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Luna pays tribute to the late Samuel F. Vigil

Vigil was longtime lawmaker, Luna president

By Dave Kavanaugh, Luna Community College

Along with New Mexicans across the state, Luna Community College is saddened to learn of the death of Samuel F. Vigil.

“On behalf of the entire Luna campus community, we extend our deepest sympathies to the family of Samuel F. Vigil,” said LCC President Dr. Rolando Rael. “He was an important leader who worked diligently for this college, this community and all of northeastern New Mexico. I was glad to know Sam as a person. He will be missed, and he will be remembered for the good things he accomplished, as well as his heart for helping students and his community.”

Vigil, 90, died this past weekend. Rosary services are set for 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22, at Our Lady of Sorrows Church, of which he was an active parishioner. A funeral mass will be celebrated at 9 a.m. Monday, Dec. 23, also at Our Lady of Sorrows in Las Vegas. Interment will follow at 3 p.m. at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.

A lifelong Las Vegan, Vigil served 28 years (1970-1998) as a Democratic state legislator representing District 70 in San Miguel County and northeastern New Mexico. An early champion of higher education and opening doors of opportunity for all, he became the longest-serving president of the former Luna Vocational Technical Institute (what is today
Luna Community College) for nearly a quarter century.

Before his rise to acclaim in both positions, Vigil served as a member of the Consolidation Commission that united East and West Las Vegas in 1968. Consolidation ended what historians called a long period of racial and social divide in the Meadow City and forged one unified municipality. Vigil was a veteran of the U.S. Army who served during the Korean War, then as part of the National Guard. He worked in various capacities in public schools and postsecondary institutions such as New Mexico Highlands University, his alma mater. He is a former dean of students at NMHU and a former director of the First National Bank in Las Vegas.

As a lawmaker, Vigil helped secure millions of dollars in capital outlay funding for his district. He supported funding for education, the courts, social service programs and infrastructure. Along the way he served as chairman of the House Education Committee and as part of the Legislative Finance Committee.

Vigil was a major figure in the creation of what was then known as Luna Vocational Technical Institute, serving on a task force appointed by Gov. Dave Cargo that helped establish the college. In 1976, Vigil was hired as president of the college, and he led Luna until 1999.

During his time as president of Luna, Vigil testified before the U.S. Senate’s Committee on the Budget, speaking on the importance of education funding in a March 1988 hearing:
“Public investment in education creates wealth and increases productivity … Education should be viewed as the real and productive investment in human capital that it is, and certainly not just a social program or activity … The provision of a sound educational system is one of a handful of investments that the public sector makes in our economy … This investment in education must be continuously fine-tuned to reflect the changing times and thereby produce a higher rate of return … The basic business of state government, in my opinion, is to provide quality education to its population, maintain their infrastructure and create a stable fiscal environment.”

“We must increase the understanding and awareness of the populations. We must develop and maintain educational programs which increase citizens’ understanding of an internationally competitive economy and knowledge of other cultures, language and social systems.”

Vigil was later appointed by President Bill Clinton to the President’s Commission for Excellence of Education for Hispanic-American Students. He was also appointed to the Advisory Committee on Education to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Among Vigil’s legacy of accomplishments and honors, Luna’s library bears his name as the Samuel F. Vigil Learning Resource Center.

Vigil is survived by Aurora Vigil, his wife of 66 years; daughters Martha (Donald) and Marcia (Patrick); son Michael; two grandchildren, Amaris and Marisa; and many other relatives and friends.