Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Roswell resident Vera Mein-Taormina is truly the human embodiment of agape, which in Christianity is considered to be the love originating from God for humankind. Only God knows for certain, but it’s probably not a coincidence that she was born on Dec. 25, the day on which Christ’s birthday is celebrated.
A graduate of the former St. Peter’s Catholic School, Mein-Taormina had three daughters and one son with her first husband, Henry Alfred Mein, who she married in 1959. Henry died in 2004.
After Henry passed away, she married Dominic Taormina, who died in 2013. The couple didn’t have children of their own, but that didn’t stop her from expanding her role as a mother.
Mein-Taormina and her husband took guardianship of his nephew, Michael, who was 8 at the time, and his niece Rosalie, who was 9. Both were wards of the state of New York and could no longer be cared for by family members there.
Her nephew, Michael Taormina, now in his 20s and working at The Home Depot, still lives with her in a large ranch house on Taylor Street. Rosalie lives in Albuquerque.
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Also living with Mein-Taormina is Alice Martinez, who is not a blood relative. Martinez was born in Mexico but moved to the United States when she was only three months old. Her decades-long legal battle for U.S. citizenship was featured in an article in the Roswell Daily Record in April 2016.
Like Mein-Taormina, Martinez attends St. Peter Catholic Church, where a group of parishioners organized an effort to help Martinez, who was living destitute in a dilapidated house on West Forest Street previously owned by Martinez’s mother. Without legal status, Martinez, who was 81 on the day she was sworn in as a citizen, wasn’t eligible for Medicare and Social Security, though she has lived in the U.S. nearly all her life and worked for many of those years.
Without a second thought, Mein-Taormina took Martinez into her home as if she were family.
Mein-Taormina worked for the Army & Air Force Exchange Service at Walker Air Force Base, a retailer on U.S. Army and Air Force installations worldwide, for 10 years. She also did bookkeeping and computer work for local medical offices.
Mein-Taormina also kept herself busy teaching confirmation classes at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Roswell and the Catholic church in Dexter.
Perhaps a more modern definition of agape could include the often-heard catchphrase “paying it forward,” which means to pass along the good will or fortune you are blessed with to others.
“All the youth would come together and the church would give us bread,” Mein-Taormina said. “I would take the bread to Dexter and the kids knew people who didn’t have anything to eat. The kids would take it to whoever needed it.”
When the kids at St. John heard she had plans for a trip to New York City, they kept asking, “Mrs. Mein, can we go?”
“I ended up taking 12 kids plus my own,” she said.
The children were split up into two households, one in New York City and the other in Yonkers, a city on the Hudson River near The Big Apple.
“My sister-in-law and best man from the wedding (to Henry) took them sight-seeing in New York, to the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building,” she said. “To this day, those kids still thank me. This was something these children had.”
Her son, Hank Mein, was inspired by his mother’s love for the Poor Clare Monastery in Roswell.
“After we got married, Henry and I decided to do a lot of work for the Poor Clares,” she said.
The Poor Clares live in the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi and have taken a vow of poverty. Along with hard work to sustain themselves, the sisters rely on the generosity of others.
Each year since fourth grade, Hank made up a set of luminaries to light the path to the monastery on East 19th Street. Hank’s good deeds were featured in an article in the Vistas section of the Dec. 24, 1989, Roswell Daily Record. In that year, he set up more than 600 luminaries. He now works on a nearby ranch.
Mein-Taormina said she has always opened her door to teenagers, even the ones who can get a bit rascally. She said one kid in the neighborhood got sick at school, and when Mein-Taormina came home, there he was asleep on her coach. Another boy got drunk at a party and slept it off on her coach.
“Our home is the the Lord’s home,” she said. “Kids are always welcome.”
One of Mein-Taormina’s most memorable acts of kindness was helping a young mother with a newborn who had no place to live and no clothes for the baby. Mein-Taormina said she talked to her husband, Henry, and he agreed to help the woman. Parishioner’s at St. Peter also pitched in.
Her son, Hank, gave up his room for the woman, who was a migrant. That happened on Christmas day. The mother was crying and Hank was worried because the woman said, “the baby didn’t have a father.”
Hank said, “I’m the baby’s father. Just let me know what the baby needs.”
The story had a happy ending. It turned out the woman did have a husband, but she didn’t know where he was. Three months later, the husband, who was living in Kansas, sent the woman two bus tickets so she and their daughter could move to Kansas.
Mein-Taormina said she extended that same kindness to a friend of hers who retired from a job in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
She had all of her belongings in her car, and Mein-Taormina let the woman stay at her house rent free.
“I looked at her and said, ‘You don’t have to pay. I only have to pay for gas and lights and there is food in the freezer.’”
Mein-Taormina said the woman cleaned house for her. Three months later, she got a new job and moved back to Las Vegas.
“She was only here for a season,” Mein-Taormina said. “She took care of Alice (Martinez) while I was in the hospital.”
In closing the interview, Mein-Taormina again stressed that her house is open to anyone who needs a place to stay.
“When Dominic passed away, this became our Lord’s house,” she said. “If someone is sick or has no place to stay they are welcome to stay here.”
Community News reporter Timothy P. Howsare can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or email@example.com.