Walter G. Watts Memorial Fund Supports NNMC’s Electrical Technology Program

The Watts family, David Watts, Susan Watts, Elizabeth Watts and Dr. Rick Bailey, former NNMC president during a visit to NNMC. Photo Courtesy NNMC

Elizabeth Watts, Susan Watts and Dr. Rick Bailey, former NNMC president, check out the motor control panel in need of replacement. Photo Courtesy NNMC

Dr. Rick Bailey, former NNMC president, NNMC Major Gifts Officer Judith Pepper, Susan Watts and Elizabeth Watts. Photo Courtesy NNMC


When Walter (Wally) Watts passed away in April 2019, his wife Susan and their children, Elizabeth and David, wanted an alternative to sending flowers to honor his memory, something that would honor the issues he was passionate about.They focused on one of Wally’s final dreams: to establish a school to teach young people the basics of auto mechanics. He regretted that those skills were no longer being passed down from parent to child, since his own career as an electrical engineer began by learning the basics of electrical repair from his dad in the family electrical appliance shop (Watts Electric). By the time he was eight, Wally was re-wiring lamps for customers. That led to a career as a field engineer for General Electric, where he mentored newly graduated engineers and helped employees of a paper mill learn the basics of electricity. Wally wanted young people to have the same hands-on experience that led to his own success.

To honor Wally’s dream, Susan researched automotive schools to donate to and discovered Northern New Mexico College’s (NNMC) automotive program. Although that program had been phased out, she learned about the newly launched Electrical Technology program at NNMC’S branch community college in El Rito and discovered that one of the program’s long-term goals was to provide training in electrical auto mechanics. Susan, Elizabeth and David decided this was the perfect fit and established the Walter G. Watts Memorial Fund to support the program.

“I was very intrigued and really appreciated the work that’s been done up there. This is so necessary. It seems like something Wally would have enjoyed doing. It suits the impact he wanted to make on the world,” Susan said. “The other thing is, Wally and I have always supported community colleges because we feel like they are more adapted to local situations. I think Wally would have been very happy with that aspect as well.”

The family’s initial gift of $10,000 was boosted to its current balance of $27,300 by donations from other family members and friends. Watts has committed to making an annual gift to the fund. 

Frank Loera, DBA, Chair of the Department of Technical Trades, plans to use the money to invest in electrical equipment for the program. The most urgent need is for a motor control board, which has various applications students can use to develop their skills. Department staff has been improvising control panels until an older motor control panel with grounding issues can be replaced. 

“I’ll be glad to know it’s going toward that, because testing and trying things out is important,” Watts said. “And it’s better to do it on a board then in your mother’s house.”

Watts believes Wally would have appreciated the focus on teaching basics. During his years of mentoring, Walter was continually amazed at how many people with degrees in the field did not understand how electricity works. Watts also likes the fact that the program is preparing people for in-demand jobs. 

“I firmly believe that people need to do what they’re good at, what they’re drawn to, where they feel there’s a need, and not be put down because they don’t have a four-year degree,” Watts said. “This gives people skills that are marketable and very needed.”

Watts also donated Walter’s three-wheeled electric Roadrunner to the program, one of a group of small experimental electric cars produced in the 1980s. Wally bought the vehicle at a garage sale and refurbished it. It has not been run since the Watts move to Los Alamos in 2008. Watts hopes that fixing the vehicle becomes a project for students

“It would be fun and they’d gain practical experience,” Watts said. “I would hate for someone to say, ‘That’s a piece of junk’ and do away with it.  It is a piece of junk, but like Wally’s belief in people, it has potential.”

Donations to the Walter G. Watts Memorial Fund are welcome. Go to and click the “Give Now” button. Click “other” in the drop-down menu and put Walter G. Watts Memorial Fund in the comment bar. You may also contact Major Gifts Officer Judith Pepper at or 575-770-0955. Checks payable to “NNMC Foundation” with “Watts Memorial Fund” in the memo line may be sent to Northern New Mexico College, Attention: Judith Pepper, 921 Paseo de Oñate, Española, N.M. 87532. 

About Northern:

Northern New Mexico College has served the rural communities of Northern New Mexico for over a century. Since opening in 1909 as the Spanish American Normal School in El Rito, NM, the College has provided affordable access to quality academic programs that meet the changing educational, economic and cultural needs of the region. 

Northern is an open-admissions institution offering the most affordable bachelor’s programs in the Southwest. Now one of the state’s four regional comprehensive institutions, with its main campus in Española, Northern offers more than 50 bachelor’s, associate, and certificate programs in arts & human sciences, film & digital media, STEM programs, business, education, liberal arts, and nursing. The College has reintroduced technical trades in partnership with two local unions and five public school districts through its new co-located Branch Community College, the first of its kind in the state’s history.  Northern is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and has earned prestigious national accreditations for its engineering, nursing, education, and business programs.