Living Treasures: VeneKlasen introduced city’s kids to soccer, skiing
Marg VeneKlasen sat on a backless chair and reminisced about the time when she was a volunteer at the old St. Vincent Hospital. It was downtown then, in the 1960s, and she would show up armed with tap shoes and a ukulele to sing and dance for the elderly. One time, she said, she sneaked out a resident who had wanted to see the Plaza one last time.
It’s that spirit of kindness that would lead VeneKlasen to champion youth sports, bringing soccer and skiing to thousands of Santa Fe children. It’s also a major reason that the Santa Fe Living Treasures group named VeneKlasen as one of its Treasures for 2015.
“I have had a love affair with Santa Fe for a long time,” she said. “I have. And I am deeply honored that [it] loves me, too.”
The 30-year-old nonprofit names three new Living Treasures twice each year. But this time, VeneKlasen will share the honor with three others — two brothers will be named together — at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 28, at the Unitarian Universalist church.
VeneKlasen and her late husband raised their five children in the immaculate and storied north-side house that she still calls home. When they first bought the property, she said, there were only two other houses on the dirt road.
VeneKlasen moved to Santa Fe with her husband in the late ’50s. They were chasing a business venture, one that ultimately failed. But she became involved with the Santa Fe Preparatory School and launched efforts to introduce soccer to the masses. She said she wanted make another sport available to local kids, especially girls. Because in the 1970s, girls could play Little League and little else.
She had little experience with the sport, but she knew it was inexpensive — only a ball was required. Plus, it was a sport that required large teams and could involve a large number of students.
“Nobody had played soccer here, including me,” she said.
So, it wasn’t easy to get the state to accredit a program. Some men resisted, she said, because the season would overlap the football season. But through “unrelenting badgering” of city and state officials, she got the sport sanctioned. She later went on to start the Northern New Mexico Soccer Club.
VeneKlasen also spearheaded a program to provide affordable opportunities for Santa Fe children to go skiing. She organized a program in 1973 that would provide schoolchildren a trip up to the Santa Fe ski basin and a skiing lesson for an affordable price. Thousands of children benefited from the program.
That program was shuttered following a 1999 incident in which two people, including a child, died in a bus crash heading back from the ski resort. The bus service has since closed, and the company’s owner, Ray Sena, went to jail on charges of voluntary manslaughter and other crimes in connection to the crash.
VeneKlasen acknowledged the incident was a catastrophe, but she said that shouldn’t prevent the current generation of children from learning the sport.
“I want everyone in this community to help me so every kid who wants to can learn how to ski,” she said. “We can give that to our children.”
VeneKlasen said she is working to restore the ski program by talking with representatives of the city of Santa Fe and the Santa Fe school district.
VeneKlasen’s other major concern is a shortage of opportunities for young professionals in Santa Fe. The population, she said, is getting older, and the city needs young people to keep it alive.
She has served on several city committees, and even carried the Olympic torch on part of its journey through town in 2002.
For decades, VeneKlasen has run a real estate and property management company. Her rental company has about 60 to 70 properties. VeneKlasen laughed off the notion that she might retire.
When she’s not working, she’s playing tennis or skiing.
VeneKlasen lost her husband about 17 years ago when his plane crashed while he was hunting in Southern New Mexico. But she has her children, four boys and one girl. Their professional success, she said, is a thrill to watch. And the fact that her daughter became an activist feminist scholar is especially pleasing to her.
While VeneKlasen is happy for the Living Treasures honor, she’s quick to point out that the support of her family and community made her work possible.
“These things don’t come easily,” she said. “They’re not done by one person. Nothing is.”