Jean Ridling Padilla has always been drawn to the world of music. While growing up in Arkansas, she studied piano and sang in the church choir. Her parents and siblings, all accomplished musicians, performed together often, filling their home with song. When Padilla moved to Santa Fe in the 1940s, she joined the choir at St. John’s United Methodist Church and remained a member for more than forty years. So, it’s no surprise that she took it upon herself to compile the biography of Daniel C. McKenzie, one of Santa Fe’s leading musicians and band directors, who just happened to be her late husband’s grandfather.
“McKenzie died in l949, so I didn’t know him very long, but he was very kind to me,” Padilla said. “I was so impressed with what he accomplished musically for Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico that I decided to investigate his background as a family history project,” Padilla said.
For several years, Padilla combed through old newspaper articles, went through archival material on St. Michael’s College and interviewed McKenzie’s family and friends. She soon discovered that he had been greatly influenced by the La Salle Christian Brothers who, in 1859, came to Santa Fe from France to found St. Michael’s College, where McKenzie, born in Las Animas, Colo., in 1880, attended school.
As a young boy, McKenzie played trumpet in a brass band founded by professor Francisco Perez, who organized La Banda de Santa Fe shortly after the American Civil War. In 1909, the band became known as Los Conquistadores, and is the predecessor of today’s Santa Fe Concert Band.
For 40 years, McKenzie served as the band’s leader, as well as the band director at St. Michael’s High School, the U.S. Indian School and St. Catherine Indian School, and helped organize the Santa Fe High School band. The bandleader’s rich professional and personal history can be found at www.santafeconcertband.org thanks Padilla’s research.
Now 89, Jean Padilla was born in Hatfield, Ark. in 1923. She is the eldest of eight children born to Little Ridling and Helena Marion Lehman. Four of her sisters are still living.
She married Daniel Padilla in 1942, near the beginning of Word War II, when he was stationed in Arkansas. After the war, in 1945, the couple moved to Santa Fe. “There was no question that we were going to make our home here,” Padilla said.
Padilla began her career as the first Methodist substitute lay teacher at Guadalupe Elementary School in 1951. “The Dominican nuns were wonderful. I was so impressed with their commitment to education and religious devotion. Each morning started with the entire school praying the rosary,” Padilla said.
Padilla also worked in retail and held secretarial jobs with the state and federal governments. In 1974, she was elected national president of the Association of Text Book Administrators, the second woman in the United States to be elected to that position.
A former member of the Historical Society of New Mexico and the Santa Fe Archaeological Society, Padilla thrives on her involvement with her community and the area’s history. For several years, she was on the board of the Friends of the Santa Fe Library and served as a volunteer at Christus St. Vincent Medical Center.
Padilla’s husband, Daniel, spent his career as the assistant director of recreation for Santa Fe, serving as supervisor for the Agua Fría Youth Center, now the Monica Roybal Youth Center. Padilla also volunteered his time as a referee for the city’s Little League baseball program. Later, he became a deacon at St. John the Baptist Parish, where he worked with the Rev. George Salazar to establish a soup kitchen. His wife, also a religious devotee, taught Sunday school.
Daniel Padilla died in 1994. The couple were married for 50 years and have two daughters, four grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren. Now that Jean Ridling Padilla is officially retired she enjoys spending time with her family and watching UNM sports. The rabid Lobos fan received both her bachelor’s and master’s degree in history at The University of New Mexico.
Padilla learned early on about the value of education. She said, “We lived through the Great Depression, but my father was a school teacher, so we survived better than most.”
Ana Pacheco’s weekly tribute to our community elders appears every Sunday. She can be reached at 505-474-2800.