What is an opsimath?

November 03, 2022

Whenever I have the chance to speak to groups, I often learn as much from them as they learn from me.

This approach to learning from every situation was one of the habits I learned from my first business mentor, Dallan Sanders.

I first met Dallan while working as a newspaper reporter while going to Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU). He was the chamber of commerce director after retiring from a distinguished career with the university, and I interviewed Dallan about community events. He then became the economic development director in Portales. My own economic development career started in Clovis, just 20 miles north. 

Dallan never met a stranger. He could work the room (or a fastfood restaurant) like no one else – probably because of his sincerity and humility. 

Dallan taught me to be open-minded. His influence showed me the value of community and importance of collaboration.

Importance of collaboration

One of our projects together was a weekly radio show called “Connections” hosted by the Portales chamber and economic development, together with counterparts in Clovis. The design of the show was to demonstrate the commonalities between two neighboring communities to overcome competitive rivalries and promote the region. Co-hosting the show with Dallan, Portales Chamber of Commerce Director Chase Gentry, and my boss Ernie Kos, was a true privilege. 

Dallan and his wife Mickey lived in a beautiful adobe home on the edge of the ENMU campus. The Casa del Sol was designed in the 1940s by famous New Mexico architect John Gaw Meem. Dallas was famous for hosting receptions and community events and dreamed of the tradition of hospitality continuing. His dream came true when ENMU Alumna Dr. Gay Su Pinnell purchased the home and donated it to the University. In 2022, the university dedicated the Casa del Sol Event Facility.

In an article about the dedication, Dr. Pinnell called Casa del Sol the house of the sun and the house of a visionary. She said, “People are solidly invested in collaborations to grow generations dedicated to helping this town thrive.”

Value of community

Dallans investment in the community and the university was acknowledged when he was inducted into the ENMU Athletics Hall of Honors in 1993 after hosting the KENW Sports Look show for 18 years and serving as Eastern’s public address announcer since 1971. The university named the plaza behind the Campus Union Building after him as the Dallan Sanders Plaza.

Each year, the New Mexico Industrial Development Association awards the Dallan Sanders Award in recognition of a person’s dedication and achievements in rural economic development in New Mexico. 

Speaking of “Connections” Chase Gentry went on to work for the Clovis Industrial Development Corporation, and he was honored with the award in the name of our long-time friend and mentor. The Clovis community was saddened by Chase’s passing in 2021. I’d like to think Chase and Dallan are cruising heaven in a green convertible, giving everyone they see a thumbs up.

Continuing a legacy

I mentioned that Dallan was humble. He handed out a simple white business card that read: R. Dallan Sanders, Opsimath, Casa del Sol, Portales, New Mexico.

An opsimath is a lifelong learner. I strive to honor the memory of my mentor by sharing my experiences to guide others on their personal and professional journey.

Lisa Johnson
Lisa is an enterprising idea person who likes to share with others to help in their business and personal success. She was raised on cattle ranches in Wyoming and Colorado. She holds a B.S. in Communications from Eastern New Mexico University and is a graduate of the Economic Development Institute. Her economic development career has spanned 20+ years and three states, with leadership roles at the county, regional and state level. She founded Orbis to enjoy the advantage of working on unique consulting on projects while being actively involved on her husband’s family ranch at LaGrange, Wyoming. Lisa is equally as comfortable in the corporate board room or in the saddle.