by Pat Veltri
RATON — College graduation is a major accomplishment in any young person’s life. Most graduations follow the same sequence of actions: with the strains of Pomp and Circumstance reverberating in the air, a student waits offstage to claim his or her degree, while the parents of said student sit in the audience bursting with pride, and perhaps cheering and shouting when their graduate’s name is called to receive the coveted diploma. There is an interesting twist to the graduation story of Dennie Gum, new director of Raton’s Arthur Johnson Memorial Library. Gum’s mother wasn’t in the audience celebrating a proud moment – she was lined up, alongside her daughter, waiting to collect her own degree.
Gum, born in Nashville, Tennessee, but raised mostly in Maxwell, New Mexico, and a 1992 graduate of Maxwell High School, shares the memory: “After graduation (from high school) I attended Luna Community College in Springer, New Mexico. At the time I was attending college, my mother had decided to return to school; we were both going for our business degrees.
But after a time I changed my mind and decided to go for a degree in auto mechanics. In May of 1995, I graduated with honors from Luna Community College with a degree in Auto Mechanics.
The best thing about that graduation day was to walk the walk with my mother who also graduated with honors, but in Business Administration. There was supposed to be someone to walk between us because we were in alphabetical order, but as luck would have it, that person didn’t show up. So I got to follow her onstage, both of us with cords and both with diplomas in our hands.”
Empowered with her degree in Auto Mechanics, Gum was ready to face the future. Interestingly enough, along the path of life, Gum took a detour and rerouted her career map to a totally unrelated field.
Auto mechanic to library director
How did she find her way from auto mechanics to library work? The simple explanation is that she was indirectly influenced by her mother. Gum considered her mother as a positive influence in her life,even though they sometimes experienced differences in opinion. Gum says, “She was a single mother trying to do her best for two small children. She worked many odd jobs but she came to life when she found her knack at the Springer Elementary School Library. She later went to work as the head librarian for Maxwell School’s library. At that time I was in the ninth grade and by my senior year I had started working for her part time at the school library. History was always my favorite subject and where else would I find the escape I need the most? Well, in books of course.”
Gum worked quite a few jobs, in many different areas, before she accepted her niche in library work. Gum’s work experience is eclectic. She worked in her school library in high school. After college, she worked with her biological father in a small automotive repair shop in Springer, where she enjoyed rebuilding motors and carburetors, while doing a few contracted jobs on the side. “My father passed away a few years after my graduation and I couldn’t bear to continue something we shared together. So I went out and pursued my business career in secretarial and library related fields, which gave me joy again.”, she states.
Gum held odd jobs here and there, most of the time working two jobs simultaneously. She says, “As I was working at the New Mexico Boys School in Springer, I had the opportunity of working for the Fred Macaron Library part time. Then I moved to Raton. I was working odd jobs again; nothing really felt like the right place. I worked as a secretary for an attorney and did bookkeeping. After a small break I saw an ad for the Arthur Johnson Memorial Library and said (to myself), ‘Hey, I miss that work’ and I was happy to take the position of Library Aide in August of 2005. In May of 2006 I was promoted to Assistant Librarian and in June of the next year I received the second title of Office Manager. So here we are seventeen and a half years later and I am now the Director.”
Gum is excited about being promoted to library director. “I have enjoyed the ups and downs through the seventeen years I’ve been here,” she says. “I am grateful for all of the support and encouragement that I have received from different Library Boards, the City of Raton, and most of all the patrons.”
Library update underway
In her position as the new library director, Gum has set some goals that she would like to accomplish during her tenure. Her number one goal is to tie the library to the community. “This is a memorial library,” she notes, “and I want to showcase that to our public and the public passing through, to continue what the previous librarians have started but in these current times.” Raton’s city library, located originally in Ripley Park, was renamed Arthur Johnson Memorial Library, in memory of Arthur Johnson, a local banker, when the library was moved to its present location, (the former post office building). As the story goes, Johnson’s widow pledged $10,000 to the library if it was renamed in memory of her husband, thus “Memorial” as part of the name.
Another of Gum’s priorities is to make the library “a clean and enjoyable place for people to come and spend time.” She is also working on designing “fun and exciting projects and programs” for patrons, as well as teaching people of all ages how to use library databases to search for the information they need.
The library has been full of busy activity during the short time that Gum has been on the job. Under the direction of Jolene Greene, Community Facility Manager for the city of Raton, and Gum’s immediate supervisor, a soft remodel is taking place, which includes painting, replacing incandescent light bulbs with LED lighting, and installing new carpet.
According to Gum there are other plans under development, “We have started to update the library spaces that have been dormant for some time and have started to make some spaces more functional. We are working on creating a game room so people can come and play video games on PS4 or Xbox One and we have a game board for checkers or chess. We are pressing forward with digitizing files and photos for easier research.”
Also in the works will be the return of craft hour twice a month for ages fourteen and up, and possibly a movie night or game night a few times a month.
Thinking forward, Gum encourages patrons to contact her at 575-445-9711 with suggestions or ideas for other programs and projects of interest to the community that could be carried out in the future.
Plus rocks and publishing
Gum, a multi-talented person with many skills, possesses an adventurous spirit. In her spare time she enjoys exploring different subjects, and trying new things to open up her world view.
She is currently hooked on rock hounding in New Mexico and Colorado, and hopes to turn the rocks that she has collected into jewelry.
She has taught herself how to paint in different art mediums, including watercolor, acrylic and oil.
One of Gum’s favorite leisure activities is writing. She already had a budding interest in writing at the start of her library career but was unsure about how to move forward with it. While Gum was becoming acclimated to her job, fate intervened when well known mystery/western writer, Steven Havill, who was living in Raton at the time, conducted a writing class at the library. Gum says, “I decided to joint the group and was able to fine tune my first novel. There was no stopping me. I had the bug and so far I have published five titles. My books are geared to adults. Most are romance fiction with a hint of the paranormal and my last novel was a mystery. I have future books in the wings just waiting to be born.”