When Bernie Torres got married to his wife Gladys in 1965, he didn’t realize how vital having a good life partner would be to supporting and encouraging him in every step of his journey. “My wife has always believed in me and encouraged me, no matter what,” he said, endearingly in an interview with the Questa del Rio News. “She has also fed me really very well, too,” Bernie laughed.
Bernie was born in Amalia in 1946. “It was a different time then. My dad would leave to work sheep herding and to work in the coal mines, it was hard to be without him,” he recalls of his upbringing and the difficulties of being raised in rural Amalia, where parents had to make the difficult decision to leave home so they could provide for their family. “This was a big reason I decided, I want to make a life and opportunities for me and my family in our hometown,” he said.
His experience of growing up in rural New Mexico is the catalyst to his efforts of many business ventures in the Amalia and Costilla area. He shared how important it was to live and work in the same place, because he always wanted to be present in his family’s life. After Bernie and Gladys got married, they moved to Wyoming where he attended school to become a butcher. They then went on to live in Colorado Springs where he worked for Albertsons. They returned to Costilla in 1974 because they wanted to raise their children in their hometown.
His first venture back home with his wife was starting a restaurant with a small arcade downstream from the local Amalia Lumber Company. “The lumber company was booming at that time and I thought, it’s a perfect place for a restaurant, so people can stop to eat after doing business at the lumber company,” he recalls of his strategic decision to open this business.
After this venture, he named a handful of other business endeavors he accomplished, ranging from a skating rink, starting a ready-mix concrete company which assisted in the development of Ski Rio, and starting his own lumber company called Sierra Alta Forest Products.
Currently, Bernie currently owns and oversees all the operations at Mountain Range Supply & Transport company in Costilla with his two sons, Jeff and Brian. “I finally hit my stride,” Bernie laughed when talking about his current family-owned and operated business. “People always ask me when I am going to retire, but I laugh and say I’ve been retired for a long time. When you enjoy what you do, you don’t work a single day in your life.”
His company transports hay and other products to Texas, Florida, and across the United States. “It’s a great business because even though you’re traveling for work, you still have home as your base,” Bernie says of the opportunities his company provides for its workers locally.
In addition to his business ventures, Bernie has also been a leader, uniting people across communities and ensuring he is able to give back. In the long list of accomplishments, Bernie takes pride in have secured funding for the new Holy Cross Hospital as a former County Commissioner. In his time on the Questa School board and against all odds, he was vital in passing a bond to build the new football field at Questa High School. Currently, he sits on the Kit Carson board of trustees. “I love being involved with helping students figure out their futures. We give a scholarship at Kit Carson so knowing I can still be a part of giving is what drives me,” he says.
In addition to being a family man, an entrepreneur, and a community leader, Bernie says his faith is a major part of who he is today. He was a peregrino (pilgrimage walker) for many years and says he has walked 1800 miles for the pilgrimage for vocations. He is also a penitente/hermano (Roman Catholic layman who practices piety and repentance in private) and has helped revive the local morada (dwelling to pray and repent in private) in Amalia. This tradition was established in 1850 and is a big part of Northern New Mexico history during the Lenten season. “At one time there was only 1 penitente/hermano, but I didn’t want the tradition to die, so I joined. Now there are about 7 of us,” Bernie says.
The Cosecha (fall harvest) was started in Costilla, with the help of his mother Lala Torres. Bernie has been a big advocate to carry this tradition forward. Locals harvest their fall fruits and vegetables and cook them in the horno (outdoor mud oven). In an effort to keep this tradition alive, he has secured funding through Kit Carson Electric Coop to build the horno at Alta Vista Elementary School so the local youth can learn and carry on this New Mexico tradition.
Bernie also leads the New Year’s Eve tradition known as Los Dias. This tradition is especially unique to Northern New Mexico where his musical group visit homes across Costilla, Amalia, Cerro and Questa, composing special verses to serenade to the families. The singers are treated to New Mexican biscochitos, pastellitos, as well as some Vino de Capulin following their performance.
When asked what his advice to younger generations would be, Bernie said “there is no such thing as failing if you’re trying. If you try something and it doesn’t work out, move on to something else. You don’t fail until you quit. And most importantly, having a positive attitude is about 98 percent of the way to finding success.”