In August, students and faculty at St. Francis School in Lumberton, NM, bid farewell to Abby Montoya, their beloved and long-serving custodian.
Montoya retired after working for 36 years as the school’s custodian, although she often fulfilled many other random jobs: shoveling snow, hauling water, running the concession stand at sports games, or chopping vegetables for lunch.
“You can set your watch by her – she is the most reliable person under the sun,” said principal Madeline Lyon. “She has been here so long and knows exactly what to do – I never have to think about it.”
As a girl, Montoya and most of her friends attended St. Francis, as had their parents. Outside of school hours, she learned maintenance skills from her family.
“I was always in the middle of my brothers and my dad and my grandpas, so I learned a lot from them,” Montoya recalled.
So, when a custodian position opened at the school, it was a perfect fit.
“I was always around, doing something. Then I met the principal and they needed a custodian so I talked to her and got hired,” Montoya recalls. “From there I stayed with them and kept working with them and it was hard because at the time, we didn’t have water. So I hauled the water from St. Anthony [Parish in Dulce] for the kids over here. And then they decided they wanted me to help cook, so I was putting my two cents into there.”
And over the years, she’s taken on a maternal role for many of the students, making hot chocolate and snacks for students in the winter, or helping to prepare take-home meals during the Covid-19 pandemic, when schools in the diocese switched temporarily to virtual learning.
“A lot of people ask me ‘how many kids do you have at St. Francis?’ and I say ‘oh, well, let me see, I think I have 63’. They’re my kids, I see them every day!” Montoya says. “Around here, everybody knows everybody, everybody is almost related! I think if we didn’t have St. Francis, it would really be bad around here – it’s really education for our kids.”
And though Montoya will be enjoying her retirement, she’ll remain a beloved figure in Lumberton, especially to the students, faculty, and principal Lyon.
“She’s really loved by the whole community around here.”