meet five everyday folks whose work helps make Las Crucens' lives easier.

By Jeff Berg

 

Someone much smarter than I once said, "Everyone's work is important." Although he or she should have excluded politicians from the mix, the statement does indeed hold a truth.

Herewith a brief acknowledgement of a few working people in Las Cruces who make my life — and yours — a little bit easier:

 

Kathi Welch
Hastings Books, Music & Video

Although I frequent Hastings Books, Music & Video a lot on my quests for fresh DVDs to watch, I don't often visit the coffee bar within, cleverly named the Hard Back Cafe.

The Hard Back, however, doesn't need my help much. It has become a meeting place for various hobby and social groups, and whenever I go there, there are always a number of people scattered throughout, enjoying the beverage of their choice and/or a freshly made cookie.

Hastings cafe manager Kathi Welch, off-duty.

But in my many visits to the store, I almost always see Kathi Welch constructing a latte, or one of the store's 29 other drink offerings, just right, or waiting on a customer, always with a smile.

Welch is the manager of the cafe, a position she has held for three years. Prior to that, she was the manager of the store's video section for an amazing 15 years. That is where I was able to use her expertise in the past.

"That used to be fun, back when we had some 'say-so' as to what movies we would carry," Welch recalls. "I used to get to watch some of them before they came out and help make some of the selections."

Getting her first job at Hastings just sort of happened, she adds. "My dad was in the service," Welch says, "and we moved back to Las Cruces when I was in high school. I was just looking for a job after I graduated high school, and came here."

After her long tenure in video, however, a change was on the horizon. So Welch, who enjoys reading, knitting and surfing the Internet when she has time, moved over to the cafe. Now the mother of a grown son, Welch feels her current job is just as challenging and perhaps a bit more interesting than it was in the video section.

Welch enjoys the people she meets on her job. She points out how Hastings has become a meeting place for a number of different hobby and special interest groups, such as the local Scrabble club.

"In 18 years, I have met so many different people, and really enjoy when I actually get a chance to visit with them," Welch says. "Some of the older people that come in here — I might be the only person they talk to all day, and my being here helps makes a difference in their life.

"Sometimes being is here is like watching time stand still. I have seen so many people come and go, and I'm still here. It is interesting to think about."

Roland Grado
ZiaNet

Roland Grado might be one of the most important people in your life, and you will probably never meet him. I'd never met him before, but I bet at some time he or one of his co-workers has saved my work life from a disaster.

Grado is one of nine computer-support technicians working for Las Cruces' ZiaNet, a local Internet provider.

Cubs fan Roland Grado (right) takes a break from solving ZiaNet customers' technical troubles.

His calm, laid-back demeanor during our brief interview is surely a sign of how he easily deals with a frantic customer who calls for tech support — that much-maligned necessity in this age of computers.

"I work 8-5, and we probably get a 100 calls during a shift," Grado says nonchalantly.

I expected a huge, highly organized room full of computer whizzes at ZiaNet. But a brief look at Grado's workplace shows that it is a small operation with a few computers set up on tables scattered about a side room at the ZiaNet offices. Several other techs are on the phone with customers.

Even more surprising is that Grado is self-taught and has never taken a computer course. Yet he can guide you through the most annoying or complex computer glitches without ever seeing your vein-puffed forehead at the other end of the phone line.

"I started messing with computers when I was a sophomore in high school," says Grado, a 2003 graduate of Silver High in Silver City. "I wanted to see how they worked, and just did a lot of hands-on work, and learned from there. I have no formal training at all.

"I like helping people who weren't born into the computer era like I was," he continues, looking straight into my starting-to-wrinkle face.

Most of the calls are about email problems, or if the server is acting up. "People always need help with computers, and my patience never wears thin," Grado says.

That's probably because he hasn't answered a call from me yet.

Grado is presently taking a bit of time off from school. He has attended NMSU for two years, where he was working on his writing skills and decided he needed a bit of a break, since he was going to school full time, and working full time to boot (up).

"I like sports, and am a big baseball fan," he says. He is a Chicago Cubs fan and also enjoys writing poetry and short fiction when time permits.

Advice for the computer dolt in all of us?

"The best way to learn about your computer, especially if you get a new one, is to keep the old one," Grado suggests. "Use that one to mess with, and don't be afraid to delete something, because there are a lot of new programs that can bring something back. It's a lot simpler now than it used to be."

Hey, Roland, I think I just delet. . . .

 

Melanie Grant
Connie Lee/Edward Jones Investments

My father passed away a few years ago, and did so without leaving a will. When everything was finally discovered, sleuthed and counted, it turned out that the ultra-conservative Mr. Berg had made only one investment. For some reason, he had bought some shares of an Asian electronics company called Nam Tai. I was the benefciary of this bit of stock-market investing, and it was something I had never had to deal with before.

Melanie Grant, branch-office administrator for Edward Jones.

A friend recommended a financial advisor, Connie Lee, who is a representative of Edward Jones.

"I remember the first time you came in here," recalls Melanie Grant, who is the branch-office administrator for Connie Lee.

Uh-oh. . .

"You said you wanted nothing to do with the stock market, knew nothing about it, and you were quite clear about that."

Well, it's a good thing that Melanie Grant ignored my tomfoolery and guided me into Lee's office with a cold bottle of water. Although this bit of financial security has taken a huge tumble in value the last few years, it was most productive when it needed to be. So I have always been grateful that Grant didn't boot me out the door.

Grant had worked in the Las Cruces Public School system for about 20 years. She tried retirement before joining Lee, a long-time teacher herself, when Lee took the plunge at a new career.

"I wanted a change, and Connie kept after me to come work with her at Jones," Grant recalls.

That was about eight years ago, and Grant has weathered the starting up of a new business quite well. "At first there were days when we would sit here and wonder, well, now what? Connie would go out and make cold calls and even did some door-to-door work."

But it has all paid off, as business is now brisk in the office. Grant is interrupted by three phone calls during our short interview time.

Grant's husband, John, is a CPA who is now toying with the idea of retiring. The couple has two sons, John Jr. and David, who is a landscape designer in Las Cruces. Grant moved to New Mexico from Amarillo, Texas, about 40 years ago.

"I run the office and am pretty much a troubleshooter for our clients," she says. "I also answer a LOT of questions, and work to help the clients solve problems."

When not doing that, Grant sings in her church choir, and in general has a love of music. Her work demands keep her other interests, gardening and traveling, at a minimum right now, but she wants to pursue those hobbies more actively in the future.

An unexpected perk for Grant's work has been the number of new friends she has been able to make through her contacts with the customers. "A lot of the people really do become like family," she says. "We sometimes help people beyond their investing needs."

Lee will even make "house calls" of a sort, as she goes to nursing homes to help clients who are unable to go to her office.

Those who do come to the office, however, have the added bonus of meeting Melanie Grant. "I really do like helping people," Grant says. "People I talk to say it is my forte, and I think I have to agree with that. I am the first person they see when they come in the door, so this is a really important job."

 

Jo Ross
Pic Quik

Sharp-eyed readers will note or remember that on occasion I make reference in these articles of my fetish for "gas station burritos." It is finally time to fess up that I buy them at any number of Santa Fe Grills, which are located in most of the 14 Pic Quik convenience stores scattered around Las Cruces and Hatch.

Pic Quik manager Jo Ross.

One of the busiest stores, situated at one of Las Cruces's busiest intersections, at Telshor and Missouri, is managed by Jo Ross. She has managed this store for nearly six years.

Although Ross is not the burrito chef, she oversees the employees who are on hand day and night to fill my gullet with the mildly flavored concoction that can cover my food needs for a whole day.

"I came here from New Jersey in May of 1989, after my folks moved here," Ross says. "I've worked at a bank and an accounting firm, and also had my own pet store, Curious Critters, since I have lived in Las Cruces."

It seems like every time I stop at her store, Ross is there. Certainly she is not a micro-manager, as her sense of humor is always in use, whether she is teasing a customer or helping one of the 10 employees she supervises. But she also remains on call when she is not at work, since she doesn't want her staff to feel like they are without support.

"I just really like the company, and it is always fun for me to come to work. I have a lot of responsibility — I do a lot of ordering from distributors, but only for this store, since it is 'my' store," she says with a smile.

I had a preconceived notion that the best-selling product in Ross' store would be beer, perhaps followed by gas and soft drinks.

"Cigarettes," she tells me. "We sell a lot of cigarettes and general groceries."

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised at that, as I reflect on what I noted customers buying while I was waiting for Ross to finish up a conversation with a vendor. Most of them did buy cigarettes.

Ross goes on, "I've worked all shifts, and usually work 5 a.m. to 2 p.m., except on Friday, when I go from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. I've also worked graveyards."

One of the burrito "chefs" comes in the back room to fetch some supplies, and Ross asks the young man if he is feeling better today.

"Yes," he replies, "I think I'll make it through the day. Thanks for asking."

Although it might seem like Ross has no time for anything else, I overhear her tell a couple of co-workers that she had "just gotten out all of my '49er shirts." When confronted by this, she admits having a passion for football, her five dogs and, most of all, NASCAR.

Slightly dreamily, as if hoping perhaps Dale Earnhardt Jr. might pull up to fill his racecar gas tank at Pic Quik, she says, "I just love NASCAR."

Back to business, then, Ross goes on, "Throughout my career I have worked to always have satisfied customers, no matter what my job was. I like to make people laugh, and love to please people. It is really rewarding to me to get a customer to smile who might have come into the store in a bad mood."

Ross' penchant for customer service has also helped me in the past, too. I have a slightly crazed friend who lives in Denver, who collects lottery "scratchers" from all over the country. Since he doesn't know any such collectors in New Mexico, I end up being his source, and once a month I get a check with a letter noting the new releases from the New Mexico lottery office. Ross has been instrumental in keeping my friend current, going as far as doing a special order for a hard-to-find "scratcher" he had overlooked.

"Everyone gets what they want," Ross says with a laugh.

 

Kathy Stott
Mountain View Market

Kathy Stott works at the Mountain View Market, Las Cruces' locally owned answer to Whole Foods and Wild Oats. In 1975, she was one of the first people to work to start a buyers club in Las Cruces, which was the precursor to the current store. A buyers club will order health-food-store-type goods in bulk for its members, and is usually served once a month by a sort of circuit-riding truck from a distributor's warehouse.

Kathy Stott with her husband, Brian.

Her path since then, which eventually led her back to Mountain View Market, was a bit roundabout. "I had a reserve scholarship to Yale," says Stott, an El Paso native, "but I had to wait a year for it to be available. I didn't want to wait or go to UTEP, so I looked around for a school, and ended up at NMSU."

After NMSU, Stott worked as a case manager for juvenile offenders at the Department of Probation and Correction in Ventura County, Calif., for 10 years before returning to Las Cruces in 1999.

"Las Cruces seems to draw people back," she says. "There is less doubt for people about fitting in the community, since it is so eclectic."

She was interested in theatre, psychology and medicine, and studied psychopharmacology, which may have been what helped get her to Mountain View Market. She is now the manager of the vitamin/health/beauty aid department.

But Stott also knows more about the store than just her own section. For me, she has become a "go to" person when I try to locate something that "used" to be here, but is probably now over there.

"I really like working here, because I feel like I can make a difference," Stott says. "And not just in a person's health, but also in the way they communicate with one another. I feel that people who come into this store will get a different outlook of the world, and see a place that is not as stressful as the world outside.

"A lot of the people that I visit with have anxiety, insomnia or digestive issues, and that often relates back to the 24/7 world of fear and stress that we now live in."

She recently saw that fear and stress firsthand. "My husband and I went to New Orleans last April on a vacation trip," Stott relates. "We were struck by the commitment of the people there to rebuild the city — by the passion they have to do that and to re-create the city's music, food and dancing. We found it to be a melting pot of spirituality, which is something we hadn't expected.

"There was no 'victim' philosophy that we saw. The people that we saw and met were there to rebuild and had the passion to do that."

Upon her return to Las Cruces, Stott says she and her husband found a renewed strength within themselves and their 15-year marriage. Stott's husband Brian is a fleet manager for Mesilla Valley Trucking, and the couple has a small farm where they raise chickens, tend an orchard, and have a few canines to round things out.

Since the couple has been home, they have been working hard to have less stress in their personal lives and relationship. "Instead of getting caught up in the everyday stuff, we try to sit on our porch, which faces the Organ Mountains, every day," she says. "We put on some music, talk, and really appreciate each others company and the blessing of each other."

She maintains an active interest in all kinds of music when not at work or tending the family acreage.

"I like to think of the market as a 'stage,'" she says, referring in a way to her interest in theater. "It is 'show time' when I come to work, and I focus on what customers are saying to me and how they say it."

Stott feels that many times a customer will be describing one issue, but hinting at a different issue, which is what they are really concerned about.

And even though Stott enjoys helping people find the appropriate naturopathic remedy for their needs, she finds that one "medicine" works better than all the others.

"This is a great place for people to be able to see someone they know and can laugh with," she explains. "Was it Art Linkletter that said, 'Laughter is the best medicine'?"

I think it was Will Rogers, but whoever said it was absolutely right.

 

Senior writer Jeff Berg appreciates all of the other people
who help make his life easier.

 

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