After resignation of longtime leader, Blackwell School Alliance plans next steps

Former Blackwell School Alliance president Gretel Enck spoke at a press conference at the Blackwell School in October after President Joe Biden signed the Blackwell School National Historic Site Act. Enck resigned as president in January after serving in the role since 2016. Staff photo by Maisie Crow.

MARFA — Gretel Enck, who for years served both as president and director of the board for the Blackwell School Alliance, stepped down from both positions in January, citing a potential conflict of interest with her day job as a federal employee. 

The shift in leadership comes amidst a period of transition for Marfa’s Blackwell School, recently designated a National Historic Site — placing it under the purview of the National Park Service — and for the Alliance of alumni and advocates that oversaw that long-awaited victory. 

Enck tendered her resignation from her leadership roles on January 18, announcing the decision first in a February 2 Letter to the Editor in this newspaper, then on Blackwell School Marfa’s public Facebook page.

“As you may know, I have a day job that presents a potential conflict of interest with representing a place now designated as a National Historic Site,” Enck wrote in the Facebook post. Enck works as an administrator for the Fort Davis National Historic Site.

She went on to clarify that her involvement with the Blackwell School is far from over, despite her notable change in title.

“I hope and intend to continue as a volunteer — hosting open hours, performing building and grounds maintenance, and seeing to other behind-the-scenes tasks that come up — until those duties are turned over to the National Park Service or to other volunteers,” she wrote.

While the imperative to avoid the appearance of any potential conflict may have hastened her resignation, Enck told The Big Bend Sentinel that her plan to step down had been in the works for some time. 

“Now that we’re turning it over [to NPS] I just feel like I want to move on to other things,” said Enck. “The timing of me resigning is only a little bit sooner than we had anticipated.”

Enck’s tenure at the helm of the alliance has seen the Blackwell School through a push for national recognition and awareness of the school’s history, an honorific designation to the National Register of Historic Places, and ultimately, designation as a National Historic Site. She first joined the board in July 2015, and went on to become president in May 2016 when Blackwell alumnus Joe Cabezuela stepped down.

Alumni and board members say her leadership was instrumental in seeing the long-sought-after designation through to its final conclusion.

“It’s a great loss for the alliance,” said Mario Rivera, Blackwell School alumnus and founding Blackwell School Alliance board member, who is now serving as interim president in the wake of Enck’s departure.

“Her efforts to help this group of alumni — who for the better part of a decade and a half have been working really, really diligently to save the site — her guidance, and her leadership and her knowledge are valuable to the efforts to make the school a National Historic Site,” said Daniel Hernandez, a descendent of school alumnus and a board member.

The alliance was first established roughly 16 years ago, when what began as an informal school reunion morphed into something much larger — that group of alumni mobilized to preserve the adobe structure, which served as a school for Mexican American students from 1909 to 1965, and the history it represented. When the group got wind that the Marfa ISD Board might sell property, for instance, they struck a deal to lease it in order to ensure its preservation. In 2020, the group launched a letter-writing campaign to urge the National Historic Site designation; legislation to that end was first introduced in 2021. The yearslong campaign came to an end in October 2022, when President Biden signed the Blackwell School National Historic Site Act into law.

“It’s been a lot of work — and a lot of wonderful work,” Enck said.

Now, as the site and its maintenance is turned over to the federal government — the National Park Service is currently working to obtain the land the structure sits on from the City of Marfa — and Enck moves on to her next chapter (while continuing volunteer work) the alliance is left to reassess its role in the site’s future. What that looks like, exactly, has yet to be determined.

 “We’re just waiting to see what our role is going to be now that the park system is taking over,” said Rivera. The group is currently embarking on a strategic planning process to craft a roadmap for its future, and plans to meet later this month for that purpose, said Rivera.

Hernandez said the alliance is currently evaluating a number of options for its continued role.

“There’s a potential for it to become a friends group, which a lot of times is engaged more in fundraising, but there are also ways that the organization can cooperate with the National Park Service and with other stakeholders, not necessarily in that friends group capacity, but in other ways to continue to support the development of the site,” said Hernandez.

The group will be ready to share more about its plans for the future at the Blackwell Block Party on April 22. 

“It’s a big transition time,” said Enck. “As it should be, because we just achieved this kind of monumental, miraculous goal.”