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A century of serving and taking action

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Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Blanche Stephens has spent 100 years seeing things that needed to be done and then doing them. During World War II, listening to her customers’ fears motivated her to take action.

Blanche Stephens

“I was working in a beauty shop,” Stephens said. “I couldn’t stand hearing the customers come in and say, ‘I haven’t heard from my son,’ or ‘My son got hurt.’ That’s when I went off to California. Of course, the women there said the same thing, but it wasn’t as bad because I felt like I was doing something.”

She stayed with her husband’s family and got busy serving our nation.

“I got a job in the shipyard,” Stephens said. “I didn’t know about welding, but they needed help so bad that they hired me and taught me to weld. I didn’t know anything about electricity either, so I’d ask somebody to get it set up for me. They always did. We were below deck, inside the ship and it was hard to see. I worked there for about three months. I was treated great at the shipyard.”

She found Californians to be less engaging than the people back home in Roswell. When an opportunity to return home came, she took it.

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“The manager came one day and said, ‘You’re needed on the phone,’” Stephens said. “My brother had just come in on a ship from overseas. He said ‘I’m coming in, and you be ready if you’re going home.’ So I packed my bags and came back to Roswell with him.”

When Stephens returned home, she found a way to serve her country from home.

“In Roswell, I worked with the Red Cross,” she said. “I was the courier from Roswell to the base. I enjoyed that job. It was a good experience.”

After the war, Stephens continued working as a cosmetologist. She continually worked to better herself and her situation.

“It was a wonderful career,” she said. “I had wonderful friends, and they helped me. If I was going to take a lesson to better myself, they usually gave me $5 or $10 to help out. I studied new methods of hair cutting and coloring, and permanent waves.”

Wanting more out of life, and seeing a need in the community, Stephens took another bold step into her future.

“I had a friend who wanted to give this lady who owned a cosmetology school some competition,” she said. “She owned the only school and she was cruel to the beauty salons. I started the Continental Coiffure Academy of Beauty. I had a lot of students, and we grew.”

The academy was located at 108 S. Union Ave. until Stephens sold it. The business has since changed its name and moved across town. Stephens owned a number of salons around Roswell and became active in the industry’s larger efforts, too.

“I was president of the New Mexico State Board of Cosmetologists, in the ‘50s,” she said. “I worked up to the national level. I served several years.”

For years, Stephens owned and operated her salon out of a building at 701 S. Missouri Ave. It had been a two-story building when she bought it. She ran her salon upstairs and a small grocery store on the first floor. It was in that shop where she was given an opportunity to serve in a new way.

“A customer came into my beauty shop,” she said, “and told me she was trying to get someone to run for City Council. I said, ‘I always wanted to be on City Council.’ She said, ‘What are you waiting for?’ She took me down and introduced me to the council and next thing you know, I was elected.”

Stephens served on the Roswell City Council from 1978 through 1982.

“I learned a lot,” she said. “I learned how they ran the city. I learned how they tested the water. Ralph Fresquez was city manager, and they sent us to Lubbock to learn about water. He was a smart-aleck and said I had to test the water by drinking it. It passed.”

Stephens felt a strong responsibility to the community.

“We passed a law to help people to fix old houses,” she said, “and nothing was done about it. So I went to people who had houses that needed work and I told them about the new law so they could get their house fixed. I enjoyed telling people about a new law so they could do something about it.”

Stephens retired at age 98, but she’s still active in the community. She’s been on the board of directors for La Casa Family Health Center for 25 years. She’s served on the parish board of St. Peter Church. She’s a member of the Franciscan Order at St. Peter Church. She sings in the church’s choir, and she’s an Altrusan. She’s worked so hard because she felt it was necessary to build a good life.

“I was Spanish and I felt like I was going to be second-class,” she said. “But I wasn’t going to stay there. So I worked to change that. Once you get into step, you’re as equal as anybody, but you have to work for it.”

Stephens wants more people to get involved in their local government.

“I think people should run for office more,” she said. “They need to have that experience so they can know how the city runs and to get things done. To work with the city, you have to know the people. You have to know the laws. We need people who will work for the betterment of the city.”