The Blackwell School: The Legacy of Custodian Eduardo “Lalo” Dominguez

Lalo Dominguez in 1919. Photo from the Junior Historian Files at Marfa Public Library.

Blackwell student Richard Williams remembers longtime custodian Eduardo “Lalo” Dominguez as “well-liked by the kids,” and recalled that he stood out because he always “wore his Army cap and [what they called] the Eisenhower jacket from World War II — and that was his identity.” Williams had a specific memory of his connection to Dominguez that still resonates decades later.

“I would volunteer to clean the blackboards,” he recalled. “And luckily those days when the teacher would go home, the janitor was still in the building and he would let me out. His name was Lalo Dominguez and he was there from the day I entered the school to the day I graduated. He comes into the room and sees me cleaning the blackboard, so he called me his helper. We bonded because I was his helper.”

Dominguez was born in 1898, one of nine children of Felipe Dominguez and Manuela Estrada Dominguez, early Fort Davis pioneers. According to Benny Villareal’s 1974 submission to the Junior Historian Files at Marfa Public Library, the Dominguez family owned a ranch three miles north of Fort Davis. They raised vegetable crops along with horses, mules and cattle. The family moved to Marfa in 1910 and lived in a house where the Marfa Locker Plant is today.

Lalo Dominguez, year unknown. Photo courtesy of the Blackwell School Alliance.

Lalo Dominguez lived in Marfa the next 60 years, aside from the years he served in World War I and World War II. He also served the community as the longtime custodian of the Blackwell School. In addition to Richard William’s memories, students mentioned Mr. Dominguez’s boiler room at the school as a good place to get warm before class or during recess. Alumni preserving the Blackwell School 15 years ago included a short verse with Mr. Dominguez’s obituary, including “Remember our beloved Lalo who loved us all / and kept Blackwell neatly up to date.”

Mr. Dominguez stands out in the history of the Blackwell School for more than his longevity and kindness. In the long run of the school, there were very few ethnic Mexican teachers — and only in its last years. For much of his tenure as school custodian, he was the only Mexican American employee at the Blackwell School.

This stands in contrast to the typical segregated African American school in the United States. A 2019 article in Education Week confirms what visitors to the Blackwell School have shared — that on average 50% of teachers and administrators in historically segregated Black schools were themselves Black. Some schools had only Black teachers. When school districts
integrated, many — sometimes all — experienced, highly credentialed Black educators were dismissed, demoted or forced to resign. Much has been written about the loss of important role models to African American students.

Headstone at Fort Bliss National Cemetery. Photo by Gretel Enck.

Lalo Dominguez was a role model for a generation of Marfa children finding their way in a world with a lot of boundaries. Seemingly every alum remembers him. When his great-nephews visited the Blackwell School a few years ago, they casually mentioned the custodian in their family history. Mr. Dominguez, I asked? Yes! How did you know? Well, he made an impression.

Mr. Dominguez is buried at the Fort Bliss National Cemetery, a well-deserved honor for a veteran of two wars — and also for a role model, a father figure, a maker of a safe, warm place.

Do you have memories of Mr. Dominguez, or other staff at the Blackwell School, that you would like to share? Email us at [email protected]

Gretel Enck is the past president and long-time volunteer with the Blackwell School Alliance.