By Valerie KimbleThe sun was trying to part a sea of grey clouds last Saturday morning, as if to comfort the family and friends who had come to San Miguel Church to pay last respects to Lonnie Zamora.
El Defensor Chieftain
El Defensor Chieftain
Mourners were in their pews when Zamora's wife, Mary, and her sister arrived; the Zamora siblings were there with Lonnie and Mary's two grandchildren.
San Miguel pastor, Father Andy Pavlak, looked upward. "Look," he said to the family. "The sun is trying to peek out of the clouds; soon it will fully shine and Lonnie will see a glimpse of heaven."
The pastor, during the homily portion of the Mass, noted that Lonnie's was a life well-lived; and that Zamora's deep faith sustained that life.
"He was a servant of the community," said Father Pavlak of Zamora, who for years wore the uniform of a City of Socorro police officer, before eventually retiring from the city as its landfill supervisor.
Zamora was, of course, in uniform and on patrol that day in April 1964, when he spotted an elliptical-shaped, flying object land in a field on the south end of town.
But that event is only a small part of Zamora's story.
Lonnie and the former Mary Baca met at Reynold's Café, a local gathering spot run by Angie and Charley Reynolds. They began to date and in time were married in the same church where their children were later baptized.
Pavlak related during the service how he was lamenting not having had a chance to sample Lonnie's chile, which he had been told was incredibly good.
"Have you ever eaten the chile at the fiestas?" Pavlak said he was asked.
"Well, yes," the priest replied.
"Then," came the reply, "you've eaten Lonnie's chile."
Zamora also was known for his potato salad and macaroni salad — for culinary skills that Father Pavlak said were a great gift.
Zamora, he said, was a good neighbor and a good friend; and, for 55 years, he was a good husband to Mary.
The pastor noted that for the couple's 50th wedding anniversary, they repeated their vows in the church where they were married, with former San Miguel pastor Father Bill Sanchez presiding.
Zamora never sought the limelight for the event that occurred on that mesa 45 years ago; rather, he came to shun interview requests and similar intrusions.
Perhaps it was that event the parish priest was referring to, in part, when he spoke of how a person's character is shaped by the trials and tribulations of life, much as gold metal only gleams after much buffing.
Ironically, the event of 1964 and Zamora's role in it, came front and center again as part of a request to the Socorro City Council to erect a marker of some sort to recognize the spot of the Zamora sighting.
City Clerk Patrick Salome had a role in that effort.
"Lonnie was a 36-year employee of the city," Salome said.
Zamora worked for the city police department for 15 years before being named landfill supervisor, a job he had for 21 years until his retirement.
Zamora met with Salome, City Councilman Peter Romero and several others only three weeks before his passing to discuss erecting the marker.
Salome said he was reluctant to bring up the issue with Zamora, because the sighting, and all the questions it raised, was not a subject Zamora often discussed.
"In all the time I knew him, since 1987 when I came to work for the city, Lonnie and I talked about a lot of things," Salome said. "There were times he'd open up about (the sighting), but he acted as if it was nothing major, nothing out of the ordinary."
Salome said the actual sighting took place on private property, so the city is working with a church near the site to secure an easement for locating the marker.
"Maybe now is a good time to at least record it," said Salome, adding that he is developing a summary of the events of that April day from articles — including those published by Leona and Bob Klipsch in linotype editions of El Defensor Chieftain — and from books and other published material.
The community has never really embraced the incident, said Salome, "but we should at least acknowledge that something did happen there."
The city clerk agreed that Zamora never capitalized on what he saw that day — "and I really think he could have," Salome said.
"It seemed that he was happy with the way things turned out," he said.