Even when he was in high school, when most people are awkward and insecure, Fernando "Nick" de Necochea was confident and popular. As a senior at Calexico High School in 1937 "Nick" first staked his claim to fame.
"He was the most handsome guy at the high school and everyone wanted to dance with him. It was ‘Save the next dance for me, Nick,'" his son said.
De Necochea's wife Margarita remembered, "All the contests he won were performed with me."
The high school sweethearts married in 1940 after Margarita Padilla graduated from high school. To support his new family, Fernando studied accounting at San Diego Business College, becoming licensed to practice accounting in California in 1946. He later became a licensed accountant in Mexico.
After working in San Diego and for Desert Seed Co. in El Centro, he established his own business in Calexico in 1946, serving clients and companies throughout the Imperial and Mexicali valleys, California and Mexico until his retirement in 1995.
Gordy de Necochea said, "He had offices in Blythe, El Centro, Tijuana, Mexicali and Guadalajara in Jalisco, Mexico … and of course, Calexico."
While much of his work involved processing tax returns and balancing books, Gordy said his father also made time to help immigrants fill out paperwork to become U.S. citizens.
"He touched a lot of people's lives. He immigrated hundreds of people, probably thousands. He was very business savvy and he was able to do the paperwork, say if a father wanted to immigrate his child," he said.
While he was working, Fernando de Necochea was always well dressed.
"Suit and tie seven days a week," his son remembered.
On the occasions when he wasn't in office wear, de Necochea was duded out in his riding gear.
"He'd drive around in his Cadillacs and in the trunk he'd have all of his riding gear," his son remembered, "Saddles, boots, Stetson hat. He was a great horseman."
When Fernando de Necochea was 80 he had surgery, Gordy said.
"The first thing he asked the doctor; ‘Can I ride a horse?' The doctor told him no. Well, he ignored the doctor's advice at a birthday party at a ranch near Hemet. He got on the horse and became John Wayne. It was something he had in his blood."
Margarita de Necochea said he loved the ranch life the same way he loved the Imperial Valley.
"In the past few years he loved to see everything that was planted. He wanted me to drive him out in the country so he could see the alfalfa and the cuttings," she said.
Margarita said her witty husband also spent time drinking coffee and trading stories with his buddies in a little bakery downtown.
The couple's combined community contributions to Calexico were honored in November by San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus, which dedicated the "Fernando and Margarita de Necochea Special Collections Room" in the campus library.
While proud of his Mexican-American heritage, de Necochea encouraged his sons to find out more about their Basque ancestors. What Gordy found out was the de Necochea family has its origins in Urzainqui, Spain, a village outside Pamplona at the base of the Spanish side of the Pyrennes. De Necochea means "mountaineer."
De Necochea was born on May 30, 1916, a product of Mexicali's first registered marriage, in 1903, to Gabriel de Necochea Gonzalez of San Jacinto, California who settled in Calexico in 1898 and Adelaida Castro Marron, daughter of one of the founders of Mexicali, Santiago Castro Verduzco and his wife Maria Marron Carrillo.
De Necochea was the last survivor of 11 children — Gabriel, Enrique, Guillermo, Justo, Herminia, Sara, Francisco, Fernando, Adela, Anita, and Santiago — who grew up in Calexico and Mexicali, attending public schools.
Mr. de Necochea was active in civic affairs, serving as president of the Calexico Chamber of Commerce and officer of the Lions Club and appointed by Gov. Goodwin Knight as California's commissioner of deeds and was listed in "Who's Who in California" for many years. He helped form the Mexican American Political Association and establish California Rural Legal Assistance.