By Chanel Ward
The Denver Public Library (DPL) presented its’ 2019 Annual Eleanor Gehres Award to their first Latina recipient, Magdalena Gallegos, last week at the Vida Ellison Gallery in the Denver Central Library.
Over a hundred people came out to celebrate with Gallegos, despite the frigid and uninviting temperatures outdoors, inside was filled with warmth, laughter and loving memories shared between lifelong friends, family and even teachers of Gallegos that invited everyone to gather around and listen. In addition to children, grandchildren and great-great granddaughter, Gallegos had the company of former colleagues and friends from childhood, who also grew up in the Auraria neighborhood.
Magdalena Gallegos, West Denver native raised in Auraria when it was a neighborhood and not a campus, earned her Bachelor of Arts with Distinction from the University of Colorado Denver in 1984. She wrote a research paper on former residents of Auraria where she had a special connection to the project. Gallegos would soon find herself publishing and editing the successful Southwest Magazine with her husband John Mitchell to playwriting, where she wrote and produced her first play, Sueños in 2003.
Gallegos was a reporter for El Semanario, writing human-interest stories, then her own column, Straight from the Heart.
DPL City Librarian, Michelle Jeske welcomed the quickly filling room with opening remarks, “I just learned that she [Gallegos] has worked in three Denver Public library branches, which makes her extra special in our eyes,” Jeske expressed, adding, “her sister [Debra] also worked at the Denver Public Library for nine years.”
Remarks made by a man of many hats, including author of more than fifty books, professor of History at the University of Colorado of Denver and tour guide Dr. Thomas “Colorado” Noel had much to say about Gallegos, as she is one of his former students. “There’s some students that stand out that you remember over the years, and one of them is this angel here, Magdalena Gallegos,” opened Dr. Noel.
“She struck gold talking about the history of Auraria,” said Dr. Noel. “What I particularly love about her work is that she talks about ordinary people, particularly about the Hispanic women, who don’t get much coverage or reportage in history.”
Gallegos, surprised by the turnout, was beyond grateful and moved to be a part of a long list of honorees.
“I share this honor with everyone that has been part of my life’s journey in telling the stories of people and places in Colorado. I want to offer a special thank you to Ms. Frances Torres, who submitted the nomination.”
“Your words mean so much to me, and as an added bonus in receiving this honor in Eleanor’s name, is that she and I were very close in age, we were both born during the great depression and both of us found our life’s work within libraries and historic memories,” expressed Gallegos. She also thanked many other friends and family members for attending the award ceremony.
“As many of you know, I entered the university in my forties as a single parent trying to find my destiny. I became intent on living a life that would make a difference,” Gallegos said, explaining that no matter the obstacle in her way she continued, because she could see herself closer to her goal of being a writer and storyteller.
The Eleanor Gehres Award began in 1999, where Gehres was the first recipient of the award that recognizes the longtime contributions to genealogy and Western History that she created, researched and inspired before her passing shortly after in 2000. Gehres developed a remarkable collection of her research and every year her name is honored in presenting the award to the next scholar who too has made a significant advancement or contribution to the Western History Collection at DPL through scholarly materials and research.
This years’ committee chair, Cathy Lucas, Secretary of the Denver Public Library Commission and Chief of Staff and Chief Communications Officer at Metropolitan State University of Denver, was joined by six additional members, Robert Baron, Wes Brown, Sandra Dallas, Jim Gehres, Rachel Vagts and Dr. Tom Noel. Previous recipients have included The Colorado Railroad Museum in 2010 and Dick Kreck in 2018, he was columnist and editor for the Denver Post for 38 years and author of several books.
Magdalena Gallegos continues to sharpen her writing skills in helping with a newsletter for the residents of the Francis Heights Senior Living community. Her work continues to inspire students today and her work is a standing credible source to add to their bibliography of knowledge. Like Gehres, Gallegos has laid an impressive foundation in her work that will forever serve as research well done.
Chanel Ward is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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