At Home in the American Southwest
Dorothy and Kevin McKibbin
Anne McMillan, Dorothy McKibbin’s grandniece, grew up in St. Paul and attended Pomona College in Claremont, California. Traveling to Pomona by car brought her within reach of Santa Fe; she visited Dorothy three times.
I had the fortune to meet my great-aunt Dorothy for the first time in 1979, when I stayed at her home in Santa Fe, at 1099 Old Santa Fe Trail. It was a one-story adobe dwelling, U-shaped, with a wide veranda in front and bedrooms on either side of a spacious living room and dining area. At 82 years, Dorothy was still a spunky woman and delightful hostess with lots of stories to tell.
She took me to a restaurant in Santa Fe where she had eaten with Georgia O’Keefe and filled me in on the latest gossip. She told me her life story about contracting tuberculosis and convalescing in the Southwest, about her husband Joe’s premature death, and about her decision to make a break for the West with her infant son. She also related with sparkle, how enamored she was when she first met Robert Oppenheimer and how exciting it was when she was offered a job, although at that time she had no idea what it was about.
She became part of the Manhattan Project in a most unusual way and was called “The Gatekeeper” to Los Alamos. Aside from her special duties, she hosted many weddings at her house for those living in Los Alamos who were unable to leave the area because everything was top-secret. The ceremonies took place outside in the inner patio. It was evident that she went out of her way to make everyone feel at home and comfortable. That’s how I felt when I was with her. It was such a welcome surprise!
Dorothy’s son Kevin grew up loving nature, exploring the outdoors, and fittingly became a park ranger. While I was there, I visited him and his wife Mary Gower at Bandolier National Monument, where he worked. I remember the lovely drive up winding roads, and climbing into the caves, or “cavates,” hollowed out by the Pueblo Indians. Dorothy also spoke with affection about her two granddaughters, Karen and Anne. Her only complaint then was that she was nearly blind and couldn’t read the many books which lined her living room walls, something she had hoped to do in her old age. I grew very fond of Dorothy, who was always gracious and good-humored, and visited her two more times before her death.