Wednesday, June 29, 2005


My old high school vice principal died Sunday.

I first met Bouncer Sena in August 1968 on my first day at Santa Fe Mid High. He saw my name and asked if my mother was Mary Ruth. When I said yes, he said, "I knew her in high school. She was the prettiest girl in school. I knew your dad too."

Later that day, there was a school assembly. Bouncer informed us that students were no longer welcome at Josie's Restaurant. Something to do with a firecracker incident the previous school year.

I took him seriously.

In fact I was probably 30 years old when my pal Paul Milosevich asked if I wanted to meet him for lunch at Josie's.

It took me a second. I almost blurted out, "I'm not allowed in there."

Here's the obit for Bouncer I wrote for this morning's paper.

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 29, 2005

He was a coach, an educator, a politician, a family man, a high-school football star and a lifelong Santa Fean. Anyone who knew the sometimes-gruff but ultimately big-hearted authority figure for two generations of local high schoolers knew him by his childhood nickname: “Bouncer.”

John “Bouncer” Sena died Sunday. He was 77.

Sena had been hospitalized with pneumonia and other ailments. “He was in the hospital for a little over a month. Then he came home (about two weeks ago) and was very happy,” his daughter, Melinda “Jo Jo” Tarnoff, said Tuesday.

“He was always an inspiration,” said Orlando Baca, a retired Santa Fe High School typing and math teacher. “He was one of those tough old guys like (longtime Santa Fe High School principal) Joe Casados. But they always had a heart and treated everyone with dignity and respect. That’s why they got so much out of their staff and the students.”

Sena was born in Santa Fe in 1927, the youngest of eight children of Abran and Elena Sena.

He was raised on Agua Fria Street near Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. His father worked for the state Highway Department.

When he was about 11, Sena got dubbed with the nickname that would stay with him for life. “There are various stories on how he got that name,” Sena’s son Frank Sena said. “He was a big kid. His brother told him he looked like a bouncer when they were boxing.”

As a sophomore at Santa Fe High School in 1943, Bouncer Sena was on the Demon football team when they won the state championship.

“He was the tackle,” said lifelong friend and former College of Santa Fe athletic director Bob Sweeney, who was fullback on that champion team.

Sweeney said he and Sena were involved together in various athletic pursuits through the years. Sena was manager for the College of Santa Fe basketball team when Sweeney was coach. And in recent years the two were golf buddies.

After graduating from high school, Sena attended college at The University of New Mexico. He graduated in 1951 from the College of Santa Fe with a degree in business administration.

But it was in the field of education where he would find his career.
Baca recalled that when he was in high school “Bouncer” Sena was teaching driver’s education and coaching.

“He coached everything,” Frank Sena said. “Football, track, anywhere they needed a coach, he’d do it. I grew up in locker rooms, press boxes and on the sidelines. It wasn’t bad.”

When the current Santa Fe High School campus open in the mid 1960s, the old school building — currently the location of City Hall — became Santa Fe Mid High. “Bouncer” Sena became vice principal of the school.

“He was a steadfast, loyal employee and colleague,” said Don Casados, who was Mid High principal during that period. “He set high standards of honor, morality and integrity. He earned respect from faculty, staff and parents. His main concern was the students.”

While his dedication to students was unquestioned, Sena also had another interest — politics.

He made unsuccessful stabs at running for a state House seat in 1972 and 1974. The first time he lost the Democratic primary to Eddie Lopez by two votes.
“They didn’t let him put the name ‘Bouncer’ on the ballots that time,” Frank Sena said. “A lot of people didn’t realize it was him.”

But “Bouncer” Sena twice won a County Commission seat in the mid ‘70s. In 1978 he was named commission chairman. “They did a lot during those years,” Frank Sena said, noting that the Stephen Herrera Judicial Complex was built during his father’s watch.

State Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, who worked in the county manager’s office during those years, has fond memories of Sena. “I could always tell when he was in the building,” she said. “I could hear him singing as he came up the stairs. He was always so pleasant and full of energy.”

After his two terms on the commission were up, Sena made two more unsuccessful runs for Legislature. He ran for state Senate in 1980 and 1984.

Shortly after he retired from Santa Fe High School, Sena was named a “Living Treasure.”

In recent years, Sena worked part-time at Sam’s Club. He worked there the day before he was hospitalized, his son said.

Sena is survived by his wife Bernadette of 47 years; son Joe Frank Sena of Santa Fe, daughters Dolores Greenwood of Los Angeles, Melinda “Jo Jo” Tarnoff of Ribera and Rebecca Abbo of Albuquerque; and six grandchildren.

UPDATE 4-25-07: I have updated the link to Bouncer's page at the Living Treasuers Web site.

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