ZELLA MEADOR HILL Old Timer's Reunion 2000
On Saturday, May 13, 2000, four people who at least 84 years old and have spent the greatest part of their lives in the Sacramento Mountains will be honored at the 23rd Annual Old Timers Reunion - The four honorees this year are Tempie Reeves Cox, Gladys Posey Hadley, Zella Meador Hill and Orpha Miller Wingfield.
Zella Hill was born at Graham, Texas on August 11, 1912. Her parents, Roy and Millie Meador, were on their way to Portales, New Mexico where they planned to live on a farm.. Zella spent her childhood and youth there and graduated from Portales High School in 1930.
In 1925, at age 12, she accompanied her father, a church elder, to inspect a possible Methodist assembly encampment site in the Sacramento Mountains. Little did Zella realize that she would return to the Sacramento twenty-four years later and make her home there for over fifty years.
She graduated from Eastern New Mexico Junior College at Portales in 1934 and continued her education at New Mexico Highlands University, earning a bachelors degree in the Spring of 1940. For many years, she and her three sisters had sung together as a cowgirls quartet. In 1940, they were selected to perform at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Illinois. There they met President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor.
After graduation, Zella taught school at Espanola and Santa Fe. It was in Santa Fe that she met Robert Kermit Hill, a coach-teacher. It wasn't long until her students let her know that Mr. Hill was just the "one" for her. It wasn't too long before she knew it, too. Zella Meador and Robert Kermit Hill were married in Bernalillo, New Mexico in 1941.
The Hill's eldest son, Robert Kermit, Jr. was born on August 17, 1942. R.K., as he was frequently called, served in the U.S. Air Force in Europe during World War II while Zella continued to teach in Santa Fe. Following R.K.'s return from the war, David, the Hill's second son, was born on March 31, 1947. The Hills continued to teach in Santa Fe and attend summer school at New Mexico Highlands University, completing their masters degrees in 1949.
Frances Godley, superintendent of Otero County Schools, contacted the Hills to see if they would come to the Weed School - R.K. to be the principal-teacher and Zella to teach music and home economics. In September of 1949, Weed School didn't have much to offer. Nearly 50 miles to the nearest town of any size, and much of the road still gravel. No indoor plumbing. Toilets were down the path behind the schoolhouse. Drinking water was stored in cisterns. Electricity was just coming into the Sacramento Mountains. The Hill's first home was a rented two-story house. It was located a few hundred yards south of the school building. In November, they bought a place in Sacramento, and have maintained a home there for over fifty years.
Soon after arriving in Weed, Zella received a letter offering her a professorship in the music department at New Mexico Highlands University . R.K. told her to "sleep on it" and very early the next morning, she awakened him. "Kermit, we are a team and I believe we have a mission teaching in these mountains." And that they did, positively affecting the lives of many during the years spent at Weed School. The Hills were able to get a water well drilled and before long, the School had flush toilets and sanitary drinking water. Zella produced operettas, Christmas cantatas, trained pep squads, taught dancing and music appreciation. She took chorus groups to music festivals all over the area and had an outstanding folk dance group, made up of students from the Weed School, that performed at the annual White Sands Play Day. After the school day closed, she taught individual piano lessons to many children.
Her home economics students, both girls and boys, were taught proper manners, sewing, cooking, child care and the fine art of canning vegetables and fruit. Each year some of their jellies and pickles took blue ribbons at the county fair. Zella continues to take canning entries to the fair and always comes home with a handful of ribbons.
At the close of the school term in 1956, the Hills decided they needed a change, so they drove to Sacramento, California, and were immediately offered jobs. They taught there for one year, but found it wanting. Travis Stovall, superintendent of the Alamogordo Schools, called and asked the Hills to return to Otero County and take positions at the La Luz School. Without hesitation, they accepted the offer. R.K. would be the principal and Zella would be classroom teaching.
During the eight years at the La Luz School, Zella produced memorable programs, including a Christmas show on the village plaza. She also developed a school art program. Many friends were made at La Luz, and Zella found all sorts of good things to can and preserve- tomatoes, peppers, peaches, figs and apricots.
In 1965, the Hills returned to the Weed school. They had kept their home in Sacramento, so it was a joy to return to the place they loved so much. At the close of the 1971 school year, R.K. and Zella retired. During forest fire seasons, R.K. worked for the Forest Service, manning one of the lookout towers, but most of their time was spent travelling and enjoying their sons and four grandchildren at their Sacramento home.
R.K. died in 1982. Zella continues to live at Sacramento and has been active in many community affairs, serving on many boards of directors. These include continuation of the position held by R.K. with the Sacramento Water Users Association. Zella has served for twelve years with the Senior Citizens Center Board. She has produced and directed several community choruses, notably one for the Weed Centennial in 1985.
The decision in 1949 to leave northern New Mexico and go to Weed, "the backside of nowhere," was momentous. However, at Weed and La Luz, they found a wealth of intelligent, talented kids. Zella and R.K. provided an education for hundreds of children during their twenty-two years of teaching, and the Sacramento Mountains have turned out to be a true home.