Los Alamos 2022 Living Treasures Are Kokheong McNaughton, Sharon Snyder and Patrick D. Soran

LIVING TREASURES NEWS RELEASE

The Living Treasures of Los Alamos Board is delighted to announce the selection of three Los Alamos citizens for the 2022 Living Treasures recognition. They are KokHeong McNaughton,  Sharon Snyder and Patrick D. Soran 

The ceremony honoring the 2022 Treasures will be held this fall. Due to COVID and seating restrictions, the ceremony will be by invitation only. 

The biographies were written by Kyle Wheeler and the Photos were taken by Jim O’Donnell. 

Please visit https://www.livingtreasureslosalamos.org for more information about the Living Treasures mission.

Los Alamos 2022 Living Treasure KokHeong McNaughton/Photo by Jim O’Donnell

KokHeong McNaughton

KokHeong McNaughton is a native of Malaysia, where she grew up as one of six children. Both parents worked two jobs, and the family endured hard times during post-World War II, so they learned to be thrifty and to make use of everything they had. She met her husband when he came to Malaysia to teach. After their marriage, they moved to Britain, where she studied microbiology and computer science at the University of London and achieved first class honors. In the early years of their marriage, when they visited Mike’s family in South Africa, the systemic inequality and injustice were only made more obvious by the special privileges that came with a U.S. passport, all of which contributed to her lifelong passion for social justice and her continuing determination to improve it. 

KokHeong and Mike moved to Los Alamos in 1975 with their daughter Jenni. A second daughter, Elizabeth, was born in Los Alamos, and KokHeong considers herself fortunate that both her daughters, their husbands, and her four grandchildren all live in Los Alamos. When she arrived in Los Alamos, she looked for a playgroup for baby Jenni. Finding none, she joined the Newcomer!s Club and started a playgroup, which still meets today. Her young family joined the Unitarian Church in 1976, where she found kindred spirits who shared her passions. The Unitarian Church is involved in a lot of social action programs and KokHeong has been active in many and a leader of several. 

One of the first things she missed upon moving to Los Alamos was access to Chinese groceries so she encouraged the manager of the local store to offer more Asian products for home cooking. She taught Asian cooking classes from her home when the children were young, and her students would purchase the groceries at the local store, providing the manager with a steady consumer base. With friends from the community, she sponsored a Vietnamese refugee family who started an Asian restaurant here. After a long respite from teaching Asian cooking classes, she recently resumed this on Zoom since Covid started. She also started an International Friendship Club, which matched visiting scholars with local families to teach English as a second language in a home environment. 

While pregnant with her first daughter, and still living in California, she started doing Taiji, an ancient Chinese meditation and health practice that she learned from her father. A repair man who came to her apartment building saw her and asked if she would teach him Taiji. She assured him that she wasn’t a teacher, but agreed to try if he would get a group together, which he did. She later taught classes at UC Davis, the Los Alamos YMCA, and Ghost Ranch in the early 1980s. She still offers free classes at Ashley Pond and any donations she receives she plows back into her work at the church. 

KokHeong was distraught when Matthew Shepard was killed in Wyoming for being a gay man and so she and some friends started a local chapter of PFLAG, and volunteered for the New Mexico Hate Crimes Hotline, where she answered phones. She became a domestic violence responder and would visit families to help the abused spouse or serve as translator for those whose primary language was Mandarin. She is the kind of person who when she sees a need in the community that she thinks she can fill, she doesn’t wait for anybody else to take care of it. She steps up. 

KokHeong is an avid gardener and in addition to her home garden, the county gardens, and PEEC, she has dedicated countless hours to all phases of the work involved in establishing a Food Forest, which offers vegetables, fruits, herbs, and gardening lessons to the Los Alamos community. She spearheaded the planning meetings, sources the plants, and promoted

permaculture practices. The butterfly garden and the “meadow,” which is alive in late summer with asters, are some of the beautiful works that KokHeong intentionally nurtures. She wrote a monthly column called “Sustainable Gardening Advocacy,” which combined her passions for both gardening and sustainability. Many of these activities are rooted in her belief that quality foods and beautiful spaces are essential to living a good life, and sharing is the way. 

During Covid, KokHeong saw empty shelves at the store and realized that people couldn’t always get all the food they needed. With her friends from the church, she launched Gaia’s Pantry (in honor of the Greek Goddess of Nature), a bear-proof pantry located at the church where people can donate or take food as needed. Recently, a small refrigerator was added for perishable foods. This was an effort involving many people inspired by her commitment to projects. KokHeong keeps her eye on the pantry and makes sure it stays stocked with food for anyone who wants to share a little or take what they need. 

KokHeong believes in thrift, sharing with others, sustainable living, and reducing her impact on the environment. She drives a hybrid car but doesn’t travel much anymore and is happy that her needs can be met in the first home she and Mike bought and have lived in since 1979, in the communities she became deeply involved in, and in the rich variety of Los Alamos, where she leads a balanced life and takes pride in combining American culture and English language with her Malaysian and Chinese traditions and language. KokHeong has philosophies from Chinese and American cultures that she has woven throughout her life and that have benefited the community. She is the first to acknowledge, however, that if you don’t have support from other people, your passion won’t flower. She has a lot of friends in the community, and together they make things happen.

Los Alamos 2022 Living Treasure Patrick D. Soran/Photo by Jim O’Donnell

Patrick D. Soran

Pat Soran has been a dedicated volunteer in Los Alamos and the surrounding communities for over 25 years. He has been very generous with his time, his expertise, his talent, and his financial resources. He has been a leader and an inspiration to many others through his work.
He and his wife, Diane, first moved to Los Alamos in 1972 with their two children, David and Denise. The first ten years were spent working at the laboratory, raising children, and building a home on evenings and weekends. Around the time the children were in middle school, Pat was lured to Houston by the oil industry. However, after a few years the oil industry went into a depression, Pat had opportunities to return to Los Alamos or join the laboratory at Livermore, California. Since Pat and Diane had uprooted the children earlier, they decided to let them pick where the family should move next. They chose Livermore because of its proximity to Oakland and the Bay Area.

In 1992, Pat and Diane, by then empty nesters, returned to Los Alamos and resumed work at the lab. Unfortunately, within a few years Diane became ill and passed in 1996. Following that devastating loss, Pat found it difficult to work and decided to get involved in volunteer activities with non-profit organizations. One of the first things he did was join the local Kiwanis Club, an organization dedicated to service. Meanwhile, donations in Diane’s memory grew, so Pat and the children decided they should use the money to improve the San Ildefonso park where the kids played when they were young. Pat contacted the county’s Parks Department, which provided design expertise and had access to suppliers, and used the donated money to purchase new playground equipment. Working with volunteers from Kiwanis, the San Ildefonso tot lot was repaired and rebuilt. After completing the San Ildefonso tot lot rebuild, Pat determined that the other 15 tot lots in the county had not been upgraded for over 30 year. These “little jewels” in the neighborhood needed upgrading and over a period of ten years, Pat, along with LAC Staff, Kiwanis and volunteers from the county who worked on their Saturdays, were able to upgrade all of them.

Each year, Kiwanis hosts a breakfast with Santa, and for 25 years, Pat was Santa. He learned early not to eat or drink after midnight the night before because of the complications of dealing with the Santa suit and sitting all morning with dozens of kids on his lap. He regrets that he didn’t write down some of the stories the children told Santa, Kids do say amazing things.

During this time, Pat heard about a program called Lunch Buddies, which pairs adults with elementary school age children for lunch and conversation. A drug-prevention program, Lunch Buddies identifies young people who need a little guidance in life. Pat wanted to start a program here, and the woman who introduced the program to him, Dena DiGanghi, had funding from a source in northern New Mexico. Pat enlisted the support of the schools and was able to get a grant of $10,000 from the LANL Foundation, which covered stipends for the school counselors. Over five years, the program grew from just a few adults to over 120; matching the adults with the children and managing the program became almost a full-time job, so it was turned over to Big Brothers/ Big Sisters.

In 1998, Pat married Ann Hayes, another lab employee with grown children, and they both retired on the same day in 1999. Ann’s daughter, Dr. Leslie Hayes, a physician in Española, asked Pat to get involved with the Crisis Center of Northern New Mexico, so he joined the board of directors and served for about ten years, seven of which he was president of the board. The experience opened his eyes to domestic violence. However, he reached a point where

In 1998, Pat married Ann Hayes, another lab employee with grown children, and they both
retired on the same day in 1999. Ann’s daughter, Dr. Leslie Hayes, a physician in Española,
asked Pat to get involved with the Crisis Center of Northern New Mexico, so he joined the
board of directors and served for about ten years, seven of which he was president of the
board. The experience opened his eyes to domestic violence. However, he reached a point
where it was too emotionally draining and he was looking for something more peaceful.

Ann and Pat had always participated in the United Way of Northern New Mexico (UWNNM)
both at the Lab and as retirees. In 2014, they were asked to co-chair the annual campaign.
Rather than serving on the board, they participated in that year’s program review. Kristy
Ortega, the UWNNM executive director at that time, arranged visits to each of the agencies
seeking funds. These visits and subsequent program reviews presented the needs and efforts
of the non-profits in the northern New Mexico communities. An important lesson from the
program reviews and visitations was the lack of sustainability of the non-profits.

While doing program reviews for United Way, Pat met Cindy Rooney, who was not yet the
chancellor at UNM-LA. UNM-LA was struggling financially, and they wanted to ask the voters
to approve a mil levy, so Cindy recruited Pat to help. The effort in 2013 failed, to the great
disappointment of all involved, but they didn’t give up, and in 2017 a second request was
passed by the voters. Its success has helped sustain the local campus. Pat also served on
UNM-LA’s Advisory Board from 2016 until 2019. He encouraged staff, inspired students, and
attended events on campus, regularly attending the commencement events. When he
discovered that UNM_LA did not have a commencement mace for graduation he designed and
crafted the one that is in use today. Ann and Pat started an endowment with the Los Alamos
Community Foundation to benefit UNM-LA, which they believe is a precious asset in Los
Alamos.

For the past 25 years, Pat has been the “chief pyrotechnic” for the Kiwanis Fourth of July
fireworks show at Overlook Park, a huge draw for the community. He coordinated the Federal
licensing and acquisition of the fireworks, helped program the show, and guided the setup on
the day of the event. Recently, Pat and the two other men who have worked by his side over
the years have decided to let younger people take over the fireworks so they can relax and
enjoy the fireworks.

When the Los Alamos Community Foundation was formed, Pat saw an opportunity to help
sustain the community’s non-profits. He discussed the possibilities with David Izraelevitz and
was asked to join the board. Pat has played a key role in the growth of the organization,
committing his time, energy, and talent to the foundation. This is Pat’s passion now to make
sure the community is aware of the LA Community Foundation, its good works, and to ensure
its continued growth.

Pat also mows the grass at the county golf course. He wanted to do it as a volunteer, but the
county doesn’t allow that, so he works part time and donates the bulk of his salary to the
Community Foundation. His early morning lawn mowing gives him a chance to commune with
the deer and coyotes and enjoy the outdoors.

Pat believes that you can do a lot of things if you don’t care who gets the credit, an idea he
attributes to the late President Ronald Reagan. “This community has been good to me,” Pat
says, so his goal is to leave a legacy to the Los Alamos Community Foundation so his
resources can continue to do good work for the community.

Los Alamos 2022 Living Treasure Sharon Snyder/Photo by Jim O’Donnell

Sharon Snyder

Sharon Snyder has had a long association with Los Alamos, having moved here with her family when she was almost 13 years old. Her family was one of five families that moved here from Texas when machinist jobs were being cut back in the oil industry in Texas, but the laboratory in Los Alamos was hiring machinists. So Sharon moved here as part of a ready made community, and in reunions with the children from the other families, they reflected that the move to Los Alamos was one of the best things that happened to them. From the beginning, she was fascinated with the interesting buildings and people of this community. She was intrigued by the homes and occupants of Bathtub Row. During her senior year in high school she wrote an English paper about the Ranch School and wrote columns for the Los Alamos Monitor, where she interned for the owners, the McMahon’s, who taught her the basics of journalism. She majored in journalism at the University of New Mexico, where Tony Hillerman, one of her professors, honed her skills as a writer and encouraged storytelling. 

With degrees in education and journalism, Sharon became a teacher in the Albuquerque Public Schools. She also has degrees in English, health, and social studies, so in addition to being a teacher, she is also a lifelong learner. In the intervening years, while her career unfolded in Albuquerque, she never lost her love of Los Alamos. A life-changing event occurred when, helping a friend pack up her house, she found the book, Footprints, by Peggy Pond Church, daughter of Ashley Pond, who started the Los Alamos Ranch School. Instead of packing, Sharon sat down and read the entire book. Sharing the stories of the people and places of Los Alamos history became a life-long passion. 

In 2002, while still living in Rio Rancho and because of her ongoing interest in Los Alamos history, she joined the board of the Los Alamos Historical Society. Each month she drove to Los Alamos to participate in the meetings. Following her retirement in 20XX, Sharon moved back to Los Alamos and became a full-time volunteer as publications director of the Historical Society, in addition to her other duties on the board. Sharon is now the longest serving member of the board. 

In 2012, Sharon launched Bathtub Row Press, the society’s publishing house, which has brought many books about the community’s varied history to life. Often the books published under the imprint are written by Los Alamos natives, and under Sharon’s leadership and her outreach efforts, Bathtub Row Press has become well known. In addition, Sharon is a writer and editor with the “soul and natural talent of a poet,” according to Hedy Dunn, director emerita of the Historical Society. She wrote a book about the life of Peggy Pond Church called At Home on the Slope of the Mountains. According to Hedy, Sharon understood that the story of the individual cannot be told without a complete understanding of the setting, and Sharon’s poetic writing style succeeded in capturing the essence of both Peggy and the land she loved. Sharon has devoted friends within the Ashley Pond family. She much regrets that Tony Hillerman, who gave her advice during the writing of the book, didn’t live to see its publication. 

Sharon co-authored with Toni Michnovicz Gibson an illustrated book, Los Alamos and the Pajarito Plateau, which captures images and legacies of the past. She has edited 10 books for Bathtub Row Press, edited articles from the society for its quarterly newsletter, and written many articles for the Los Alamos Daily Post. She truly is the storytelling historian of the Pajarito Plateau,” according to Cherie Trottier, the current president of the board of the Historical Society.

Probably the largest task Sharon has tackled to date is orchestrating the publication of a two volume book written by the laboratory’s former director, Siegfried Hecker. She oversaw the editing of dozens of articles by American and Russian scientists, and was involved in every aspect of the book’s production. She was the driving force behind every aspect of the production of this highly acclaimed book, which has also been used as a university textbook. 

In September 2017, the Historical Society was planning to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Ranch School, and there was an interest in contacting as many alumni as possible to see if they would be interested in attended a reunion. Sharon wanted to find out if any of the “boys” were still alive (by then they would be quite elderly) and how to contact them or their living relatives. She was interested in how the time they spent at the Ranch School affected their youth and the trajectory of their lives. Sharon reached out to Bob Hicks, another person who grew up in Los Alamos but who has lived elsewhere for many years. Bob has a knack for online research and genealogy and a special interest in Los Alamos history and was willing to do research remotely. He helped Sharon track down as many of the 550 “lost boys” as possible (250 of the alumni served in WWII and nine did not return). Out of that effort, a few of the alumni and their families participated in the reunion, and Sharon earned their friendship and respect. The biographies of these men is an ongoing research project. 

Two decades into her service on the board, Sharon’s workload never seems to diminish. She has become the de-facto author and editor-in-chief. Under Sharon’s leadership and because of her outreach efforts, Bathtub Row Press has blossomed. In 2018, she was named Volunteer of the Year by the New Mexico Association of Museums. Sharon has made Los Alamos history come alive for untold numbers of readers and has documented much of our history for future generations.