Emiteria “Matie” Martinez Robinson Viles died 47 years ago, but the foundation she created to help orphaned children from Las Vegas, Mora, Wagon Mound and Pecos go to college celebrated its 50th anniversary in October.
Since its inception, the foundation has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships to more than 800 students from West Las Vegas, Robertson, Mora, Pecos and Wagon Mound high schools.
The Viles Foundation is ranked among New Mexico’s top charitable foundations, but what most people don’t know is that the foundation was made possible by a Hispanic woman who was herself orphaned as a child.
Martinez was born on March 3, 1888, in the small village of Los Golondrinas, just seven miles southwest of Mora. Her parents were Jos Ignacio Martinez Jr. and Manuela Manzanares, but Emiteria never spoke about how her parents died, only that she was raised by her grandparents, Jos Ignacio Martinez and Rosalia Ribera Martinez.
Around 1896, when Emiteria was only 8, she was sent to serve as a live-in maid and nurse for the family of Isaiah and Elizabeth Robinson. What began as a temporary arrangement evolved into a permanent one as Emiteria, who became known as Matie (MAY-tee) was adopted and became a member of the Robinson household.
At the Robinson ranch, Matie met George A. “Skipper” Viles, and they were married in 1908. Eventually, the couple moved to the Upper Pecos Canyon, where they were hired to manage and operate Mountain View Ranch where wealthy businessmen brought their families and friends to the dude ranch. Skipper befriended the wealthy entrepreneurs and many of them began alerting him about new investment opportunities. In 1920, Skipper and Matie bought the Mountain View Ranch and continued to operate it until 1945, when they sold it for a handsome profit. Upon his death in 1950, Skipper left the bulk of his estate to Matie.
When she discovered the amount of the fortune she had, Matie found it difficult to comprehend its extent. Her lawyer, Morris Shillinglaw, of Las Vegas suggested some form of philanthropic contribution.
In 1955, Matie, her friend Eleanor Wald and Shillinglaw became the founding members of the board of directors of the Viles Foundation.
“Matie wanted to give scholarships to little orphaned girls, but we couldn’t do that because their extended families would take the money for themselves. We decided to wait until the girls graduated from high school, but Morris Shillinglaw said the bylaws would be very much better if we had both boys and girls,” Wald said.
Wald said Matie’s vocation was always that of a housewife and after buying the Mountain View Ranch, she was the chief cook and maintenance director, supervising a small staff of women who cooked, cleaned and maintained the dining and sleeping quarters.
Wald said the foundation is a wonderful gift for orphaned boys and girls and one-half orphaned boys and girls.
“I didn’t do anything. I was just there,” Wald said. “When people said this will not work, I said it has to work, even if it’s just $1,000 it will be good, and it has now grown to $2 million offering scholarships to more than 800 students from this area.”
LouElla Marr-Montoya, a Highlands Alumni Association board member, Viles Foundation board member and past scholarship recipient, said, “The potential benefits of higher education are enormous to a person’s quality of life and ability to achieve their professional and personal goals. The Viles Foundation awards five-year renewable scholarships for full-time students at the college they choose.”
Highlands Alumni Association Director Jim Mandarino praised the Viles Foundation for all it has done for Highlands students over the years.
“This scholarship has literally meant the difference for a higher education for hundreds of our university’s students who might not have had that chance. Many went on to become fantastic Highlands graduates who are very accomplished in their professions and leaders in their communities,” Mandarino said.
A few locals who have been the beneficiaries of Viles scholarships include Highlands Regent and former District Attorney Jesus Lopez; Memorial Middle School Principal Sandra Madrid; Las Vegas Mayor Tony Marquez; County Manager Les Montoya; former West Las Vegas Superintendent Barbara Perea-Casey; state Children, Youth and Families Department regional attorney Oneida L’Esperance; and Hispano Round Table Director Juan Jos Pea.
Speaking at the Viles Foundation Banquet during homecoming week, Perea-Casey said her father died when she was 15 and her mother lost her job just a few months later, so money was scarce. When she graduated from West in 1959, she applied for the Viles Scholarship, but there were more applicants than scholarships.
“I was devastated and was crying in my grandmother’s kitchen. My grandmother told me to dry my tears and go to Highlands and don’t come home until you have a scholarship,” Perea-Casey said.
After getting an academic scholarship for her first year of college, Perea-Casey was able to finally convince every Viles board member she was deserving of the opportunity.
“Had it not been for the Viles Foundation Scholarship, I would not be the same person standing before you today,” Perea-Casey said.
Les Montoya told the audience he was one of 15 children.
“I lost my mother when I was 12 years old. One thing my mom always told us was you need to get an education to become something. The great thing is we had older sisters who stood up and served as parents for the younger kids. They also pushed for us to continue our education.”
Montoya said he was dreaming of joining the U.S. Marines after high school, but his older brother told him he could do whatever he wanted after he got his college degree. The only problem with that, Montoya said, was coming up with the money.
“I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and believed sports was the number one thing in life and wasn’t too concerned about education,” Montoya said. “But given the opportunity from the Viles Foundation, I was able to earn my degree — not only I, but six of my brothers and sisters were also able to benefit from the Viles Scholarship.”
Pea spoke about the loss of his father and being raised in poverty. He also lamented the years of discrimination he experienced at the hands of educators and others.
Pea said he was able to make the honor roll during his junior and senior years and he tested 168 on the IQ test, but was always advised not to set his goals too high.
“When I was in third grade, we had a teacher named Miss Cannon and one day she got mad at the Hispanos for some reason and called us ‘stupid Mexicans,’ and I stood up and walked out, and one of the reasons I’ve never been totally opposed to Anglos is because the person who stood up and walked out with me was a guy by the name of Arthur Green,” Pea said.
Later in life, Pea decided if he was going to make a difference, he would not do it through the system, but by changing it.
“So the Viles Foundation, indirectly, was responsible for my becoming a radical, and I think we did a lot of good things. For example, as radicals, we put in the first two Hispano governors of New Mexico and the first Hispano president in the history of Highlands, in the history of New Mexico and the history of the United States. So if some of you are put off by my radical tendencies, you can thank the Viles Foundation,” Pea said to laughter and applause.
Over the past 50 years, 814 orphans or half orphans have received scholarships totaling more than $2 million. Of the 814 students, 541 are girls and 273 are boys.