Frames line the walls of the Milton E. Proby Cultural heritage room; they hold within them the pictures and stories of individuals who shaped their communities in Southern Colorado through leadership, advocacy, vision, insight, and hard work. Today, in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize the three Hispanic Inductees: Senator Casimiro Barela, Eva Raigoza Baca, and LTC Thomas H. Martinez, who were inducted into the room with photograph and frame in 2006, 2010, and 2014, respectively. As a politician, an educator, and a military officer, the work they did toward the goals they set for their communities differed greatly. Nonetheless, all three were outstanding leaders who made significant contributions to their communities and to the state of Colorado.
Senator Casimiro Barela’s political career began it 1869 when, at the age of 22, he was elected Justice of the Peace in Trinidad, Colorado. It continued with Barela’s service as County Assessor, Territory Representative, and County Sheriff for Las Animas. Barela is known for his contributions to the Colorado Constitution: he insisted it be published in English, Spanish, and German. While serving as a Colorado State Senator, Barela continued to advocate for equality. He fought to have laws published in both English and Spanish and ran two Spanish-language newspapers on the side. In addition to a plaque in the Milton E. Proby Cultural Heritage Room, Barela’s image can be seen in the State Capitol in Denver. In 1900, he was one of sixteen individuals honored with a stained glass portrait in the rotunda.
LTC Thomas H. Martinez made a mark on Colorado through his tireless service. Over a 20 year career in the military, he worked his way from Private to Lieutenant Colonel, serving in both WWII and Korea. Additionally, he served as Chair of La Raza Unity Council, President of St. Vincent De Paul Society, and President of the Colorado Springs Chapter of the American GI Forum. Even after retiring, LTC Martinez continued to serve his community. He helped establish the Latin American Educational Foundation (LAEF) and started a scholarship fund that awards $100,000 in scholarships annually. His name can be seen above the entrance of a district 11 elementary school, named in his honor in 1988, LTC Thomas H. Martinez Elementary. His dedication to service is illustrated by his own words: “I’d rather wear out than rust out.”
National Hispanic Heritage Month, observed from September 15 to October 15, provides an opportunity to once again recognize these three community leaders. In addition to sharing the title of Milton E. Proby Hispanic Heritage Inductee, Senator Casimiro Barela, Eva Raigoza Baca, and LTC Thomas H. Martinez biographies’ reveal further similarities: passion, dedication, and an unwavering commitment to enhancing the state of Colorado.