by Guy Blasi
WALSENBURG- Barney Apodaca, 67, has lived the past 31 years in Fort Collins. Mr. Apodaca is a very unassuming individual. He has cognitive disabilities and a keen sense of humor.
Barney Apodaca and I have a mutual friend in Fort Collins, Jerry Gavaldon. “Oh yes, we all know Barney Apodaca here in Fort Collins. He’s had an incredible impact on our community showing so many with different disabilities that they can not only survive, but thrive…. He loves to take up causes and raise money for charity,” Gavaldon told me last month. It was Gavaldon’s family, among others, that helped to get the main downtown Fort Collins Post Office officially named, “The Barney Apodaca United States Post Office.”
Apodaca showed up in a blue Denver Nuggets jersey to see friends and family this past Saturday at the First Street Park in Walsenburg. It was a homecoming to the town where he was born and abandoned in the spring of 1942 in a house that no longer exists on West 4th Street. His mother was single and unmarried. Erma Valdez, a local mid-wife helped with the delivery. Within a day, Apodaca was found with just a cup of water and swaddled in rags when a passer-by heard his cries soon after he was born.
Apodaca was with his Fort Collins friend, Gary Lopez, touring southern Colorado over Labor Day weekend. At the reunion was the late Erma Valdez’s daughter, Dorothy Martinez, who was 18 in 1942. County officials came to Mrs. Valdez’s home to see if she would take care of the infant temporarily. “He was very malnourished when he came into our home. I became the Godmother, and went to St. Mary’s Church to do a conditional baptism,” Martinez said. “We didn’t have a social services department like we have now. And my mother would frequently take in children for the county.”
In the autumn of 1942, County officials came by to take Apodaca to the Colorado State Children’s Home in Pueblo. As a young adult, he was placed with Pueblo Diversified Industries, an organization that helps people with developmental disabilities, where he was trained in several different job and life skills.
“We then pick up Apodaca’s story in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when there was a move to de-institutionalize the disabled and to mainstream individuals to live more normal lives,” Lopez said. “Barney and I became friends in Fort Collins. He′s just about everybody′s friend. To find his family, I enlisted the help of some friends who are very good at genealogy. A few months later they discovered in an old Walsenburg phonebook from the 1970′s the name Margaret and Jesus De Herrera. Within an hour of receiving their news, I was on the phone with Barney′s brother, Phil, who still lives in Walsenburg,” Lopez said.
“We are so amazed and grateful to have found Barney,” Dorothy Martinez said. “I’m glad to know he’s made a positive impact in Fort Collins,” she said.
It was time to get a picture of Barney and Dorothy. “I don’t want to!” Barney shouted. “Oh, come over here Barney and take your picture with me! After all, I used to hold you when you were a tiny baby!” Martinez said. It was then that Barney’s sense of humor took over. “Oh, I hate having my picture taken,” Barney said. He then immediately started to ham it up for the camera with funny expressions or odd poses. Finally, in a still moment I was able to take a couple of photos. I am now one of those who consider Barney Apodaca a very special person.