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"Tonita" is back home in New Mexico and Angela Raish couldn't be happier.
Tonita is the name of a bronze sculpture of a Native American maiden created by New Mexico-based artist Glenna Goodacre. The sculpture was given to Raish on behalf of the people of New Mexico when she retired in 1998 after 21 years of service as U.S. Sen. Pete V. Domenici's personal assistant in his Washington, D.C., office.
Recently, Raish, now 92, donated Tonita to the Pete V. Domenici Institute for Public Policy housed at New Mexico State University. When renovation work to turn the former Hershel Zohn Theatre into the Pete V. Domenici Hall is completed, the sculpture will be displayed inside a replica of the retired senator's Capitol Hill office.
As Raish was preparing to enter a retirement home, she wrestled with what to do with her beloved Tonita, which had taken pride of place in the middle of Raish's garden in her Washington, D.C.-area home for more than a dozen years. One of a series of 25 sculptures, Tonita is now worth about $24,000.
"All at once it hit me; she really belongs to New Mexicans," Raish said. "They contributed to her and she was expensive. The more I thought about it, and I knew Gov. (Garrey) Carruthers, I thought why not New Mexico State? And I just wrote to him."
Carruthers, the dean of the NMSU College of Business and director of the Domenici Institute, first met Raish when he was in Washington, D.C., serving as an assistant secretary in the Department of the Interior from 1981-1984. When he received Raish's letter, he gratefully accepted the offer.
"This is such a wonderful, generous and touching gesture on Angela's part," Carruthers said. "She served the people of New Mexico diligently and honorably for more than 20 years. I don't think of it as her giving Tonita to the institute, so much as the institute taking care of Tonita for Angela."
Born in South Dakota, Raish ventured to Washington, D.C., at age 19 as the city began its World War II boom years and jobs for women were plentiful as men went off to fight. Raish was assigned to the Naval Department where she met a "pink-cheeked young ensign" named Bob. They married after the war. Bob retired from the Navy as a captain and began working for a law firm in Arlington, Va., in 1976. Raish joined Domenici's office in 1977, not long after her work on President Gerald Ford's failed re-election campaign ended. Although Raish officially retired from Domenici's service in 1998, she stayed on as a part-time volunteer in his office until the senator retired in 2008.
"I lived a life with Sen. Domenici for some 30 years, so I was probably more New Mexican than anything," Raish said proudly. "I had been a Navy wife, so I didn't have a real home except Washington and New Mexico."
Raish admitted to getting a bit misty-eyed when Tonita was placed onto the truck that would eventually bring her to NMSU, especially since Raish said she patted the sculpture's head every time she passed her in the garden. When Tonita arrived on campus, Carruthers asked Silvia Marina, director of the Museum Conservation Program, to refurbish the sculpture.
"They sent me pictures of her. She's beautiful," Raish said. "She looks great! I'm so happy that she's in a place where people can see how beautiful she is."
Raish now has two wishes concerning Tonita; she would like to see the maiden in her new home and she hopes that people continue the tradition of patting Tonita's head.
"I'm sure Tonita says, 'It was wonderful to be in Virginia – they loved me there – but New Mexico is home.'"
© 2013 New Mexico State University Board of Regents
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