No one knows what exactly drove Olibama Lopez Tushar to do the things she did, most especially educate herself in the early part of the 20th Century when most women---certainly Hispanic women---were either steered away from higher learning or had responsibilities that kept them from even considering this option. But this amazing force of nature did not suffer fools nor tradition gladly. She charted a path that still leads and inspires young Latinas.
Lopez Tushar was born in 1902 in Los Rincones, a tiny hamlet unknown to most everyone outside Colorado’s San Luis Valley. “It never really was a town,” said an area resident,” adding, “it’s mostly private property now.” While there may be a family or two that still calls Los Rincones home, “if you’re from there,” he said, “you probably just say you’re from Manassa,” a nearby community.
Like so many other families in the area, Lopez Tushar’s family was descended from the Spaniards who first settled in el Valle. For unknown reasons, her family moved from the Valley to New Jersey for a short time and to southern California before returning permanently to Colorado. They lived most of the year in Denver and summered in Mogote, another microscopic hamlet in the Valley. But familial wanderlust never curbed her insatiable appetite for learning.
She was valedictorian of Denver’s Belleview High School. Next, she attended Belleview Junior College where she taught Spanish for two years in exchange for free tuition. After Belleview came the University of Colorado, where she earned two degrees. She taught for two years at Westminster’s Union High School following graduation. While teaching, she began work on a master’s degree at the University of Denver. Her thesis “The Spanish Heritage in the San Luis Valley,” later became a book, “The People of El Valle.” She may have been the first Hispanic woman to graduate from DU.
Lopez Tushar’s life and career were more than overflowing in challenge and accomplishment. She worked for the government during World War II as a translator and censor and had jobs in the private sector, including for Gates Rubber Company in Denver, also translating. She mastered Spanish, Italian, Latin, French, Portuguese and English. Her career was eventful and eclectic, but learning was her passion.
Lopez Tushar’s papers are now housed at the Denver Public Library in the genealogy section. There is also a bronze bust of her that is periodically on display.
She is a woman who carved out an amazing path. Her estate included an endowment of $130,000 for Hispanic young women attending Adams State University in Alamosa. A certain percentage of the endowment is awarded each year to two qualified and deserving Hispanic female students ensuring that “the endowment will go on forever,” wrote former Adams State President Richard A. Wueste.
Lopez Tushar passed away in Denver in 2004. She was preceded in death by her husband, Frederick Tushar. They were married 37 years. But through her life story and her book, “The People of el Valle,” her legacy lives on. The book continues to be used in the history department at ASU.
She is a woman born in a place where horses outnumbered cars and lived long enough to watch the first women fly into space. Her life can be traced over every major story of the last century, including all of its wars. “This diminutive lady casts a long shadow across the community,” said James K. Jeffrey, Collection Specialist in Genealogy at the Denver Library. “Her life has been to educate everyone about the rich and diverse Hispano cultural heritage in Colorado and the Southwest. She is a cultural icon for the people of the San Luis Valley as well as all people in Colorado.”
Along the line, Lopez Tushar became fluent in six different languages and known as an accomplished pianist.