FARMINGTON — When Judith Avila first met Chester Nez at a Farmington Applebee's for lunch, she was struck by his honesty about what happened when he was a Navajo Code talker.
As Nez and his son got ready to leave, Avila told him he had a story to tell. And she asked if she could be the one to write it.
Together, Avila and Nez recorded his story and published the memoir "Code Talker."
Avila will present the story at the San Juan College Little Theater as part of the Chautauqua series at 7 p.m. Friday.
What many people don't realize, Avila said, is that the code talkers actually created an impenetrable code.
"It wasn't just speaking Navajo," she said.
Other Navajos couldn't even crack it.
But Avila said that the part of Nez's life that really stayed with her happened before World War II even began.
In the early 1930s, the government to Navajo Nation and said the land had been overgrazed. Nez's family had a large flock of sheep, but the government slaughtered 700 of them, reducing the family to sustenance farming. It left the family wondering how they would get by.
And yet Nez went on to become one of the original 29 code talkers. He is the only surviving member of the group.
Unlike many presenters, known as Chautauquas, Avila doesn't impersonate Nez when she tells his story. Most Chautauquas present as the person whose story they're telling and they answer questions while in character while remaining in character.
San Juan College professor emeritus Jimmy Miller has been helping put on the Chautauqua series since the 1980s. He said the presenters aim to "transport people in time away from the contemporary reality."
The series consists of six to eight presentations, all related in some way to one another. Presentations happen throughout the school year.
The latest series started on Aug. 23 with a presentation by Alison Moore and Phil Lancaster about the orphan train. Two more presentations are scheduled after Avila's one on pacifist and women's suffragette Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to the House of Representatives, and the other about biologist Rachel Carson, the author of "Silent Spring," a book that led to the banning of the pesticide DDT. This series is focusing on important events in recent U.S. history.
"We have certain areas we are trying to stress in American history," Miller said.
Miller said Nez's story is important because of the ties it has to the greater Navajo Code talker story. The book Avila and Nez co-authored put a final chapter on the story, he added.
"We are living the last few months and years of the code talkers that are still alive," Miller said.
While the original 29 code talkers grew to more than 200, many have died.
"That generation is leaving us," Miller said.