10 Who Made a Difference winner Ralph Ortiz champions others

·5 min read

Nov. 27—Always do the things that are right, no matter what.

Ralph Ortiz has lived by those words of his father, Placido Ortiz, since he was teenager.

In March, Ralph Ortiz decided the right thing to do was cover $1,000 scholarships for two deserving high school seniors rather than choose just one for the award. "I'm not gonna choose one if the other deserves it just as much," he said.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the right thing to do was donate supplies and a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe — which he helped deliver from Peru — for the prayer garden at Santa María de La Paz Catholic Community.

The right thing is to offer small tokens of appreciation.

Ortiz, 78, sometimes hands out trophies to children at his business, Desert Tees & Sports, which he has owned for more than 40 years. The caveat: They must listen to their mom and dad, eat their meals and do their chores.

"You tell them that, and their eyes get as big as saucers — you know what I mean?" Ortiz said with a laugh. "Then, we go and shake on it. Then mommy and daddy are looking around, and I go, 'Hey, you got an edge now [for parenting]. Go ahead and use it.' "

Ortiz has lived most of his life in that spirit of generosity and kindness.

The native Santa Fean, a 1962 graduate of Santa Fe High School, is a member of the Elks Lodge and the Knights of Columbus and is a regular donor to the New Mexico Activities Association Foundation. He sponsors scholarships for the Elks and the foundation. He said he can't count how much money he has spent; the items he has donated to parishes; or the amount he hasn't charged for trophies, T-shirts and medals for people, schools and athletic event organizers.

Ortiz contributes for one reason, and it is why he has been selected as one of The New Mexican's 10 Who Made a Difference for 2021.

"I want to put smiles on people's faces," Ortiz said. "I want to make them happy."

Ralph Nava, who has been a friend of Ortiz's for more than 30 years, said Ortiz's generosity comes without any hint of fanfare. When Nava took over as chairman of the Santa María de La Paz Golf Tournament, which raises money for college scholarships for graduating seniors, Ortiz offered to make towels and T-shirts for the tournament. Nava said when he came to pay the bill, Ortiz charged him a price significantly lower than they had agreed upon for the items.

"He doesn't look for attention," Nava said. "He's not one of those real outgoing people who are looking for people to give him affirmation. He does everything in the background and makes everybody else look good."

If you've ever been to a regular-season basketball tournament in Northern New Mexico, odds are the trophies, T-shirts and even rings were donated or sold at a reduced price by Ortiz. Matt Martinez, the former athletic director of Pojoaque Valley High School, said Ortiz donated those items to the committee of the Northern Rio Grande Tournament, one of the oldest small-school basketball tournaments in the state, without even speaking of a price.

"All of the time, he would just offer things and do things for us," Martinez said. "When I was the [District 2-3A] chairman, he came up with the idea of these custom-made medals for our all-district teams. At the time, it was a different thing to do. He just does a super job of helping ADs and coaches to make sure the athletes are recognized and helping everybody out."

If Ortiz has a soft spot, it is for kids — especially high school athletes. Part of it comes from spending five decades as an official in football and basketball. Nava said Ortiz was known as the "teaching ref" because he explained to players why he called a foul or a penalty and tried to teach them how to avoid committing them.

"I would tell them you were moving your shoulder and explain to them what they did," Ortiz said.

Ortiz also is a devout Catholic and has helped many churches and parishes with donations, T-shirts, plaques and statues. Ortiz said he recently received a letter from St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Abiquiú informing him the church was going to hold a Mass to honor him for his donations, which he estimated was more than $1,000.

Ortiz is especially proud of the religious crosses and statues he has received from various churches that he keeps at his home — and often donates.

"My wife [Rosemarie Leigh Ortiz] says when people come over here, they're looking for the holy water or they want to genuflect," he said.

Richard Martinez, who is a part of the pastoral council at Santa María de la Paz, said Ortiz created a candle rosary for parishioners to use for rosary prayers. Ortiz came up with the idea after seeing a photo of one and created two of different lengths, Martinez said. A family requesting prayers goes around lighting the rosary candles that are attached to a rope as the prayer is recited.

"As the families light them after each Our Father and every Hail Mary, we pray along," Martinez said. "When they're lit up, it is beautiful. Talk about really helping folks in their time of need."

When it comes to doing the right thing, Ortiz never hesitates.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting