Since he moved from Pennsylvania to the West in 1958, Peter Meyer’s appearance has certainly changed. For many years, he wore a coat and tie while working in the family clothing business selling fine apparel at Erie’s P.A. Meyer & Sons. Today, he fashions his long gray hair in a ponytail, wears turquoise earrings, a matching necklace and blue jeans.
“When I branched out on my own and opened my first clothing store in Tempe [Ariz.], I had never seen a pair of Levi’s. But my clients were mostly farmers and Mormons, so that’s what I sold,” he said.
Peter Meyer was born in 1924 with a merchant’s acumen in his blood. His grandfather, Polador Athanesish Meyer, who came to the U.S. from Poland in 1880, opened the family’s clothing store and, with the help of his two sons and three grandsons, saw it prosper through the late 1950s.
In 1958, however, the two brothers parted ways. That’s when Meyer headed West in search of his identity.
After running his first store in Tempe, he went on to manage retail outlets for Hanny’s Clothing in Phoenix, and later worked for the Fashion Bar in Colorado Springs, Colo., managing two of their stores.
As a child, Meyer began studying the piano and dreamed of becoming a concert pianist. But like so many people who came of age in the 1930s and 1940s, he found his life’s ambitions dramatically altered by World War II.
In 1942, while attending Pennsylvania State University, Meyer enlisted in the Marines and served his tour in the South Pacific. Due to his retail background, he was given the job of quartermaster in charge of supplies until his military discharge in 1945. When he returned home, he went back to college and received a degree in economics in 1947 from Allegheny College.
“Much to the chagrin of my parents, I didn’t immediately go into the family business. Instead, in 1948, I went to California and began working for the Progressive Party, which was way, way to the left and a real ‘no-no’ for most people. While driving home after that adventure, my car broke down in Albuquerque. I was enamored with the town. That’s when I had my first inkling that my destiny would be fulfilled in the West,” Meyer said.
When the family business closed, Meyer was married with two sons.
“I told my wife, Evelyn, that I was moving to Tempe and hoped that she and my sons would join me. Fortunately, they were willing to move,” he said.
In 1984, Meyer’s wife died, and he met Betty Benedict in Colorado Springs. They married in 1985, and their union brought together six children and seven grandchildren.
Both enthusiasts of The Santa Fe Opera and the Santa Fe Music Festival, the couple came to New Mexico each summer and also visited the area’s Indian pueblos. In 1988, they purchased a home at Cochiti Lake, on Cochiti Pueblo, and became members of a community of homeowners with 99-year property leases. Meyer, who is 88, immediately became active in the community and served for more than two years on the town assembly.
“When I lived in Tempe, I helped my brother, Louis, register Native American voters on the Hopi and Navajo reservations. My wife, Betty, is descended from the Powhatan Indians in Virginia and the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. These two connections to our nation’s indigenous people provided me with a different outlook on life,” Meyer said.
Meyer is a regular participant in powwow dances and creates gourd art and jewelry that he sells throughout the area. On Tuesday, he and his wife will be helping Nelson Pacheco, the former governor of Kewa Pueblo, host guests at his home on New Year’s Day.
In addition to his work with the pueblos, Meyer dabbles in the art of stained glass, teaches gourd art at the community center in Peña Blanca and is a volunteer usher at Albuquerque’s Popejoy Hall.
Looking back on his long life and his decision to move to New Mexico, Meyer said, “My wife, Betty, and I are looking forward to renewing our lease at Cochiti Pueblo in 2068.”
Ana Pacheco’s weekly tribute to our community elders appears every Sunday. She can be reached at 474-2800.