Paulina (Arden) Utz Salopek passed away peacefully on Wednesday, April 1, 2015, at her daughter Vivian's home in Dallas. She was born on Sept. 2, 1932, to Paul Emil and Dorothea (Swann) Utz in Huntington, West Virginia. She was preceded in death by her husband David Salopek, her brother Richard E. Reed, and her sister Fredericka (Utz) Sims. Paulina is survived by her brother, Paul A. Utz; her three children, Vivian "Marie" Salopek Steinborn, and husband, David M. Steinborn, Diana Lynn Salopek, David Paul Salopek and wife, Marion H. Salopek; and five grandchildren, Sheila, David, Celeste, Amanda and Haylee; as well as numerous nieces and nephews.
Paulina was instilled with a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility early in her life. At age 4, she regularly rode the trolley by herself across town to attend dance lessons. At 5, she began working in her parents' grocery store, stocking the shelves and working her way up to other jobs in the family business - this taught her the value of hard work and perseverance, the cornerstone of her life. As a young girl, Paulina learned the importance of putting responsibility into action when, week after week in the 1930s, she would watch her mother cash the paychecks of coal miners only after they had pulled together groceries to purchase for their families, thus ensuring food was on the table for each coal miner's family.
Paulina graduated from Huntington High School. As a high school student, Paulina competed in a bookkeeping contest, placing 22nd in the entire state of Ohio. For two years, Paulina attended Marshall University in West Virginia. While attending Marshall, she was also employed at Sylvania where she quickly worked her way up to the position of supervisor.
During her childhood, Paulina and her family lived in several different houses in Huntington and the Ohio Valley. In her teenage years, she and her family moved to a farm along the Ohio River. Living on a farm was particularly distasteful to Paulina - so much so that her Grandma Swann, who lived with them, often said, "Paulina, you hate living on this farm and in the country so much, you're probably going to marry a farmer." And that is exactly what happened when she married David Salopek in 1955 at the age of 23.
In 1953, Paulina moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico, to attend New Mexico A&M and to keep her newly married sister Fredericka company after she'd moved to Las Cruces with her husband. Paulina acclimated quickly to Las Cruces - attending college classes, working at PSL, joining Chi Omega sorority, and enjoying the 23:1 male-to-female ratio. Paulina graduated from college in May 1955, having earned a degree in business administration with an emphasis in accounting. On Oct. 13, 1955, Paulina and David Salopek were married at Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel in Las Cruces.
For the next 24 years of her life, Paulina was a wife and mother. Her husband, David, was fond of saying he had never known anyone as busy as his wife. Paulina kept occupied as a wife, mother, homemaker, room mother for her children's classes, Halloween costume seamstress extraordinaire, seamstress for all three of her children, as well as several cheerleading squads. She happily attended and chaperoned the activities of her children - and later on, her grandchildren. She drove them to wherever their activities took them, all over New Mexico for student council, cheerleading, swim meets, across state lines and into Mexico for orchestra trips. She loved needlepoint, knitting and other crafts. With her business education, Paulina was always the treasurer for any volunteer organization in which she participated. During this period of her life, Paulina was also instrumental in organizing the Pecan Food Fantasy for the annual Pecan Conference that is still held each March in Las Cruces. Paulina and her husband, David, had a goal for their three offspring: They wanted each to graduate from college, which was accomplished.
On Dec. 9, 1979, her husband David died unexpectedly at the age of 46. Paulina found herself with the biggest challenge of her life. With little to no involvement in the day-to-day operations of their family farm while David was alive, she was now responsible for managing and running a large pecan farm. Paulina found her way, along with her teenage son Dave, through this devastating crisis by utilizing the strong work ethic and unwavering persistence she had learned early in life. She was willing and grateful to accept the friendship, advice and mentoring of neighboring farmer Bill Stahmann and his wife Betty, which proved to be the positive turning point in how the operation of the farm was handled. With Bill Stahmann's guidance, Paulina and her son Dave immersed themselves in learning the principles of farm management. They were determined to learn as quickly as possible by meeting others in the pecan farming industry, reading farming publications, and attending seminars and farm industry meetings.
Over the next 36 years, Paulina and her son Dave went on to successfully run and expand the family pecan farm business. Once again, Paulina used her business accounting knowledge to develop record-keeping systems for all aspects of the farm. This diligent record-keeping, as well as her desire to learn, allowed for making sound business decisions on improving the quality of the equipment and farming methods, a practice which continues to this day within the operations of the family farm.
Throughout Paulina's adult life, she never shied away from hard work and could always be counted on to step in and help, frequently serving in leadership positions. Paulina was the driving force - serving as chairperson from 1971 to 1981 - in creating and running the much-enjoyed Pecan Food Fantasy for the Pecan Conference of the Western Irrigated Pecan Growers Association held in Las Cruces. Another highlight of her volunteer work is that she was the first woman president of three different organizations over the course of her life: Federated Pecan Growers Associations of the United States, located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Western Pecan Growers Association in Las Cruces; and the Las Cruces Forum.
As Paulina earned a reputation as someone willing to pitch in to help organizations move closer toward their goals, this led to numerous appointments nationally, statewide, and locally. President George H. W. Bush appointed Paulina to the National Pecan Marketing Board in Dallas; serving as chairperson from 1992 to 1995. Gov. Bruce King appointed Paulina to the New Mexico Interstate Streams Commission in Santa Fe, where she served from 1993 to 1998. King and his successor Gov. Gary Johnson appointed Paulina to the Governor's School-to-Work Committee, serving from 1994 to 1997. The city of Las Cruces appointed Paulina to the Sister City board; she served from 1995 to 1997. She was on the Dona Ana County Planning and Zoning Commission from 1989 to 2003, serving as secretary, then as vice chair, and then chair.
Paulina was honored and recognized over the years for her leadership in business and farming, as well as for her extensive community service. In 1993, Paulina was nominated for the Outstanding New Mexico Woman Award. In 1996, Paulina received the Rotary Club Paul Harris Fellow Award. In April 1999, Paulina was inducted into the New Mexico State University Business College Hall of Fame. In November 1999, Paulina received the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award from the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau; in addition, she was recognized by the organization as "Treasurer for Life." In April 2003, she received the YWCA Reach - Recognized Achievement 2003 Award - for being A Woman Who Makes A Difference in the Business Community. In May 2003, Leadership New Mexico awarded Paulina the 2003 Distinguished Alumnus Award. In September 2003, Paulina was chosen by Gov. Bill Richardson to receive the Governor's 2003 New Mexico Distinguished Public Service Award. On May 12, 2007, Paulina received an honorary doctorate of letters from NMSU for her contributions to New Mexico business and agricultural research at NMSU.
Paulina was a leader who got the job done, leading by example with her actions, demanding excellence from herself and asking for the same from others. She gained respect from those around her, including her employees and fellow volunteers. Paulina will be missed by many, especially her family, her friends, and her colleagues.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. today, April 3, at University Presbyterian Church, 2010 E.Wisconsin Ave., in Las Cruces.
Pallbearers for the service will be Steven Salopek, Sam Salopek, Louie Salopek, Larry Salopek, Bill Hoffman, Bob Carson, Brad Sims, Ramiro Guerrero, and Frank Palacios. Honorary pallbearers are all of Paulina's nieces and nephews.
Donations can be made to Mesilla Valley Hospice, New Mexico State University College of Agriculture for Pecan Research, or New Mexico State University College of Business to be used for scholarships for deserving students.
Published in Las Cruces Sun-News on Apr. 3, 2015.