Santa Fe Living Treasures ‚Äď Elder Stories
Nancy Meem Wirth
Honored May, 2017
Nancy Meem Wirth
She is not someone who seeks the limelight, but she never sits on the sidelines. Nancy Wirth is a true Santa Fe local with strong deep roots in our town. She is continuing the legacy of her distinguished and legendary father, architect John Gaw Meem. Nancy in her quiet, unassuming way has dedicated her life to protecting and preserving our community and the state’s unique historical structures and culture.
Over 25 years ago Nancy co founded Cornerstones Community Partners, whose mission is to work with communities restoring churches and historic buildings. Using authentic and historical methods and materials, volunteers work with community crews to restore churches to their traditional style and use. 380 plus churches, architectural treasures, historic sites, and public structures have been renovated in partnerships with Cornerstones. Nancy’s passion for preservation is not just about design and adobe, but renewing cultural strands as illustrated in her quote, “Not only do the little churches and public buildings of rural New Mexico represent the past for their communities, but are crucibles that contain the history of families: the baptisms, weddings and burials, the very fabric of their current and future lives…strengthening waning communities by working on their structural treasures is as much cultural preservation as architectural preservation…The refurbished rural buildings are not museums, but rather I see them as living symbols of community.”
Nancy worked to preserve and refurbish the historic Santa Fe home and studio of artist and wood cut maker, Gustave Baumann, and oversaw the city Heritage-designated renovation of the Everett Jones house designed by her father. Recently Nancy spoke to the County commissioners about restoring the old County Courthouse to its original John Gaw Meem design with an elegant courtyard and entrance. Nancy said, “recreating the placita would bring the building back to its original look and would enhance the work environment by filling the space with light and air.” The proposal was approved.
During 2006-2011 Nancy served on the Governor appointed State Cultural Properties Review Committee and in that capacity she was instrumental in getting Mt. Taylor designated as a Traditional Cultural Property. This site, sacred to Native Americans, is now protected from invasive uranium mining. While serving on the Review Board, Nancy chaired the Women’s Historic Roadside Markers. Nancy insured women’s commemoratives were recognized.
Nancy served as a board member or advisor to many boards including the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, the Museum of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, the Chamber Music festival, as well as the environmental groups: the Trust for Public Land, and the Santa Fe Conservation Trust.
Nancy serves on the Advisory board for the non-profit Communities in Schools program which supports at risk youth and their families in Santa Fe. This cause is near and dear to her heart, She shows up weekly volunteering in a dual language classroom teaching literacy and dispensing hugs. The teacher points out that Nancy gives a lesson she couldn’t teach the children. “They see Nancy selflessly giving of her time, week after week, and being in the classroom out of choice—that makes an impact on them. I am confident the students will remember this later on in life perhaps duplicating her activism in their own community one day.”
Nancy is an accomplished potter and artist in her own right. She is devoted to and adored by her family. Her grandchildren wrote that she is a role model in taking responsibility and an inspiration for community activism. Her three successful sons, following in her footsteps, are contributing members of our community. One is a respected State Senator.
Preservation, historical, architecture, and planning associations as well as environmental groups have awarded Nancy prestigious honors.
She has been described as a pillar in the community and a legend. Words from friends help us understand how Nancy has achieved so much. Often working behind the scenes discretely, she accomplishes acts with great diplomacy. She is is the loveliest, most gracious and kindest woman; private, humble, ethical and inspirational. Her generous upbeat spirit is infectious and spreads to everyone she meets. Nancy has always shown extraordinary courtesy and friendship. She is simple and complex, fair, a matchless mentor and example of conscious goodness.
We thank Nancy for being a tireless and passionate advocate for keeping Santa Fe, not just different, but historically unique. Nancy is one of the Santa Feans who have made a monumental impact on our community—her vision, dedication and commitment will be felt for generations to come.
Story by Nancy Dahl
Photo © 2017 by Genevieve Russell