Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Rheua Pearce

Rheua Pearce


Honored September 1984

Rheua Pearce

Well into her nineties, Rheua Pearce held weekly informal dinner meetings at her home, the oldest house in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Her eyesight and hearing were failing, but no matter. The purpose of these confabs was to encourage her guests to network. She invited professors, city officials, and representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and the United World College to discuss topics ranging from intergenerational communication to world peace.

Stacks of folding chairs were kept in each room so that Rheua could hold several meetings at the same time. "I believe strongly that whether you live in Las Vegas, New Mexico, or anywhere else, you occupy a spot of latitude and longitude," said Rheua.

Born in 1894 to a pioneer family in northern Indiana, she was raised by her grandfather from the age of four. It was from him that Rheua learned the importance of being herself as well as the value of helping others, she said. "He was interested in everybody. He had a deep understanding of people. He'd take me to poor farms and ask me, 'What do you think about how people are being treated here?'... He believed in the significance and value of each individual.

Rheua was eighteen when she was chosen by Jane Addams to work with Chicago's poor at Hull House. There she initiated a Meals on Wheels program and began a pilot study for the United States Public Health Service. She earned her bachelor's degree in 1917 from the University of Chicago, the school where social work had its beginnings.

In 1930, Rheua moved to Las Vegas to recover from tuberculosis. She was fifty when she joined the Women's Army Corps during World War II. After the war, Rheua traveled in the Balkans as a welfare officer doing relief work for the United Nations. She also visited nine European countries as a member of the Women's International Democratic Federation.

Please see Volume 1 for complete text.
Photo ©1997 by Joanne Rijmes