Newspaper Obituary and Death Notice
Las Cruces Sun-News (NM) - Saturday, October 17, 2009
Deceased Name: Concepcion "Chon" Bustamante: Rodey leader leaves legacy as colonia advocate
RODEY -- Dona Ana County resident Concepcion "Chon" Bustamante, known for his dedication to improving conditions in the small colonia of Rodey, died this week after losing a battle with cancer. He was 69.
Bustamante, also a decorated Vietnam veteran, died at his Rodey home in the presence of family and friends, his wife, Virginia Bustamante, said.
A native of Rodey, Bustamante left the area after joining the Army around 1960, his wife said. The couple got married in 1967 and, less than a year later, Chon Bustamante was sent to Vietnam for a yearlong stint. It would be the first of two.
He was in the infantry and saw combat time, though Virginia Bustamante said her husband was silent about the experience.
"He never wanted to tell us stories about Vietnam," she said. "He'd have nightmares at night."
A combat-related injury during his second tour damageded the right side of his body, "mostly his right arm," Virginia Bustamante said. Her husband was sent to Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, where he received treatment on and off for about two years, she said.
Chon Bustamante was awarded several medals, including the Purple Heart, which honors those wounded in battle; the Bronze Star, noting meritorious service or acts of bravery; and the Commendation Medal, which recognizes heroism or meritorious service.
At the rank of staff sergeant, he was discharged in 1973. The couple moved to Hatch, where they spent most of the next three decades. About nine years ago, the Bustamantes relocated to Rodey, about two miles south of Hatch, where Chon owned a parcel of land.
That's when he became involved with community activism.
Do-a Ana County Commissioner Oscar Vásquez-Butler said he first met Chon Bustamante when campaigning for office in 2002. He said he'd been told Bustamante was the "community leader of Rodey, so I went to him and asked for support."
Vásquez-Butler said the two spoke about the need for improving conditions in the county's rural areas, known as colonias.
"I told him that was why I was running; that's how our relationship started," Vásquez-Butler said.
After taking office in 2003, Vásquez-Butler promoted the adoption of the county's Colonias Initiative in 2003, an effort to improve infrastructure and living conditions in the communities. He said that led to a series of meetings between county officials, state lawmakers and residents about community needs.
In Rodey, Vásquez-Butler said, Bustamante was at the forefront of advocacy, spearheading a community association.
"Chon took a very aggressive approach," Vásquez-Butler said. "He was respected by those who lived in his community."
Bustamante made several trips to Santa Fe in recent years to lobby for funding for infrastructure projects in the colonias. His work has paid off. Rodey now has sewer hook-ups and natural gas service, as well as more paved streets, lighting and better drainage. A zoning plan to protect the Rodey's historic character also has been put into place, and the village obtained land for a new community center and park, though funding is still needed to build them.
"He embraced the concept and he made my job a lot easier," Vásquez-Butler said, of Bustamante's efforts.
Radium Springs resident Sandra Tatum, also an advocate for improving colonias, commended Bustamante's "tenacity, dedication, hard work and perseverance" during a recent county commission meeting.
"That village has now been successful in overcoming many of the factors that define colonias status," she said.
Though Rodey isn't incorporated and doesn't have elected officials, Bustamante became known as the community's "mayor." Virginia Bustamante laughed when the topic was mentioned.
"The people used to call him that because he was the one pushing everything," she said.
Bustamante's cancer diagnosis came as a shock in late September. Virginia Bustamante said her husband wasn't feeling well and visited the Army hospital in El Paso, which found some tissue masses in his body. It was soon learned he had cancer throughout his body.
Asked what she believes her husband will be remembered for, Virginia Bustamante replied: "What he did here. He pushed to get the roads fixed. He pushed for the gas. We do have connections to gas. He was pushing for the community center."
Vásquez-Butler said he plans to introduce a county commission resolution to name the community center in Bustamante's honor.
Bustamante is survived by six children, 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
A visitation and prayer vigil took place Friday night at Our Lord of Mercy Catholic Church in Hatch.
A funeral Mass will take place 10 a.m. today at the same church. A burial with military honors will follow at Rodey Cemetery.
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