January 18, 1914 – March 1, 2015
Michelle Duregger — Staff Writer
ANGEL FIRE — You can call her Cornelia or Nellie, but everyone around Cimarron and the Moreno Valley knows her as Grannie,” said Rachel Ricklefs of Cimarron. Cornelia Sisneros of Springer grew incredible gardens, made delicious food and brought success to many local restaurants through her kind and clever management. “Everything she would plant thrived,” said daughter Ernestine (Penny) Coppedge. This statement applied to everything that grew in her life.
Cornelia Sisneros spent her 101 years full to the brim with love, hard work, six children and countless grandchildren — not to mention those from the community she took under her wing. She passed quietly on Sunday (March 1) at the Colfax General Long Term Care Facility in Springer.
Sisneros was born in Springer, Jan. 18, 1914, the year New Mexico became a state. Her parents, Amalia Valdez and Frederico Arellano, would take her, along with her grandmother, by covered wagon or surry to the Ponil on the Chase Ranch. Her father contracted his Morgan horses with the Ponil Lumber Company.
“While her father collected money, the ladies would stay with Mrs. Manly-Chase and pick apples with her, cook with her, gather piñon with her. It was her favorite time of year,” said Ricklefs.
Sisneros’ heritage was rooted in the Native American history of Abique, Ocate and Springer. A descendant of Geronimo, she inherited Native American herbal traditions.
“We never went to the hospital, except for broken bones,” said Ricklefs.
“It was all very effective. ‘Remedios’ is what they were called,” added Coppedge.
With the death of her husband, Joe Sisneros, in the ’50s, Sisneros worked two jobs to support her six children. Though she was not a stranger to owning and running a restaurant, as well as a warehouse in Springer, she earned her reputation in the ’50s working at Zia’s Grill in Springer as well as through her work for Helen and Pat Marker at the Springer Courts. People would come from everywhere to eat her green chile and go to the theater next to Zia’s. She also cooked at Vermejo Park and was quickly adopted by the cowboys.
“I remember coming home and there were Cowboys everywhere,” said Ricklefs with a chuckle. Next she moved to Miami to work for Vallejo Polo Ranch where she and her partner Augustine Vigil had two more daughters, Bernadette Vigil (Martinez) and Coppedge.
In 1962 she and her son Fred Sisneros moved to Philmont Scout Ranch she worked for Idle Hour Café and Dee’s Café. Later she was asked to manage the Kit Carson Inn, a Best Western Hotel in Cimarron.
“As she was going around and cooking, everyone would ask her to cook for them,” said Ricklefs.
“Nellie was the Cimarron’s first chamber of commerce,” said Ricklefs. In the early ’70s and ’80s Kit Carson Best Western Inn was a very new business with a restaurant and lounge.“She would not let (motorists) leave town without a place to stay. She would get on the phone and find them a place to stay. She was always telling people places to eat, things to see, things to do.”
Sisneros would also tell her employees the importance of knowing the area’s history and telling clients about the area. “Through that she ended up supporting the community,” Ricklefs said.
Dick Wooten, owner of the hotel, left her in control of the ship. He trusted and valued her management style and would occasionally come in to do the books. She knew her employees’ strengths and was skilled at putting them where they would do their best. As she ran the Inn, with help from many of the local kids, she became an influential mentor to all who would work alongside her.
When Wooten sold the Kit Carson Inn in the early ’80s Sisneros retired, then immediately found another job to keep her busy, despite her families efforts to convince her otherwise. She soon found herself in Angel Fire helping Minnie Steen run Steen’s Steakhouse. She retired from that to return to Cimarron and work at the Cree Mee. “Everybody was wanting her to cook for them, she would retire from one job and suddenly get five more jobs,” said Ricklefs.
Sisneros cooked her famous green chile for the Booster Club to support the schools in Cimarron. Her children and grandchildren still continue that tradition.
Sisneros was not a wealthy lady, she worked hard all her life, but she was always giving money to the church, to a friend in need here, a free room to a traveler there. “She was incredibly generous, she never had anything, but she was always feeding people,” reminisced Coppedge. “At Christmas, she would have us go down to Ben Franklin to buy huge boxes of chocolates to give out to kids and families around us. She had an incredible heart…There is no one that I know that can forgive like she forgives.”
In the four years Sisneros was at the nursing home in Springer she was surrounded by friends. The nurses and employees quickly were endeared to her loving, encouraging words, explained Ricklefs. Her family didn’t recognize many of the people on her guest register who were in to see her weekly. Her travels allowed her to touch many hearts with her prayer and advice. “She never talked to me in an unreasonable way, it was always logical, ‘If this happens then this will happen, then these are your choices,’” said Coppedge. “She was very cosmopolitan in her thinking for being from a small town, and for never really finishing high school herself.”
Sisneros was preceded in death by her husband, Joe Sisneros, her partner, Augustine Vigil, her brothers, Albert T. Valdez and Ernest John Valdez, her sister, Alice Valdez, her daughter, Josie Duran, two grandchildren and various relatives.
She is survived by her children, Rudy Sisneros and his wife Rose of Grand Junction, Colorado, Fred Sisneros of Cimarron, Rachel Ricklefs and husband Bob of Cimarron, Bernadette Martinez and husband Lencho (Albert) of Cimarron, Ernestine (Penny) and husband Barney Coppedge of Cimarron, 80 grandchildren and great-grand children and at least 40 great-great grandchildren.
She loved the Cimarron Rodeo and the Rams Basketball team, making an effort to get to every game she could.
To honor her love of basketball her family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations are made to the Cimarron Rams Pride Booster Club. Services for Cornelia A. Sisneros were held in Springer at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Friday (March 6).