BY KYLE WHEELER
Los Alamos Living Treasures
On April 26, the Board of the Living Treasures of Los Alamos had planned to host a ceremony to honor the three Living Treasures of 2020. Like so many other events since March, this ceremony had to be canceled because of the coronavirus. Our three Living Treasures are patiently waiting for a chance to be honored, and we hope it will happen later this year, or perhaps in spring of 2021. Meanwhile, we would like to introduce you to the Living Treasures of Los Alamos for 2020 by publishing their biographies and photographs now. Any news about the ceremony, once it is planned, will of course be published later, but for now we hope all of our treasured seniors are staying home and staying healthy in these unusual times.
Profiles written by Kyle Wheeler. Photographs by Robert Thomsen.
Linda Foard Burns/Photo by Robert Thomsen
Linda Foard Burns
If you know about LA Cares, you probably know Linda Burns, a quiet, unassuming woman who works behind the scenes to feed hungry people in Los Alamos. And if you don’t know LA Cares, you might be one of many people in Los Alamos who think our community doesn’t have people who need food assistance and occasional help with rent or a utility bill. But Los Alamos, indeed, does have such people, and because of Linda and a dedicated board and other volunteers who help with the sorting and distribution of food, some people in our community are getting by just a bit easier.
Linda and Don met and married in Dover, Delaware, and have been married for 57 years. Until their move to New Mexico, they lived in the east but had traveled west. Linda always wanted to see New Mexico, so one summer they drove their RV to Santa Fe and parked it on the plaza. Their first trip to Los Alamos, though, was in January 1989 when they came for Don’s job interview. While Don was being interviewed Linda wandered downtown, talking with many people on the street. After the interview, she told Don, “I love it here!” What she learned was that people either love it here or they leave. She and Don moved to Los Alamos in December 1989.
By then the youngest of their three children was in college and at first Linda thought, “I’m going to rest on my laurels.” She had done the typical volunteer work that a stay-at-home mom often does: scout leader, president of the PTA, and serving on the board of the library. She also worked part time from her home as a medical transcriptionist, which was then a cottage industry. However, after moving, she soon got restless and realized that nobody here knew she had any laurels to rest on. She considered several volunteer positions but nothing quite fit. One day, she saw an ad in the Los Alamos Monitor that said, “Food Distribution,” and she thought “I can do that!” She went to the distribution, met Al Zerwekh and Eunice Larson, saw what they did, and thought, “I can do something about this, I can do something about this! That was 25 years ago.” And she’s still doing something about this.
Linda has a BS in math, an MA in library science, and a knack for collecting and organizing. She put that to work as a member of the board of LA Cares. The board has had its ups and downs but she has been consistently involved since she began (in the early days, it was known as “Homeless Services”). Linda jokingly says that there are two qualifications for being on the board: a strong back and a pick-up truck. She also says that once you’re on the board you can never get off. And she’s happy that now their board of nine people is strong and cohesive. She can no longer lift heavy boxes but she does just about everything else and knows by heart statistics about the demographics of the population served and how it has changed over the years.
LA Cares assembles packages of food each month with special attention paid to people who have to follow special diets. They also provide food for pets. Sometimes there are families with babies who need diapers and formula. Most people collect their own boxes of food on the day it becomes available, but for people who can’t pick it up on their own, volunteers deliver it. There isn’t any chore related to LA Cares that Linda hasn’t done. As secretary for the organization, she writes thank you letters for every donation and keeps trying to find new ways to say “thank you” to the people who contribute. She has been the secretary since 1997, and last year wrote a record 167 thank you letters.
LA Cares depends on volunteers to do the work, citizens to contribute food via the letter carriers/Boy Scout food drives. Churches and other organizations also put out collection boxes for food. The county makes an in-kind contribution of a space to store some of the collected food, and when Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church remodeled its building, it included a closet for food storage. In addition, people drop off food at Linda’s house, contribute when they are moving, or call for pick-up.
Linda also started a food drive once a month at the White Rock Presbyterian Church, where she’s part of the small, but very active congregation. In addition, she enjoys being a member of P.E.O., an organization of women who are passionate about helping women advance through education. Linda says, “I love being in P.E.O. because of the love and support among all the members.”
One of Linda’s friends, June Gladney, describes Linda as like a geode. “At first you don’t really know much about her because of her quiet and unassuming ways. She doesn’t really talk much about all that she does, and only very slowly does the scope of the story unfold. As it does, however, Linda is revealed as having the same sparkling, wonderful core that one would find in a geode. Once revealed, it is something very special to see.”
Don Casperson/Photo by Robert Thomsen
Don Casperson hadn’t really planned to live in Los Alamos. He come here in 1972 as part of a group of graduate students from Yale University to work with the brand new linear accelerator at the Lab. To complete his Ph.D., he needed the use of an accelerator and those in the New York area were not available, so his thesis advisor told him, “If you want to complete your Ph.D., you’re going to New Mexico, to Los Alamos.” He didn’t know anything about New Mexico. The entire research team that he was working with came to Los Alamos in the summer of 1972 for about six weeks to work in the Meson Physics Facility (LAMPF). In 1973 he returned along with several students to complete their research. He earned his Ph.D. in 1976, and stayed for another year as a post-doc. At this point he decided he really liked Los Alamos so he applied for a job and went to work in the Laser Division, which later was absorbed into the Physics Division. He found the work very rewarding, including an interesting experiment at the Nevada Test Site. In 1991 he went to work in the Space Science and Technology Division, where he had the opportunity to work at Fenton Hill in the Jemez Mountains. He was always interested in space science, astronomy, and astrophysics. Don and Galen Gisler worked at Fenton Hill to set up an observatory there.
In addition to science, Don is clearly enthusiastic about working with youth. During his career at the Lab, he worked for 12 summers on a science program through the EarthWatch Institute. Eight gifted high school students worked for two weeks each summer at Fenton Hill. There were four boys and four girls from around the country. “That was really fun, I really enjoyed that,” said Don. He spent a lot of his personal time helping these visiting youth with their work and helping them to feel comfortable in the community socially.
In 2008, Don retired from the Lab and within a few weeks joined Kiwanis. He had friends who had encouraged him for years to join, but he didn’t want to while working full time. Dennis Gill was his friend and sponsored him in Kiwanis and encouraged him to get involved in some of the youth programs, which he did. Kiwanis has several programs for kids: K-Kids Clubs for elementary school age kids, Builders Club (to build leadership skills) for middle school students, and Key Club for high school age youth. He is the Kiwanis advisor for Aspen and Barranca schools K-Kids and attends weekly meetings where he involves the kids in fun, useful, service-oriented activities. He has been the advisor for Builders Club for a few years, and helps Morrie Pongratz with Key Club at the high school. He has enjoyed watching children progress as they age and move through the different programs. Don is a respected and welcome leader at four schools every week, and his homemade brownies are a real treat for the students.
In addition, he has worked on many Kiwanis service programs, notably collecting books for the African Library Project for multiple shipments of school libraries in various African countries. The funds for postage of these books is raised by the various K-Family clubs. He is also pleased with the work Kiwanis has done collaborating with UNICEF on Project Eliminate, whose goal is to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus world wide. At the time this effort started, there were 38 countries at serious risk; now there are about 14 countries. He participates in many of the activities Kiwanis is involved with.
In about 1992 or 1993 he started visiting the Methodist Church with close friends. Before long, the elders of the church approached him and asked him if he would take over the Friday night skate program. In 1962 when the church added the Fellowship Hall, the YMCA asked the church if they would take over the skate program, which they did, and for all those years, on Friday nights, the third-graders and younger children skate first, then there is a 15-minute break and the kids in fourth grade and up take over the floor. The church has many in-line skates as well as the traditional four-wheeled skates, music, games, and a disco ball. They also host private birthday parties on Saturdays and are open for Senior Appreciation Night. “I find it fun and rewarding,” says Don, who has been doing it now for 28 years.
Don is considered part of the family to several families in Los Alamos. His good friend, Tom Crane, with whom he had been in graduate school, developed multiple sclerosis in 1980. As Tom’s disease progressed, Don helped the young family with things Tom could no longer do; he helped Tom get to and from work, and helped Ben Crane with his science projects and building model airplanes. In addition, he helped a single mother from his church who was not in good health. He helped her two children, accepted them, talked with them, and showed them true Christian love. He soon had them helping with the skate program at the church. He mentored these children and provided an example of male involvement and leadership to both kids.
Don is a member of the Los Alamos Public School Foundation Board, an organization that allows him to contribute to improving the schools. He has an amateur (ham) radio operator license and used this to interest kids in science, especially through the EarthWatch experiences. At his church, he has been part of the audio-visual team for many, many years and helped modernize and incorporate video display into the sanctuary sound system.
As a transplanted New Englander, Don has made Los Alamos his home by immersing himself in his work, both for the Lab and for the many people he has come in contact with over the years through his activities. Now that he is retired, he has decided there really isn’t any other place he would rather live and hopes to continue with his service work for many years. We hope he does, too.
Lois M. Eddleman/Photo by Robert Thomsen
Lois M. Eddleman
Lois Eddleman was born in 1925 and raised on a cattle farm near Olathe, Colorado. An only child in a rural area, she helped her father tend the cows and goats. She loved music as a child and learned to play the piano on her own. Her family was involved in the Church of God, where she sang, played the piano, and even did some speaking from time to time. As a teenager and leader of a youth group, she traveled to other churches to share her talents.
Her first job was in Delta, Colorado, working for the Rural Electrification Association. She married a man she met at church there and moved to Fort Collins where he studied at Colorado State University and she worked in the offices of Montgomery Ward. She arrived in Los Alamos in 1961 with her husband and one-year-old son, John. Almost immediately she became involved in the community, meeting and helping her neighbors and joining the Christian Church of Los Alamos. Her second son, Rick, joined his brother in 1962, and daughter, Lori, was born in 1966.
Once in Los Alamos she devoted herself to raising her children and becoming involved in many ways in the community. She taught piano to hundreds of children and charged only $5 for lessons when many music teachers charged upward of $20 because when she was a child she could not afford to take piano lessons. She still teaches piano lessons and has a true gift for communicating to all ages and levels of talent. She hosts recitals for her students and their families; these involve cooking and extra work, but she likes the work involved and enjoys seeing the families have a good time. Former students greet or hug her when they see her.
Lois is a long-time member of the Los Alamos County Extension Service Home Economics Advisory Council. In this role, she advises staff regarding broad program goals and educational efforts as they relate to the family. Under her leadership, members have opportunities to improve the quality of their lives through adult education programming. The organization also provides financial assistance to Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Books for Babies, and food baskets for needy families. Lois is known for “adopting” families over the holidays and providing meals and gifts for those less fortunate. She has made food, lap robes, and other crafts and offers classes and demonstrations on crafts and cooking. For many years she managed banquets for the Cooperative Extension Service and the church. One year she organized a mother-daughter banquet at church and convinced the boys of a high school youth group to do a fashion show with wigs, dresses, and plenty of antics that filled the room with laughter. She has a sense of humor and unless the situation is serious, she will bring a smile or giggle to the moment. Laughter and happiness is vital to human life, and she does her part in sharing it.
Each year in August, Los Alamos has a County Fair and Rodeo, which usually begins with a parade. Exhibits of home-made food, clothing, and crafts are displayed and the rodeo is held at the fair grounds on North Mesa. For many years, a large board of about nine members handled the various tasks, some working on the fair and others on the rodeo. People who know say the annual county fair would not happen without Lois, and many can’t remember a time when she wasn’t involved in the fair. The work behind organizing the indoor exhibits portion of the fair is a huge effort, with hundreds of details and many volunteers needed for every aspect of this job from beginning to end. Lois recruits anywhere from 50 to 100 volunteers to assist as judges, superintendents, clerks, and monitors. She assures that there are sufficient volunteers to monitor the indoor exhibits, instructs them about their duties, and tirelessly works to ensure that they have everything they need for the fair to run smoothly. She assists with setting up and taking down the exhibits, which includes canned goods, baked goods, sewing, crafts, and numerous other home-made items.
Lois was very involved with her children’s activities, too. She was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout leader, 4-H leader, helped with Brownies and Girl Scouts, was a classroom volunteer and shuttled her kids to activities and sports. Her daughter cannot remember a game that she missed.
Friends describe her as generous and energetic, with humor that during difficult times is an inspiration. She makes friends of all ages and now that she is in her nineties, she says that having young friends is especially important. Lois is one of those wonderful old-fashioned people whose standards are high and values nothing but the best. She chooses, unselfishly, to do what is right and what is best for all, not what is expedient or in her favor. She is a loving a faithful friend, dependable and trustworthy. She is a dedicated volunteer who is always looking to help someone else. Her spirit and desire to give back to a community she loves is an inspiration to us all.