The staff and Board of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas! Obviously, 2020 has been a year like no other – and numerous challenges prevent many of us from spending time this holiday season with our families. As a result we may be “zooming” or “face-timing” instead of gathering together to share food, faith, fun, and memories. No matter how you spend this holiday season, we hope you have a chance to page through (or scroll through) family photograph albums and reminisce about what makes this time of year special.
At the CSPM, we love collecting and preserving stories, photographs, and objects that document how families celebrate the holidays. This adorable photograph of Ruth and Rudy Melena as “Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus” was taken at Chadbourn Community Church in 1987. You can learn more about the Melena Family in our Una Familia Grande: The Conejos Neighborhood Project exhibit when the museum reopens; but until then we’d like to share a few stories about them.
The Melena Family has deep roots in Colorado. Everyone in the Conejos Neighborhood southwest of downtown Colorado Springs knew Sam Melena – and he knew them. In addition to carrying staples like meat, sugar, coffee, flour, and rice, Melena’s Rio Grande Market was the place to learn the latest news, get a small loan until payday, and visit with your neighbors. Kids excitedly bought penny candy, ice cream for “ten cents a dip,” and soda. Customers purchased groceries on credit, telling Sam to “put it on the bill.” The Melena Family and the Rio Grande Market anchored the Conejos Neighborhood for decades.
Severiano “Sam” Melena was born in Santiago, Michoacan, Mexico, on February 21, 1895. At fourteen he was forced to serve in the Mexican Army, and fled the country during the Mexican Revolution. He arrived in Colorado in 1910, working on ranches in Trinidad and Walsenburg, as a miner in Georgetown, at the Pikeview Coal Mine, in the Pueblo steel mills, and for the Denver and Rio Grande Railway and the Golden Cycle Mill in Colorado Springs. Sam married Rosario “Rosa” Avila on January 8, 1925 and the couple had three children, Teresa, Ismael (Ish) and Rudolph (Rudy).
After the Memorial Day Flood of 1935, Sam worked replacing railroad tracks washed away by Monument Creek. As granddaughter Becky described, “While working near Conejos Street he noticed some empty houses. One was next to an alley. Someone had told him that in order to have a successful business, it should be situated on a corner of a street. He bought the property at 320 S. Conejos and on Oct. 1, 1937 opened the Rio Grande Grocery and Market.” After Sam’s death in 1978, Rosa ran the store with son Rudy by her side. After Rosa passed away four years later, Rudy and his wife Ruth operated the store until it closed in 1998. Rudy and Ruth Melena continued the family tradition of generosity, community-building, and lending a helping hand to anyone in need.
Another anchor for the Conejos Neighborhood was Chadbourn Spanish Gospel Mission. Chadbourn hosted Christmas events, Easter celebrations, summer schools and functioned as a community center for local families. Founded by Ruth Chadbourn as a mission in 1928, the chapel opened in a storefront two years later. Eventually the wood-frame building was remodeled to include a steeple, and a stucco exterior was added in 1939. Members for several decades, the Melena Family were among the small but dedicated group of supporters who saved Chadbourn from destruction when the neighborhood was razed. Today, Chadbourn continues to serve congregants and stands as a physical reminder of Conejos – filled with family, strength, spirit, and love. Merry Christmas and best wishes for a New Year filled with peace, health, and joy.