Martha Lassetter gave so much to Angel Fire’s future

af_Martha_LassetterSept. 21, 1929 — Sept. 29, 2010

By Ellen Miller-Goins

It’s doubtful any of the family, friends and admirers who gathered on a crisp fall day Friday, Oct. 8, at United Church of Angel Fire to remember Martha Lassetter needed to be reminded what a great woman she was but, odds are, everyone in the room was grateful. Grateful to have known Martha. Grateful to have the opportunity to learn more about this remarkable woman.

Martha, was, by all accounts a force of nature whose motto could have been “Yes we can” or perhaps more accurately, “Don’t you tell me we can’t.” She was a master homemaker and entertainer long before Martha Stewart became a household name. She was, as so many people have related, a “doer.”

Martha Hunter Lassetter, 81, longtime resident of Angel Fire and, for a short while, Las Cruces, died Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010, surrounded by her family.

Martha was born Sept. 21, 1929, in Atlanta, Ga., and through her life never lost her sense of Southern hospitality. She peppered her speech with phrases like, “Oh darlin’ child…”

‘A Korean War Bride’

According to her family, Martha was a “Korean War bride” who came to know, and love, her future husband Stuart “Stu” Hays Lassetter well before they met face to face. Says Martha’s daughter Lori Lassetter Robinson, “Jack Vanderbleek married mom’s sister Louise and dad asked, ‘Is there another one back home like Loulou?’”

There was – an older sister, in fact – and the two began corresponding.

“The story goes that Dad wrote mom once a week for 2 years,” Lori says. “She’d fallen in love with him through his letters. He’s just a brilliant letter writer, my dad.”

Stu eventually made his way to Atlanta, Martha offered him a glass of orange juice and, says Lori, “He looked up at her and knew she was the one.”

Martha married Stuart Hays Lassetter, then a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, in 1952. They were joined in 1958 and 1960 by their two daughters, Margaret Lynn and Lori, while in Chicago where Stu was assigned as a professor of military science at DePaul University.

“It was the most wonderful 58 years I could ever had,” Stu says. “We were good buddies. She was a wonderful, wonderful gal.”

Stu was career military so the family moved every 2 years. They were stationed twice in Germany, which solidified the couple’s love of the mountains – and later led to a new career for Stu.

In an earlier interview with the Chronicle, the couple said they had always planned to retire in El Paso, Texas, but Martha noted, “When I got off the plane at Fort Bliss my first question was, ‘Where the hell are the trees, Stu?’ Stu said, ‘There they are.’ I looked down and knew we had a problem.”

In 1973 Stu was invited to fly up to Angel Fire with some friends. He got back to Kirtland Air Force Base around 8 p.m. that night and told Martha, “You’ve got to see this place. It’s pretty with big spruce trees.”

They bought their 3/4-acre lot that day for $8,500 and on Sept. 1, 1975, they started building their house in Angel Fire. A contractor framed in the house and Stu built the rest. Martha, of course, threw a party right away. “The first party we held in the house you could sit in the living room and look straight through the house because there were no walls,” she recalled.

In 1977 Angel Fire Corporation Vice President and General Manager Ray Tucker asked Stu, who had skied in Europe and Utah, to take a look at ski mountain operations. Stu spent one day as lift operator, one day in the maintenance department and four days in the ticket office, then wrote up his study with recommendations on where to make improvements. Tucker handed the study back to him and said, “now run it.”

For the next 7 years, under titles ranging from Director of Skiing to President and General Manager of the Ski Corporation, Stu ran the mountain.

A great organizer

Martha worked part-time but also proceeded to do what she always did: She gave her time and her considerable skills to her community. Before Martha and Stu’s arrival, other early residents of the Angel Fire community (Martha called them the “Anasazi”) realized there was a need for a few services other communities take for granted. They formed the Southern Moreno Valley Community Corporation to provide for fire and ambulance needs and Martha volunteered as an EMT (emergency medical technician). She was a founding member of the Angel Fire Chapter of the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority, a community-service group still active today.

“Her philosophy was if they say they can’t do it, somebody can… and will.” Stu says. “Her attitude was, regardless of the job in front of you, there’s got to be some way to solve it.”

Adds longtime friend Pat Mason of Valle Escondido, “Martha had a lovely way of making people be better than themselves. She left a big hole for everybody when she left Angel Fire.”

“She had so many answers to so many problems,” says longtime friend Betsy Block, formerly of Angel Fire, now of Taos. “She stuck with everything. She would never start something, then walk out. Everybody who knew Martha, loved her.”

In later years, Martha was an active member of the Angel Fire Home Owners Association, the AAFPO (Association of Angel Fire Property Owners) board, the Angel Fire Community Foundation and, of course, her pride and joy, the Shuter Library.

During Martha’s service, speaker after speaker marveled at her remarkable organization skills – skills that affected her home life as well as the lives of everyone in Angel Fire. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Shuter Library of Angel Fire.

Rev. Peggy Trott, who officiated at Martha’s service and who was also one of Martha’s numerous admiring friends, said, “I recall something about a story whereby for some reason or another, the Bookmobile didn’t make it to Angel Fire one week. Martha decided that was enough of that and she and a group of ladies decided to begin a library.”

The first library shared space in the Stromberg Center, which still house the fire and ambulance departments. By 1999, space was tight, grant money was rolling in, and Martha, Ruth Lawrence, and others on the Angel Fire Community Library board of directors, decided the time had come: Angel Fire needed a real library. While many, many people pitched in to make this dream a reality – in an amazingly short amount of time – few would question that Martha’s enthusiasm made it all possible.

“Martha incorporated a huge number of folks to make that library happen,” Trott said. “She just had a way of taking you in and gently manipulating you into place.”

‘She did everything well’

In a remembrance shared at Martha’s funeral, Lori said, “Mom did everything… And everything that Mom did she did well. She was an accomplished seamstress and crafts woman, always sewing, gluing, hemming, trimming, knitting, crocheting, quilting, doing needlepoint and embroidery, rug weaving, pottery (“Muddy Martha’s” Pots and Knots) and ceramics, wood carving, decoupage, paper maché and painting with oils, acrylics and watercolors….”

Lori also summed up her mothers other accomplishments that included a love of music (“She learned the classical guitar…. She learned to play the organ…. She would RAP”), sports (golf, tennis, skiing, bowling…), “games of all sorts,” including bridge at which she was known to be competitive – but friendly – and entertaining.

Her love of cooking led to what was supposed to be a short stint writing recipe columns (all with her trademark humor and style) for the Chronicle – 1,200 recipes later, she was still at it up to the end.

According to another Chronicle article, it started with Guy Wood, former Chronicle publisher, photographing Martha in her kitchen as they talked about her mother’s ultimate fried chicken recipe. “I didn’t know much about cooking except that I liked to eat,” she remembered. “but if Stu’s tried it and likes it, then it goes into the paper.”

According to another Chronicle article, it started with Guy Wood, former Chronicle publisher, photographing Martha in her kitchen as they talked about her mother’s ultimate fried chicken recipe. “I didn’t know much about cooking except that I liked to eat,” she remembered. “but if Stu’s tried it and likes it, then it goes into the paper.”

Lori added, “There was so much more I could have said, “She was a wonder. She was a great role model. She had great timing.”

Among Martha’s many accomplishments? Being a great mom, Lori and Lynn agreed. “She was fair. She was compassionate. She was fun. She was always there for us no matter what.”

Lynn agreed, “She was always there. She would always make time for us. I remember the handmade clothes. Lori and I were always dressed alike.”

Lynn admits she loved the dresses when she was younger but was a bit embarrassed to be wearing Simplicity outfits “when all the kids were wearing cool store-bought stuff. Now I realize that was how she expressed her love for us.”

Both daughters credit their mother for showing them first-hand how to accomplish a great deal in a limited amount of time and how to organize and motivate people. Says Lynn, “My job is like that.  I have her to thank for that.”

Always look on the bright side

Martha’s indomitable spirit, her endless energy, enthusiasm and optimism extended into every area of her life… and it never failed to spill over to those around her.

“She was always so upbeat and so wonderful to be around,” Betsy Block says.

“Even when she was really struggling with her health, she was up,” Mason says. “She was positive and hopeful.”

Lori illustrated Martha’s spirit best when she told everyone Friday, “Mom wanted me to tell you all that if she didn’t like it, she was coming back.”

Martha is survived by her husband of 58 years, Col. Stuart Hays Lassetter, U.S. Army Retired, currently living in Las Cruces, N.M., daughters Margaret Lynn Klein of Issaquah, Wash., and Lori Lassetter Robinson of Livermore, Calif., as well as two grandchildren, Jessica Lynn Klein and Ryan Stuart Robinson.

In Lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials be made to the Shuter Library in Angel Fire, P.O. Box 298, Angel Fire, NM 87710.

Martha Lassetter contributed her “Tried & True” recipes to the Chronicle decades.