Anne Sullivan: From Broadway to Datil – A Journey of Dedication and Passion

(Editor’s note: The following article is reprinted from the June-July 2002 issue of Rocky Mountain Outdoors. Anne Sullivan was an active member of RMOWP from 1992 until her death in October 2012. All who knew her loved her, and we miss her still. Anne had begun the writers forum and after her death the name was changed to honor her memory.)

Article & photo by John Catsis

Anne Sullivan in Datil
Anne and her faithful sidekick Sylvia on the front stoop of their home at the end of Swingle Canyon in Datil

Anne Sullivan leaves the post of RMOWP Secretary next month after serving six years in that demanding position. But that’s Anne: a person who has always been dedicated, caring, and passionate. She has conducted RMOWP’s business from her home in Datil, a sleepy, one-gas-station village in west central New Mexico that she’s called home for the past 15 years. Long time friends are not surprised about her lifestyle. It reflects what RMOWP is all about. And to know Anne is to recognize that she has had a love affair with the West ever since she was a child. She was introduced to the Rocky Mountain area during an annual grade school course that involved a six-week study of Indians. That school was in New York City — Manhattan to be exact — where Anne was born to a surgeon and a housewife mother. An only child, the tendency might have been to pamper her. But when dad joined the military during World War II, Anne became an Air Corps brat. Quite the opposite of being pampered, the experience taught her independence.

Anne’s other love was theater. While in high school, she thought of becoming a playwright, but decided that working behind the scenes was more satisfying. She honed her skills at prestigious Smith College in Massachusetts, where she received a degree in theater. As you read this, Anne may be attending her 50th class reunion this month.

For the first three years following graduation, Anne worked as an apprentice stage manager on off-Broadway productions. Life was tough, but she got by, thanks to that independent streak, living in a cold-water flat in Manhattan’s Little Italy. Her big break came when Anne became second assistant stage manager in the Broadway production of “Inherit the Wind,” starring Paul Muni and Tony Randall. Life became better with her new $85 a week salary.

Anne’s third love was travel. Within a short time she had saved enough money to go around the world. She hitchhiked over much of New Zealand and Australia. She stayed in Australia for a year, working as a stage manager in both Sydney and Melbourne.

But with Broadway still on her mind, she returned to New York, where Anne obtained her first leadership position as production stage manager. The show, “Cabaret,” was a touring show that performed all over the country. She found that she liked being on the road. Over the years, as she worked one road show after another, Sullivan learned two things about herself. First, working on a touring show meant she could live anywhere in America. Second, whenever a show performed west of the Mississippi River, “I was happy,” but the closer the show was to the East Coast, “I became.”

That’s when she decided to search for a new home in New Mexico, which Anne determined was her favorite state. As she initially checked out the state’s various towns, she concluded her ideal community had to have a library, movie theater, swimming pool, and a JC Penney department store. That was obviously well before discovering Datil!

At one point she decided the Socorro area was the place. So in 1970 she bought a small house in nearby Lemitar for the princely sum of $2,700. Sullivan lived there for the 17 years.

During that time, Anne broke all ties with New York, when she gave up her Manhattan apartment in 1976. Ten years later, she worked as production stage manager for the last time, overseeing the touring show “La Cage aux Folles.” The following year she moved to Datil, where she had purchased 40 acres and the 74-year-old log home she lives in now, located at the end of a box canyon amid towering pines, just a mile-and-a-quarter south of U.S. Highway 60.

She was convinced she had made the right decision. First, “Lemitar was just too hot in the summer.” And second, she had fallen in love with the site of her much larger new home.

Now in Datil for good, Anne’s goal was to read all the books she’d always wanted to read. A tour of her house confirms there’s a lot of reading to be done, and a lot of music to listen to, as well, as evidenced by the hundreds of audio cassettes found throughout the sprawling home. But always energetic, Anne soon became involved in the community, joining the EMT.

Ten years ago, Anne Sullivan joined RMOWP as a recruit of Kelly Gatlin, who lives nearby. The organization was just what she needed to re-ignite the writing bug that had first bitten her in high school. “Way down deep,” she confided, “it’s what I always wanted to do; especially humor.”

She has written three major articles and nine short stories for New Mexico Magazine. Other stories have appeared in New Mexico Wildlife and Route 66 Magazine, among other publications. Her dog, Sylvia, which she describes as a mutt, also has taken pen in paw and writes an occasional article for the local paper. Her cat, Ringworm, and horse, Brandy, have yet to follow suit.

While her term as RMOWP Secretary ends this June, she continues to serve as President of the New Mexico Outdoor Writers and Photographers Association, a post she has held three times. See what I mean about dedication and passion? One tour of duty just isn’t enough.

Her future goal is to write and publish even more, especially a children’s book. After that she wants to go to China, one of the countries she did not visit during her post-collegiate around-the-world tour.

Meanwhile, Anne readily welcomes RMOWP members as visitors as well as those from her theatrical past. And she is quick to correct anyone who mispronounces the name of her home town. Dat in Datil rhymes with Cat, she reminds.

Anne Sullivan shows no sign of slowing down, but when she does, she says she probably will move back to Lemitar, where health facilities in nearby Socorro are more convenient. That would close another chapter in the life of the girl from the Big Apple who ended up in the Big Canyon.

Datil be enough.