Emiteria Matie Martinez Robinson Viles historic marker.
Orphaned as a child in Golondrinas, she established the Viles Foundation in 1959 to provide higher-education scholarships to orphans and other youth in San Miguel and Mora counties. Through her generosity, more than 1,000 students have received a total of nearly $3 million for higher education as of 2023.
Around Las Vegas, New Mexico, Matie Viles is a well-known name because of the Viles Foundation, the scholarship fund she started in 1959 to help high school graduates pursue higher education. Widowed in 1950, she and her husband had owned and operated the Mountain View Ranch at Cowles, New Mexico, for many years. At the time of his death, her husband was also a stockholder and director of the Las Vegas Savings Bank and the Bank of New Mexico in Albuquerque. The couple’s wealth was greater than she realized, so she used her unexpected resources to create the Viles Foundation, which has granted more than 1,000 students a total of nearly $3 million dollars, as of 2023.
Born Emiteria Martinez in Golondrinas, New Mexico, a small settlement in Mora County, north of Las Vegas, she lost both of her parents at a very young age, probably around 5 years old. She went to live with her grandparents, who passed away soon after, leaving the young girl alone again. Orphaned twice as a child, she would forever feel a special benevolence toward other orphans.
Through extended family and church connections, she was adopted in 1896 by Elizabeth and Isaiah Robinson and lived with them in their home in Cebolla Canyon near Mora. The couple needed a home caregiver to tend to Elizabeth, who was asthmatic. During this time, Emiteria acquired the nickname “Matie” (pronounced MAY-tee). While with the Robinson’s, Matie learned to read and write from the Robinson’s son. At age 20, Matie married George Viles, a rancher near Cowles, New Mexico, who had also worked for the Robinsons, went by the nickname “Skipper,” and served as a guide in the Pecos wilderness.
Hired in 1911 as a manager for the El Paso Hunting Club operating near Cowles, Skipper told Matie he was returning to Cowles and that she could follow him if she wanted. She was left to pack their belongings in two buckboards and drive south around the Pecos mountains, a difficult journey that included driving buckboards alongside and sometimes even in the Pecos River.
Soon after, Skipper became the manager of the Mountain View Ranch in Cowles.
Husband and wife worked together to keep the cattle and dude ranch in operation, with Matie providing meals and housekeeping services to the guests, many from the East Coast who came to spend time on the “dude ranch.” Although she had no formal education, she was adept at life skills and successfully helped run the ranch. She was beloved by the ranch guests and became known affectionately as “Mother Matie.”
Guests at the Mountain View Ranch were often wealthy investors. Skipper chatted regularly with them and from those conversations began to invest money from his ranching operations into the stock market. Having lost $160 in a bank account during the Depression, he also became interested in banking operations. His continued financial success later led him to become the director of the Las Vegas Savings Bank and the Bank of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
Defying the turbulent financial markers of the Depression era, the couple purchased the Mountain View Ranch in 1930, owning and operating it until 1945. Although the couple’s wealth grew during their marriage, Skipper did not tell Matie about his investments and financial success. Remarkably, when he passed away in 1950, she wondered how she would afford to buy a dress to attend the funeral. When Skipper’s lawyer, W. Morris Shillinglaw, who subsequently became Matie’s lawyer, explained to her that she had received an inheritance, she thought he was joking. Upon his death, their estate was valued at approximately $750,000; while he likely gave some of it to others, Matie would have inherited more than half a million dollars. According to people who knew Matie, she never fully understood the extent of her estate.
Matie often used her money to help others, particularly orphaned children, buying them shoes and school supplies. One Easter, she anonymously bought an Easter basket for every girl in Pecos. Knowing of her benevolence toward children, Shillinglaw and his secretary, Eleanor Wald, worked with Matie so she could provide help and money to others. Through this association, Wald and Matie became close friends for the remaining years of Matie’s life. The trio visited orphanages in hopes of finding one suitable for the donation, but Matie was concerned that her donations might go to administrative costs instead of benefiting the orphans directly.
By 1958, Shillinglaw had begun looking into the possibility of creating a foundation to carry out Matie’s wish to help young people. The following year, the Viles Foundation, Inc., was created, with Morris Shillinglaw and Eleanor Wald serving at Matie’s request as founding members of the Board of Directions, and with starting assets of $400,000. The foundation was designated as a 501(c)3 corporation to grant scholarships to orphan or half orphan children in San Miguel and Mora Counties, with priority given to girls. The goal of the Foundation was to help young people—originally young orphaned girls in the Las Vegas and Pecos area, but this has since expanded to include all young people—achieve higher education. As stated in the Certificate of Incorporation:
“The purpose for which the corporation is formed is to benefit the young people of New Mexico by making direct grants to them in order to make available education opportunities which would not otherwise be forthcoming with emphasis on, but not expressly limiting the benefits to, orphan girls, fatherless or motherless girls and with emphasis on young people from San Miguel and Mora Counties in New Mexico.”
Matie was part of the development of the foundation, but may not have known the full extent of the benefit her Foundation would have for young people. When the first three students were awarded scholarships totaling $1,500 in 1959, she reportedly believed that she had spent all of her money. She told a friend that she was glad all of her money had been used to help those students.
Emiteria “Matie” Martinez Robinson Viles died in 1961. At her death, her estate was valued at $750,000.00. She bequeathed money to many friends and extended family of her husband, as well as St. Anthony’s Hospital and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, both in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The remainder of her estate went into a trust created to benefit the Viles Foundation, Inc.
In 2008, the Viles Foundation celebrated its fiftieth year of operation. They had, to that date, “granted more than two million dollars to 852 students in Mrs. Viles’ name.” Since then, the total has reached nearly three million dollars and more than 1,000 students. Between 40 and 60 students are granted the scholarship each year. Most attend New Mexico Highlands University or Luna Community College, both in Las Vegas, although this is not a requirement. The Board of Directors of the Viles Foundation actively supports students making the transition from high school to higher education. All scholarship recipients are offered mandatory training for skills that will make them successful in college, like how to schedule courses and how to study, and Board members (many of whom are former scholarship recipients) mentor students to minimize dropout rates.
The scholarship has recently been extended to include Master’s degree candidates. Among the former recipients of the Viles Foundation scholarship are New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, NMHU regent and longtime Viles Foundation board members LouElla Marr Montoya, and San Miguel County attorney and former district attorney Jesus Lopez.
In 2013, New Mexico Highlands University named a new residence hall the Viles Crimmin Hall after Matie Viles and another Highlands University benefactor.
Interview with Merideth Hmura, July 8, 2016.
Hmura, Merideth. Mountain View Ranch, 1915-1945: George A. and Matie R. Viles. Lockport, Il: Leaning Line Publishing, 1996.
Viles Foundation, Inc., http://www.vilesfoundation.org/, accessed July 6,
2016, Sept. 8, 2016, and January 19, 2023.
Background information provided by the San Miguel Board of County Commissioners via Resolution No. 06-13-2006-CM.
Learn more about Emiteria “Matie” Martinez Robinson Viles and our resources for educators on the New Mexico Historic Women Marker Program curriculum page.