Political wisdom: Politics a lifelong thrill for Alfred LeFebre

Standing in the middle of his den at home, Al Lefebre points to his prized collection of presidential campaign buttons on the wall.



QUICKREAD


When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was running for his third term as president of the United States, Alfred LeFebre was a mere lad of 10. But unlike other tykes who busied themselves playing marbles or riding bicycles, this San Luis Valley native became active in politics.

Fast-forward 73 years, and Mesa County residents still will find LeFebre lurking in the back row of some conservative rally or getting his picture taken with the governor or some other Democratic politician.

Seated on the sofa of his Grand Junction home, LeFebre dispensed his decades of political wisdom, his face crinkling with disdain when certain (read, Republican) topics come up.

He is no fan of the Tea Party. “Those people are mean,” the life-long Democrat said in no uncertain terms, referring to the conservative movement that has swept the nation.

Born in 1926 to a father of French descent and a mother of Hispanic origins, LeFebre learned to speak numerous languages, including French, Spanish, German and, of course, English.

So it was no surprise to him when he enlisted in the Army in the late 1940s — “in those days, you just had to serve” — that they made him an interpreter. He returned to do some ranching on his family’s lands, and even worked as a sheepherder in Chama, N.M.

After those stints, he got a job for the then-newly created Colorado Port of Entry.

LeFebre remembers that the guy who hired him sent him to Whitewater south of town. He was a little hesitant to move so far away from home, but the man persuaded him to take the job, advising him to quit after a year if he didn’t like it.

Missing his family’s ranch near Manassa and his early life as a cowboy, LeFebre decided a year later he would do just that.

“Then I saw this 1957 Chevy in the paper for sale for $1,895,” he said. “I said I’d stay and pay the $55 a month payments for 24 months and then I’d leave. Fifty years later and I’m still here.”

When LeFebre started the job, his badge number was 181; when he retired in 1987, his badge number had become No. 1. The Port retired that number along with its long-time employee.

“On my last day, my boss let me leave at 3 o’clock,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘Thanks a lot.’ ”

In addition to his love of all things political — he has campaign buttons for every presidential race since the late 19th century — LeFebre fancies himself a historian.

“How many presidents have been assassinated?” he asked while showing off the numerous military and political memorabilia he has in several rooms of his modest ranch-style home where he and his wife, Emelina, raised five sons. “That’s right. Kennedy, McKinley, Lincoln and ... Garfield. People always forget that last one.”

His sons have given him 11 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren, all of whom he taught the importance of understanding politics, knowing history and getting a good education.

“He has a great big, sprawling John Steinbeck-type family,” said Secretary of State Bernie Buescher, who’s known LeFebre for years. “He was one of the original founders of the Latin-Anglo Alliance, and you always know where Al sits on topics.

“He adamantly opposed the Iraq War,” the former Grand Junction legislator continued. “He’ll typically have three or four buttons that he’s made himself telling you where he stands so you don’t have to guess. Nobody agrees with him 100 percent of the time, but he does his homework and you listen to what he thinks.”

Retired school counselor Louis Martinez, who has known LeFebre for years, primarily through the Alliance, said he’s the devil’s advocate.

While the group doesn’t always follow his advice, oftentimes it wished it had.

“He has a lot of knowledge of world events and politics, and he’ll definitely give his opinion on things,” Martinez said. “With the Alliance, he’s been president, treasurer ... he’s served in every office there. He makes people aware that we should look at other options. In a lot of ways, he’s been the negative person that has made people think, ‘Maybe we should look at this again. Maybe he’s right.’ ”

LeFebre doesn’t brag about such things, saying he merely likes to offer a historical perspective that he thinks is important. Knowing errors that others have made in the past, or things done right, is a much better way to make decisions, he lectures.

That’s why it upsets him when he thinks of how politics are conducted these days. Politicians are nastier to each other, and people are less tolerant of other opinions, which leads them to make bad decisions, he said.

“Years ago, things were more civil,” he said. “People were more respectful. I miss that.”


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