After working for the City of Rio Rancho for more than two-dozen years, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson has retired.
She was feted at a recent retirement party at Meadowlark Senior Center, where she spent the past three years as the recreation specialist. Before her gig at MSC, she had been the children’s services librarian at Esther Bone Memorial Library from 1994-2015.
Literally, it’s time for “a new chapter and new growth for me as a person,” she said.
She’d been juggling two careers: her job with the city and being an author. In fact, Nelson was tabbed as the state’s centennial children’s author in 2012.
“I’m a reader and I’m a book lover,” is how she defines herself.
Eight of her first 14 books were children’s books or historical fiction.
There are more stories Nelson believes need to be told, such as the African-American historical figures she told about in “Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal” and her next historical non-fiction entry, “Let ‘Er Buck,” the story of legendary African-American Kansas-born bronc-buster George Fletcher in the Northwest in the early 1900s.
Research for the latter book, due out in February, led her to visit Pendleton, Ore., to learn more about the Pendleton Round-Up. She even interviewed residents who recalled knowing Fletcher in his golden years.
As for Reeves, “I was so taken by his story and what he accomplished,” she said. “Why didn’t I, or anyone else, know about him?”
She probably answered her own question when she described growing up in Elizabeth, Pa., in the 1950s, outside of Pittsburgh.
“We didn’t have black history when I was in school,” she recalled. “It’s up to me, I feel, to uncover some of these stories. … I tend to gravitate to stories that haven’t been told.”
Soon to be 65 and retired, she’ll have time to do some uncovering.
“I’ve always loved stories,” Nelson said a few days before retiring. “There were five of us; my mom and dad read to us every night. Even when we had a babysitter, they’d read to us.”
That helped her learn to read on her own, which led to doing well in school, which led to her submitting stories for her high school newspaper and later finding a job as a reporter for the McKeesport Daily News.
“I learned so much there,” she said, later working in public relations before finding a job in a children’s bookstore, where she was employed when she wrote her first book, “Always Gramma,” in 1988.
After three years at the bookstore, she decided she wanted to go to “library school.”
“I never had librarians that were role models,” she said. “You could be dynamic and sensational and be a librarian.”
Librarian school combined her interests and, shortly after graduation, seeking that kind of job in Colorado — a place her husband, Drew, had long loved — she discovered through a colleague at Albuquerque Academy that there was an opening in Rio Rancho.
Nelson contacted then-librarian Toni Beatty at the library, then in City Hall, and was selected.
It was a great time to be headed to the City of Vision: The new Esther Bone Memorial Library was about to replace the small room at City Hall.
Nelson soon fell in love with her job and the city. She believes she has made a difference, first at the library and then at the senior center.
She recently attended the wedding of someone she remembered helping as a youngster at The Bone, and still has people coming up to her today, remembering her dressing as a pirate and trying to foster a love of reading.
“I loved working with the kids,” Nelson said. “I touched lives in some way, and I was always happy to hear parents say their kids still enjoy reading.”
In 2015, seeking a change of pace, she filled the opening at MSC, “a nice move for me, (with) a different population.”
The myriad activities at the senior center help keep the growing-old population active.
“Some come here that are completely alone,” she said, happy to again be able to make a difference and chuckling when she remembers when she was asked, “I know this is the senior center, but where are all the old people?”
“It’s not about age; it’s about spirit,” Nelson said.
She takes that spirit with her into “only” being an author, with two more projects in her mind, which she didn’t want to disclose, and the need to get organized at her home so she can write full time.
“If I’m not writing, I’m not a happy person,” she told the Observer a few years ago, when talking about a few of her books.
“Certainly, it feels good when a book is published, but for me, so much is the journey,” she said. “You find out so much … you learn about a person or event that piques your interest.”
“Vaunda is an amazing person and it is a pleasure to have had the opportunity to work with her,” said Liz Smyth, division manager for senior services. “She will be deeply missed at the Meadowlark Senior Center. Her zest for life and ability to bring joy to Rio Rancho residents will be remembered for years to come. Believe it or not, we are happy that Vaunda will now be able to devote more time to another passion of hers: writing.”