Our people: Commitment to rescue and volunteering
Last updated 4/4/2020 at 1:12pm
Linda Sumption is an English professor at Eastern New Mexico University. She is 70 years old.
Tell us about yourself.
I came here in 2003 after looking on the job market and I didn't know a lot about this part of the country. I knew nothing about Portales or eastern New Mexico in general.
But those job searches are national and for some reason they chose me. I published something about some pioneers in the Southwest and ENMU offered me a campus visit and then a job.
I'm originally from New York City, which was a big change. It was a little challenging at first, but I ended up staying. Turns out people can be quite flexible and I ended up staying long term.
I grew up in Minnesota and my father was a Lutheran minister. I was familiar with rural life, but not really the southern Plains and the desert.
It took me a few years to adjust, but I eventually realized the only way you end up making yourself at home is getting involved in your community. That's the only way for me at least.
It seems like so many of those lessons we learn are actually so simple, but to learn them is pretty profound.
I teach a range of courses in American culture and literature, but back then there was this developing field in literary study: animal studies.
Around that time there was a puppy that started following me down the street and I picked her up and kept her for 11 years. I had never had a dog before and wasn't even interested in dogs, but I found myself fascinated by the creature.
I ended up teaching several courses and doing films on animal studies. That really contributed to what I ended up doing in the community. When you study a topic, you end up going down avenues you never expected.
I took an interest in industrial farming and what happens to animals there, wildlife and what narratives were available there. I teach the history of animal rights and well being, which has a really interesting history in our country.
When I finally had to put my dog to sleep, I realized there were a lot of animals in distress in the community. We have many strays and abandoned animals, so rather than adopting another dog too quickly, I went to work at the shelter.
I later started getting involved in rescue and volunteer organizations and met a lot of people. It developed into a real commitment here in the community and I got to meet a lot of other people.
That made a big difference to me, but the other thing was my recovery from alcoholism. That was an enormous thing that opened doors for me.
When you're in the grips of something like alcoholism, you feel like there aren't many opportunities. That's the big lie that substance will tell you.
But I got involved in recovery and there are many unknown, unsung heroes in Portales that help others through that.
I'm also the secretary of the Roosevelt County Democratic Party, which was a good fit because since I was young I've been politically active.
I'm an older person and the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War really shaped my life and got me interested in American culture.
I only realized that working with animals, recovering alcoholics and being involved in the local community is what really creates a home.
Tell us a little about your pets.
I never had any pets before I moved here and got involved in the shelter and animal rescue. I never did. But I really believe in rescuing our shelter animals.
My first dog was a puppy on the street. Not even from the shelter, just found on the street. She ran up to me and that kicked off everything.
One day I was sitting in the back yard and a cat showed up. I didn't know the two could get along. I guess I was just ignorant. It became my dog's cat, so we kept the cat.
When that dog, Willow, died I eventually got a new dog at the shelter where I volunteer.
I find that I'm drawn to the dogs that are really scared, shy and cowering in the corner shaking. They're the ones for me, even though they're not the most adoptable.
There's something about helping them come to life again that I can't even describe how satisfying it is. It's being able to watch as they come out of the corner, get friendly and becoming happy.
I currently have a black lab mix named Molly and also have a foster I am fostering through a local vet who took her in through the shelter.
What is your most prized possession?
A piece of jewelry. A Christian cross with an imprint of my father's thumb. I got it when he died.
We hadn't been close for much of my life, but then we got closer, much closer. I realized we had much in common at the end of his life and I think of all the things that I own that's it.
It's not so much that it's a religious symbol, but I know it meant a lot to him because he was a minister in the Lutheran church.
There are others, but that one is the most valuable to me. I think because it's a symbol that we recovered our relationship later in life.
Tell us about a time you cried.
I was in New York City on 9/11. I was working as a legal secretary and going to graduate school.
I was on a train and watched. The subway is partly underground in Queens, but I was on the train and saw the building just blow up it looked liked. I was in shock then and it stayed for days.
The real thing though was to be out on the street the week after it happened. The streets were full of people looking for loved ones, putting up signs that said "missing." They were creating bulletin boards everywhere.
A lot of those people weren't missing. They were dead.
The faces of those people... In a normal urban area everyone is on a mission, whether that be to go to work, to go to lunch, wherever. But now you saw just this despair and trauma on so many people's face like it was wartime.
It was heartbreaking because New York is such a pedestrian place. It's not what most people think of. Most think of the explosions and the fire engines and medical workers, but really it was the week after with everyone looking for people.
It was the hardest week I ever remember.
What is your idea of the perfect day?
I'm a homebody. My perfect day would be a New Mexico day of moderate temperatures, no wind and no bugs. There with my dogs, cats, a pot of coffee and a good book.
When you were a child, what did you think you'd grow up to be?
I thought I would be an English teacher. When I was a younger person I read a book that changed my life: "The Grapes of Wrath."
I felt like my whole world shifted and a door opened and I had walked through it, that kind of a change.
I knew after that, but I took a lot of detours along the way. I hope that's not something you people have to do, but I definitely had some problems to overcome.
My problem with alcoholism was one and it interfered with a lot of sensible planning.
I never thought I could get master's and doctorate degrees and become a professor, but I did and part of it was because I was so inspired living in New York City.
It's hard to describe how stimulating it is living in a large urban area. It's easy to get distracted, but I like to tell my graduate students there's something to be about living in a rural area as a student.
What are you reading right now?
I'm rereading a biography that had a really big influence on me. It's the biography of Dr. Paul Farmer "Mountains Beyond Mountains." It's by Tracy Kidder.
I love reading biography. It sometimes can really bridge literary and historical settings.
This book is about the remarkable medical career of a man who set up a medical organization called Partners of Health and his goal was to deliver healthcare to the neediest and most impoverished people in the world.
He would go to Russian prisons or to Haiti after disaster. He would go to these places and set up hospitals throughout the world.
Reading this I realized how much I felt like a quitter. I read it and it was so inspiring to see someone in such a real way never give up until he succeeded. Against all odds he created a network to provide healthcare to the most destitute people in the world.
It was inspiring to read because it was his leadership that made it all happen. It's the kind of book that lifts you up.
What do you collect?
I usually like to get rid of things, but I collect books. I try to get rid of some, but I mostly collect books, which is both good and bad.
I really like print books and so much is online and digital now, but I find it hard not to buy the book. I like the feel and the smell of pages turning.
The other thing I like to walk around and look for are fossils in New Mexico. I started collecting different rocks and fossils and some are petrified wood and others are like seashells stuck there in rocks.
I've picked up plenty of those and have piles of them, but I haven't taken the geology course to understand what they are.
How would you like to be remembered?
I'm kind of a joiner. I think I'd like to be remembered as a good member of whatever organization I'm working in and can contribute to the community.
One thing I like is to draw attention to the many unsung heroes in our community. There are people who save animals, who help recovering alcoholics, who deliver food to and visit with the elderly; there are teachers who spend time helping with literacy issues.
We never hear about these people. They aren't well known in the community.
When I first moved here, someone who died after I got to know her told me there was a whole underground in Portales.
I asked her what she meant, like was there a secret club or something. She said there was a whole sub terrain of people who go unknown and are sort of invisible in our community, but are links that hold it together.
I was really inspired by it because I saw how she did that and would help people in financial trouble.
What I've learned in working with animals is that I'm the one who can write, but I'm not the one who knows all about animals and transport networks. I learned that people can work together with a variety of points of view.
The groups I work with have such a variety of views on what's important, but we work together so well and I didn't realize it before.
If money were no object, what would you do to make eastern New Mexico a better place?
I would do something about housing. I've heard about celebrities who buy towns, but I don't know if that's true.
I would refurbish all the housing and make it beautiful, functional and uplifting.
I'd also build a bright, sunny adoption center for all the stray and abandoned animals. That's what I think would improve the town a lot.
What is a personal accomplishment you are proud of?
Learning how to take and print black and white film photography. It's really a remarkable thing and I love being in the dark room at the art annex.
There's this room I call the Cave, which is about the size of a closet and I love being in there. Learning how to roll a spool of film well so you can develop it and doing it by hand is remarkable.
I never thought it would happen, but when I came to ENMU they had a dark room with space for people to learn and work. It's so satisfying to be hands on and do something physical.
I've made plenty of prints I am really proud of. It's really just a hobby.
Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
Things will change drastically because I'll retire. On my best days I think it will be satisfying because I'll devote it to animal rescue, photography, reading and community work.
A lot of days I'm sure there will be challenges that will require a lot of acceptance. The aging body and I am trying to figure out how to deal with that and not expect too much. Like making less ambitious plans of going hiking in the mountains.
The truth is we age and have aging bodies, but on the other hand I think of the freedom of following my community projects.
I want to negotiate with my aging body. Like maybe I can hike if I take care of that one knee.
- Compiled by Staff Writer Mathew Brock