In 1938, when Estelle Hefler was 20 years old, a girlfriend asked if she would like to go to the Boston Art Museum with some young men from the South attending MIT. Having grown up in Boston, she jumped at the chance to visit one of her favorite museums, and agreed to go. The group of men included St. Clair Peyton Yates of Artesia, New Mexico. He was a University of Texas Chemical Engineering graduate attending the School of Engineering Practice at MIT. Although S. P. was fascinated by the mummies of the Egyptian exhibit, Estelle eventually persuaded him to enjoy the Rembrandts with her. This first encounter led to a blossoming long distance relationship and, by October 1939, S. P. had convinced Estelle to travel to Artesia by train to meet his parents. She arrived in Vaughn, New Mexico, where S. P. met her and drove her through the vast, arid, sparsely populated Southwestern desert to Artesia 137 miles away. S. P. and Estelle were married in Boston in 1940 and moved to Artesia, their lifelong home as a couple.
S.P. joined his father and brothers in the oil and gas exploration and production business. The industry was new and promising, and through years of perseverance and ingenuity, and an ever-present entrepreneurial spirit, the Yates men built several successful oil companies.
Photo Courtesy of Jennifer PetersonIn addition to scouring the desert for crude oil, S.P. inherited from his father a passion for the Boy Scouts. The importance of fostering a good work ethic and outstanding moral character in young men led S.P. to serve the Boy Scouts in many different board roles throughout his life, including helping to found the Conquistador Council Trust Committee.
Estelle was a graduate of Boston’s Girls Latin School and had studied design at the Chamberlain Design School in Boston. She brought to New Mexico a keen interest in the arts. Once established in Artesia, she graciously stepped into the traditional roll of the pioneering woman who would bring culture to small towns throughout the West. Soon after her arrival, Estelle was asked to join the Artesia Public Library Board. In 1951, under her tireless efforts as Board President, a new modern library was built and paid for by the citizens of Artesia. She then led the effort to form the Artesia Arts Council, serving as its first president. She also served as president of the Artesia Community Concert Association in its formative years. Estelle’s interest in the arts extended statewide when she served on the Board of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Her passion for encouraging proper upbringing for young women took her to a position on the Girl Scouts National Board of Directors. Estelle provided significant funding for a new and updated Public Library for the City of Artesia that opened early in 2014.
Estelle’s desire to pass on this legacy of promoting education and the arts to her children and grandchildren led her and S.P. to form S.P. and Estelle Yates Family Foundation in 1995. Although not all of Estelle’s children and grandchildren currently live in New Mexico, Estelle has successfully shared with them her passion for the people and potential of New Mexico.
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