Estell enrolled in New Mexico State when she was able to convince a kindergarten teacher to accept her youngest son, at the age of three, into the class. He remained in that class for three years, leading Estell to joke that he was a graduate student of kindergarten. Once Estell had returned to school, she worked to assist other mothers in doing so as part of a group called MOMS (Maternal Order of Mature Students), which eventually had about 30 members. Estell and other members helped encourage interested mothers to enroll, assisted them through the registration process, and hosted luncheons and other events to offer each other support.
Taking classes during the hours her children were in school, Estell received a bachelors in 1967 and a masters in counseling in 1973. Her interest in youth is reflected in research she did as a graduate student, which included a grant-funded project on correlations between how children are treated when young and the ways in which they learn. She was working toward a Ph.D. with a dissertation on altered states of consciousness when she began her advising position in the College of Education.
As New Mexico State Universitys advisement coordinator, Estells formal duties were to help students plan and navigate their academic paths. The element of her job she found most rewarding was the chance to offer informal personal counseling to troubled students. In order to talk with students who sought her assistance, she began to come to work early, stay late, and meet with them during lunch. Being able to help these students brought Estell pleasure. It makes you feel better if you help others, she said.
Many of those former students are now members of the Mastery in Life Center, which Estell helped start. In fact, about half its approximately 100 members are her former students from New Mexico State, many of whom are now teachers. Members of the center practice the Science of Mind religion, which has churches all over Europe and the United States. Practitioners take a series of classes in order to join the religion.
Estells decision to found the Mastery in Life Center originated from her desire to raise her three sons in a religious environment different from the one in which she was raised, which, she says, was suffused with hellfire and damnation. By contrast, according to Estell, Science of Mind is based on love and acceptance. To me, said Estell, religion based on fear is kind of an oxymoron. It should be based on love.
Until the church was able to fund its current location on the downtown mall, members met first in the back room of a coffee shop near New Mexico State, then the Elks Club, and, often, in a large room added onto the back of Estells home. This room is now full of memorabilia illustrating important aspects of her life, including many photographs of and newspaper clippings about her three sons, all of whom are New Mexico State graduates: David 72, Redge 78 and Greg 80 85. The room is partially lit by a large moveable ceiling light constructed by Greg, a sculptor working in recycled parts, and features shelves and shelves of books. Estell continues to be an avid reader.
Through the years, this room has been the setting for many potluck dinners and classes Estell has hosted on topics such as biofeedback, meditation and miracles. Her sons music groups have also played there, and it has occasionally hosted young people in the community she or her sons knew to be in need. To be able to open her house up in such a way was one of the reasons she wanted the room constructed.
Estell continues to counsel members of the community. She takes calls from people in need of assistance without charge and meets with a group each Tuesday at the Mastery in Life Center. Estells counseling philosophy is largely based on her belief in the salutary effects of helping others as well as the importance of not feeling isolated, of knowing that one is not alone in ones difficulties. She views her own life challenges in a positive light. Nobody gets through here with a free pass, she said. And if you did, you wouldnt learn anything.
When Estell and her husband came to the area over fifty years ago, she remembers passing a sign that said, 15,000 friendly people welcome you to Las Cruces. Coming from the Ozarks, she also remembers the shock of acclimating to the regions climate and vegetation. Although at first she thought it was the most God-forsaken country, she quickly came to love the area. Las Cruces has been enhanced by Estells generous, spirited and spiritual presence ever since.
In honor of her 80th birthday, the Estell family has established an endowed scholarship fund in the College of Education, ensuring that Marge Estells legacy of light and support lives on forever.