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Socorro Herrera, 84, left, the owner of Socorro’s Restaurant in Hernández, cheers for Northern New Mexico College alongside interim President Bárbara Medina after Herrera received an honorary degree during commencement Saturday.

HERNÁNDEZ — Socorro Herrera married at 16 and had the first of her four children by the time she was 17. She didn’t graduate from high school back then, but now Herrera, 84, is on her way to holding a diploma from the Peñasco Independent School District and she has an honorary degree from Northern New Mexico College.

The degree, awarded Saturday, is for Herrera’s contributions to the small community north of Española, where she has lived her entire life.

“I’m not the type that likes to show off, but they gave me that honorary degree, and I’m glad,” she said in an interview after the ceremony.

Herrera is known for feeding the elderly, singing at weddings and running Socorro’s Restaurant, a staple of the little town that has drawn customers both near and far, including former President Barack Obama and Hollywood star John Travolta.

“Socorro is a lovely woman with many strengths, a pillar of the community. Her success provides a role model for me — for her generosity, her personality and her kind soul. Many people support and love her. I am one of them,” said Ana Gutiérrez Sisneros, an associate professor of nursing and clinical coordinator at Northern, during the graduation program.

Herrera was born in the same house in Hernández where she operates the restaurant. Memories of her past hang on the walls — photos of famous customers are mixed with decades-old photos of Herrera and her band, Socorro y los Sueños.

Her father built the house in the late 1800s.

“He brought the vigas on horseback to build this place,” Herrera said. “… This was my dad and my mom’s house, and then they opened the liquor store and a grocery store. So, I’ve been here all my life.”

Growing up during the Great Depression, Herrera did not have much as a child, she said, adding she opened the restaurant 28 years ago to help her family.

Since then, she has been able to give her kids, as well as her six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, the things she did not have.

Socorro’s serves up food made from family recipes, ranging from enchiladas to pizza to homemade sopaipillas — at prices customers say can’t be beat.

The restaurant is now owned by Herrera’s son, Ivan Herrera, but she still wakes up early every morning to run the restaurant or to travel to Santa Fe to pick up supplies.

Another son, New Mexico State Police Officer Mario Herrera, made Socorro’s a hot spot for local law enforcement officers looking for a bite to eat.

Socorro Herrera said she often treats people in need to free meals and has even fed firefighters battling the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire.

“I give a lot more than I take,” she said.

While customers know Herrera for her Spanish cuisine, she also is known for her music.

In the 1970s, Herrera sang in Socorro y Los Sueños with her late husband, Lorenzo. The band played at the Taos Inn for 14 years and released its first album, La Consentida Del Norte, in 1978.

Herrera said her husband died in November.

Even with the love of her life gone, she still continues to sing at the restaurant.

She started singing when she was 5 years old, she said, and recalled climbing on the counter at her father’s grocery and liquor store to provide a performance.

“I used to get up there and sing to everybody, and the borrachos, they would give me money,” she said.

From time to time, other musicians come to serenade her, like Jerome Sanchez, who played his guitar Saturday afternoon as hungry customers trickled in for lunch.

Sanchez said he first came to Socorro’s three years ago and used to play music with Herrera.

Theodora Segura, a regular at the restaurant and Herrera’s hairdresser, said she has known the singer and restaurateur for most of her life.

Her son, William Segura, said Herrera always welcomes everybody into her restaurant like family.

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