Ruidoso Downs Race Track Presumably Sold

Monday morning it was announced by Ruidoso Downs Race Track President and General Manager, Shaun Hubbard, on local radio that a letter of intent is in place (within the last 24 hours) to purchase the racecourse by five ardent horsemen. The sale must be authorized by the New Mexico Racing Commission before being finalized. All concerned, are hopeful the deal will be approved in the fourth quarter of 2017.

The five proposed owners are: retired AT & T President and CEO Stan Sigman; Johnny Trotter; Gary McKinney; Narcisco (Chicho) Flores (all four from Texas) and John Andreini (of California). The considered sale also includes the esteemed Ruidoso Horse Sale Company. Reportedly, the above-mentioned individuals will be equal partners.  

Hubbard maintained the new prospective owners share the same dedication and motivation that guided R.D. Hubbard (and later his grandson, Shaun) over the last three decades. The elder Hubbard (now 81) purchased the then financially troubled racetrack in 1988, along with Dr. Ed Allred (owner of Los Alamitos Race Course), and instituted $2.5 million in renovations. By the next year, gate receipts were up. Hubbard later purchased Allred’s interest in the facility.

The R.D. and Joan Dale Hubbard Foundation contributed millions of dollars in grants, plus hundreds of college scholarships southeastern individuals and organizations. The Foundation is dedicated to education, the arts and humanities. Both people were former teachers. Beside the various properties he owns in the Ruidoso area, he also invested his own money outside the track in Tularosa on a 320-acre horse farm for New Mexico-bred horses – Crystal Springs Farm.

When asked what intrigues him about horseracing Hubbard replied, “There’s nothing more exciting to me. There are always lots of high … and needless to say, lows.”

The Ruidoso Downs Race Track has come a long way from its origins when it was known as “Mr. Miller’s cornfield.” On Sept. 1, 1957, four nominated horses actually started in the Southwestern Futurity, which was the precursor to the venerable All American Futurity (in 1959). In the former race, a 2-year-old gelding came across the line first and collected $19,700. That prize was the largest single check ever collected by any Quarter Horse at the time. During Hubbard’s stewardship, the All American Futurity G1 went from a $2 million purse in 1989 to $3 million in 2016.

The Ruidoso Downs Race Track has been a heavy draw to thousands of visitors who not only spend money at the racecourse but also at restaurants, hotels, local shops, food stores and for automotive necessities.      



Lea County's City Slicker

I moved from Oklahoma City to Lea County during the summer of 2013 to take the executive director’s position at the Lea County Center for the Arts. During that time the oil and gas industry was at its peak. I  remember reading time after time in the Hobbs News-Sun about Hobbs and other cities within the county continuously setting and then breaking new gross receipt tax records. 

As a result of the energy boom, I was warned by my board of directors prior to moving to Lea County that there were more people within the county than there were places to live, housing rates were sky-high and finding a place to live would be my biggest challenge. I soon believed the part about prices being sky-high. I had to book a hotel room during the first two trips I made to Hobbs, and the hotel rates were ridiculously high compared to where I was coming from. I was looking at hotel rooms in Hobbs for $100 per night that would have been $65 back in Oklahoma. To me, that just meant I needed to find an apartment or house as quickly as I could without having to waste any more time or money staying in a hotel while searching. 

I still figured it would not be very difficult to find a place to live in Hobbs as long I was proactive and diligent about it. Boy was I wrong. I called the offices of apartment after apartment only to find each one booked with waiting lists. It took an act of God for me to finally find a place in Lea County and relocate during the month of June in 2013. 

I have now lived in Lea County for three and a half years. It’s amazing how quickly time has flown and how much change has taken place during my time here. It has been especially amazing to see how many new businesses and people have moved into town compared to when I first arrived. At that time, the Baymont Inn in Hobbs was just preparing to open, and the TownePlace Suites was still under construction. Now, the county is preparing to build a new courthouse in Lovington, and a new recreational facility will soon go up thanks to the cooperative efforts of the City of Hobbs, Lea County, New Mexico Junior College, Hobbs Municipal Schools, the Maddox Foundation and University of the Southwest. It’s amazing how quick things can change in Lea County.  

Of course, most recently, we have seen a downturn in the oil and gas industry, but despite difficult times I have seen a resilient community come together and people step up to really support each other. In my position, I have been blessed to meet and work with so many people within Lea County, from its different school systems to law enforcement, business owners, nonprofit organizations, church leaders, city and county leaders, to just your regular “9-5” workers—or in Lea County’s case, “5-9” workers. If there is one thing that I’ve learned about Lea County, it’s that the people are truly what make this county a great 

place to live. I can’t recall how many times I have been invited to different people’s houses or treated to dinner or lunch within our community, just because people were interested in getting to know me without wanting anything back in return. That is simply a testament to the caring nature and heart of the citizens in Lea County.  

Many people would think that because I am a “city slicker” from Oklahoma City, moving to Lea County would be a difficult transition because of the cultural differences and a lesser variety of things to do. On the contrary, Oklahoma City and Lea County are quite similar to a certain extent. Both communities are founded on a cowboy and Western heritage. Lea County has the celebrated Lea County Fair and Rodeo in Lovington as well as the Western Heritage Museum and Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame in Hobbs. Oklahoma remains big on rodeo with events at the Oklahoma State Fair as well as PBR (Professional Bull Riders) events at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie. Oklahoma City is also home to the National Western Heritage Museum and Cowboy Hall of Fame, where I actually painted a mural while in college. In short, there are not as many differences as people would think.

For those citizens born and raised in Lea County, with ancestors that helped found this county we call home, I’d bet these past 100 years have been a thrill ride. From the pioneer days of wagons and the Pony Express on the Llano Estacado to Lea County being one of the fastest growing counties in the state and a premier destination for tourism, I think it’s safe to say that this 100-year centennial celebration is ultimately a celebration of Lea County’s development and a sign of the direction the county will continue in the future.


Cross the Line

It’s said that you don’t stop dancing because you grow old, but that you grow old because you stop dancingIf true, the Country Gold Line Dancers at the North Mesa Senior Recreation Center are well on their way to dancing toward immortalityAt an age when many of us crave a little extra couch time, a devoted group of individuals are stepping, turning and scuffing their way through a series of choreographed routines with names like Fun for All, Tequila Sheila and Imelda’s Way.  

“It’s all about having fun and the social aspect of getting together and dancing,” proclaimed instructor Jean Loafman“Plus, it’s also important to keep our old bodies moving!” 

According to Loafman, the line dance program has been offered at the senior center for almost 20 yearsNo prior dance experience is needed to participate; a general membership at the senior center ($7.50 per year for ages 40 and older) is the only requirement 

Currently, the center sponsors beginning, intermediate, and advanced line dance classes on weekday mornings; a challenge class is also held off-site at St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran ChurchThe challenge class is for advanced students and is by selection onlyStudents in the challenge class help out with other classes and perform upon request as the Country Gold Line Dancers at various events in town 

Loafman teaches the line dance classes at the center, with additional workshops, including one for new students, taught by assistant instructors Candy Westrich and Jayne MurrillThe workshops are geared toward individuals who missed a class or want extra practice,” explained WestrichThe classes are also remarkably free of pressure; dancers can choose to stay in the beginning class forever or choose to move up to a higher level. 

So what is line dancing?  If you’re like me, you have a preconceived idea that it is solely a type of country western dance best exemplified by the choreography of Melanie Greenwood for the 1992 Billy Ray Cyrus hit “Achy Breaky Heart” or Bill Bader’s choreography for “Boot Scootin Boogie” by Brooks and Dunn 

While it’s true that the 1990s saw the widespread popularity of line dancing within the general American public, the roots of line dancing go much further back in time and, surprisingly, include strong ties to popular music from the 1940s to 1960s (e.g., “The Stroll” and “Mashed Potatoes”) as well as disco music of the 1970s (e.g., “Bus Stop”) 

While there exists some disagreement over the exact definition of a line dance, it is generally accepted that a line dance is choreographed, consists of a repeating sequence of steps performed in unison by dancers arranged in one or more lines, and involves no partnering between the dancersUsing this definition, the first recognized true line dance, called the Tush Push, was choreographed by Jim Ferrazzano in 1980 

While line dancing is most popular in America, it has fans and variations all over the world, especially in Australia and Great BritainWith origins that include folk dancing in Africa and Europe as well as western square dancing and Native American dances, line dancings worldwide appeal is no surprise 

So how does one learn to line dance?  A visit to a recenbeginning line dance class proved that, much like anything new, you learn by taking the proverbial first stepApproximately 20 beginning dancers joined Loafman in learning moves that ranged from a simple touch step to slightly more complex series of steps with names like the Vine and the Rocking Chair. These step sequences were then repeated facing different walls, with dancers remaining in their lines, until the dance or music ended 

More experienced dancers, known as angels, flanked the four lines of dancers to provide visual guidance and encouragement to new studentsThe steps were practiced slowly, without music, and with lots of repetitionThen the dance was practiced with music. Amid much laughter, Loafman declared that the class had “almost got it whipped.”   

They walked through the choreography again and within 15 minutes, the group, many of whom had never danced before, was remarkably well-synchronized, changing direction and dancing with barely any missteps“I like to run through a new dance about three times,” insisted Loafman, “then let it soak in a while. The entire process was remarkably stress-free, with fun and mutual support the focus of the class 

“I really enjoyed it,” admitted one new student“I thought it would be harder than it was and came mainly for the exercise, but now I’m looking forward to the next class.”    

Experienced line dancer and helping angel Connie Dunagan, herself the grandmother of three equally talented young dancers, enjoys the camaraderie of the group and the variety of music to which they dance“Yes, we dance to country music, but we also have danced to music by [pop artist] Meghan Trainor and even to a hip-hop number.”    

It’s not only the new students that were excited to be dancingAccording to Loafman, during a recent break, she heard from so many of the members begging for the line dance classes to start back up.  

Apparently the 12 days of holiday break led to dance withdrawal among these dedicated individualsFor those who cannot get enough line dancing during the regular classes, there are also annual jamborees held throughout the state under the auspices of the New Mexico State Line Dance Organization. Anyone can go to the jamborees, which are a forum for socializing with others who have a love of line dancing 

This past year’s jamboree was held in Roswell, with attendees coming from all over the state as well as Colorado, Arizona and West TexasThis year’s jamboree will be May 5-6 in Ruidoso with an agenda that includes a pre-party and a full day of dancingCarlsbad hosted the first jamboree in 2005 and played host two other times as well 

Loafman was instrumental in forming the organization and standardizing a list of 40 dances, voted on and changed annually, that permits all jamboree attendees to know the same dances and therefore be able to dance togetherAmong the guest choreographers invited to past jamborees, Loafman was able to twice entice international artist Scooter Lee to attendThe multitalented Lee is particularly noted for her nonprofit charity Dancing For the Dream, Inc., which encourages senior citizens to use line dance as a form of healthy exercise 

The Country Gold Line Dancers are also requested to perform at many events around the areaThese performers are the more advanced dancers selected for the challenge classes and are characterized by their enthusiasm and ability to learn the choreography quicklyThey have performed at birthday and holiday parties, Relay for Life events, senior centers, and nursing homesIn the past, the line dancers also participated in dance competitions at the Senior Olympics, but the participation was discontinued once Loafman took over the group“I didn’t like it,” she observedEvery year someone left the competition angry or upsetIt wasn’t fun.” 

 She chose to concentrate instead on sharing her love of line dance and the enjoyment to be had from dancing solely for the fun of itHer resolve puts one in mind of motivational speaker Wayne Dyer, who once spoke about how the purpose of dance was not to concentrate on getting to a certain place on the floor but to enjoy each step along the wayIn the case of the Country Gold Line Dancers, this exuberant love of dance is evident in every step they take 

For those interested in beginning line dance, the class meets Mondays and Wednesdays from 9-10 a.m. at the North Mesa Senior Recreation Center


For the Love of the Game: Remembering the Summer of '56

Sixty years ago, a group of 12-year-old boys traveled from Roswell to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. What they would accomplish in that journey would be cherished and remembered for years to come. “We went from a dirt field in Roswell to an actual field with grass,” said the team’s left fielder, Harold Hobson. “I remember how the humidity in Pennsylvania made the grass wet and dewyAfter we won and arrived back in Roswell, it finally set in what we had accomplished. Thousands of people were waiting to greet us, and it was then we realized that what we had done was a big deal.”   

Hobson recalled traveling with his teammates by car, bus and train to their destination for the Little League World Series. They first had to win the district tournament, then the state tournament in Los Alamos. After these wins, they headed to the Southwest Regional Championship in Lubbock, Texas, followed by the area championship in San AntonioFor many of the boys, it was their first time traveling outside New Mexico. They stopped in Chicago and watched the Cubs and the White Sox play. Dick Storie, the first baseman and the team’s “youngster,” as he put it, recalled watching Ernie Banks of the Cubs, another fellow first baseman. The excitement in his voice even now was evident. “It was an amazing feeling, as you could imagine.”  

Hobson added, “It was a real treat for 11- and 12-year-olds to watch the professional teams play in Chicago. It was fun and exciting for us boys to travel together and play baseball in front of about 10,000 people.”  

Despite the dirt field, wooden benches, ragged uniforms and chicken wire backstop, these boys had one aim on their agenda, and that was to play ball. In retrospect, they were probably not supposed to win the Little League World Series. Not only did they overcome adversity and prove that it does not matter where you come from but where you are headed, these boys did it with humility and grace.  

Catcher Blain Stribling remembered often having to throw tumbleweeds out of the way so that they could play. “The bases weren’t all that secure. They would sort of slide around when you stepped on them. It kind of felt like we were just playing in an empty lot back home, so when we got to Williamsport, that field was like heaven to us.”  

Throughout my interviews with the players, one thing was evident. The aim of these boys was ultimately to have fun. “Our coach made sure we knew the fundamentals, but other than that, we were just encouraged to go out there and enjoy the game,” Hobson remarked. “We didn’t feel too much pressure or nerves when we played. We just had fun.” This attitude and perspective differed from those of the East Coast teams, who were trained with the sole intention of winning.  

Eight other teams were competing in Williamsport during the Little League World Series. The boys defeated Delaware Township, New Jersey 3-1. Perhaps Roswell's most notable player was pitcher Tommy Jordan, who was nearly impossible to hit off of. He ended the championship game with 14 strikes, two walks and just two hits. Despite the impressive skill set of Delaware Township, who beat their California competitor in the previous game 2-0, they simply could not hit off of Jordan.  

Although the win 60 years ago is permanent, the game of baseball and the attitude towards it has evolved. “Back then, all that mattered was the game. That’s all we wanted to do was play ball,” confided Stribling, the sincerity apparent in his voice. “My grandchildren are playing ball now, and it is all competition. The mentality is different now than it once was.”  

Victory was achieved and the boys made their mark on not only Roswell history, but also on baseball history. Along the way, lifelong friendships and bonds would be created. “It was a special group of boys,” Hobson stated. “We definitely developed some great friendships and stayed in touch with each other throughout the years.” Five of the men attended a dinner hosted by the Historical Society for Southeastern New Mexico in August, where they reminisced of their Lion days back in the late 1950s. 

After the cheers and celebration subsided, the boys went on with their lives. Life happened, death happened, and everything in between. Somehow along the way, the trophy from that moment in history vanished. No one is sure of its whereabouts now or who may have it, but in the scheme of things, it was merely a tangible reminder of what was accomplished. The men today are the true testament to the victory of 1956.  


Forever Frontier

As Lea County Centennial Committee members discussed celebrating the 100th anniversary of Lea County’s formation as a separate county, they explored the heritage of the southeast corner of New Mexico. On March 17, 1917 the New Mexico Legislature formed Lea County from the eastern halves of Chaves and Eddy Counties.

In reflecting on the past, the committee chose the theme of “The Spirit of the Pioneer” to honor all of the diverse pioneer experiences in ranching and farming, oil and gas exploration, a military air base training field and present development of alternative energy sources. Lea County has produced several notable trail-blazers in all these areas since becoming a county in 1917.

Before Native Americans passed through this region, giant mammoths and other prehistoric animals left their imprints on the land grazing through the grasslands of the Llano Estacado. Searching for food and water, Native Americans migrated and hunted throughout the same vast land.

Open range cowboys drove their great herds of horses and cattle to market. The Homestead Acts of the 1900s brought ranchers, farmers and settlers who made dugout homes and clung to the land throughout the good and bad times. There were 174 original land patents originating in 1917 with small communities dotting the county. The names and number of communities rose and fell leaving the present remaining five towns: Tatum, Lovington, Hobbs, Eunice and Jal. 

In 1926 boom towns and tent cities grew up overnight with hundreds moving here to drill for black gold. The oil and gas industry development resembled a wild roller coaster ride from the 1900s to the present. In 2017 Lea County was honored for pumping more oil than any other area in the Permian Basin in 2016 by producing more than 700 million barrels of oil. New oil field discoveries and new methods of recovering oil have increased the level of production.

In addition, Lea County’s nickname, the “Energy Plex,” relates to the development of alternative sources of energy including solar fields, wind turbines and nuclear enrichment.

Quality of life initiatives are exhibited with the schools, museums, artists, colleges and expansion of new facilities to serve the public. I hope you enjoy reading this keepsake Centennial Celebration issue of Focus on Lea County and remember the pioneers who passed before us as we honor our diverse history. 

Best regards,

Lyn Edwards




ARTIST GALLERY COUPLE: Always Finds Time for Creativity 

He is the pastor of Blodgett Street Baptist Church, the chaplain for the Carlsbad Police Department, the husband of a working wife, and a father and grandfather. 

She teaches second grade at Monterrey Elementary School, plays piano every Sunday at Blodgett Street Baptist Church and keeps up with four grown children, five grandchildren and a husband with a painful back condition. 

And somewhere in their busy lives, these two find time to practice their art with tools ranging from pen and ink to diamond saws. 

Meet David and Jody Prell of JD Creations, who have on display at the Artist Gallery in downtown Carlsbad their handcrafted jewelry, fine art and gems and minerals. The gems and minerals can be found in natural form as well as worked into beautiful creations with silver, gold and exotic woods.  

"This is my personal therapy," confided David Prell as he stood in the middle of the jewelry-making equipment that fills his small home workshop. 

David was especially happy because just that morning, a ball-point pen he made from New Mexico mesquite wood and Hatchita turquoise was presented to U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz during a visit to the WIPP site here. 

David remarked that the pen is one of his newest creative efforts. "This all started because I was laid up with this broken back. 

Because he could not go to his office each day, he looked for ways to stay busy while still resting at home. He found that using his new lathe to turn the wood and gemstones for the pens was just the ticket. 

"It's turned into a really fun, new outlet for art," he shared. "It combined jewelry with our love of New Mexico minerals and New Mexico style.” That means desert ironwood from Arizona and New Mexico mesquite, adorned with bands of silver, New Mexico and Arizona turquoise and fire opal from Rockhound State Park in Luna County. 

"I started as a rock hound," David added, "... a gemologist by trade." 

He does everything from collecting and polishing New Mexico rocks to buying and selling or trading them. 

In his workshop, David showed the tools of his trade. There is a polishing wheel, a faceting machine and a couple of lathes. There is also equipment for casting silver and other metals for jewelry that David designs. 

There are rough gemstones David and Jody have collected on rockhounding expeditions around southern New Mexico, such as jasper, peridot, garnet and agate. From these, he selects the best to be tumbled, polished and shaped into a piece of jewelry, a transformation that still enchants him. 

He pointed out the workbench where he does the metalwork. "I do two styles of jewelry," he explained. There is hand forging, where he uses hammer and anvil to shape and stamp designs from sheet or wire metal. His anvil is the stump of a tree that once stood at the Eddy County Courthouse. 

He also does casting of silver, gold and other metals. He has wax molds of many rings that he casts to sell in the gallery. He showed a small silver drill bit, a charm he designed especially for those who work in area oilfields. 

Jody Prell has her own power tools, including a sand-blasting setup that lets her etch images on glass. But much of her art is done with pen and ink, with intricate black and white designs that cover a ceramic bowl or fill a heart-shaped image. They resemble the popular drawing style called “Zentangle.” She has been drawing in this manner for a long time, "before it was Zentangle." 

One popular piece is a drawing in the shape of the state of New Mexico. All major cities, and most of the smaller ones as well, are located on the map along with tiny representations of local icons: Carlsbad has the Flume, the Pecos River and Carlsbad Caverns, Deming has the duck races. Ornamental designs fill every bit of free space between towns. 

Jody is working on a series of numbered prints of this map, which will be available at the gallery. 

"We've been members [of the gallery] almost as long as we've been [in Carlsbad]," she stated, about 14 years.  

As part of the member-owned artists' cooperative that is a long-time Carlsbad institution, the Prells take their turn minding the store, and they participate in the co-op's governing process. 

To display any art, "you have to be juried in," Jody revealed. It is an elite group of area artists who are approved by the gallery board to display a variety of art forms.  

She suggested that more residents should remember the gallery when gift shopping because of the wide assortment of beautiful items in a range of prices. "We have gifts from $5 to $5,000. 

With a hint of pride, she pointed out that David was the featured artist in the gallery's ad in the latest issue of New Mexico Magazine. 

Jody displayed a large pendant that David made for her to wear to the White House. She was invited there last year when one of her creations was chosen to grace the White House Christmas tree. 

She wanted something suitably formal, but also something to represent all that is special about the arts in New Mexico. So David carved the shape of the state in New Mexico turquoise. Superimposed on the state are three rough-hewn gold crosses, and the other fittings are also made of gold. That turquoise representation of the state is also used in David's bolo ties and other jewelry. 

While preaching and teaching keep David and Jody Prell very busy, they will always find time for their artwork.


The Committee That Saved Roswell

The story of the Walker Air Force Base (AFB) closure in 1967 doesn’t begin in 1967. To understand what happened, you have to go back 26 years further to 1941 when the City of Roswell bought ten sections of land south of town and gifted the land to the U.S. Army. Before 1941, the Army used the land out at the old municipal airport that is now Cielo Grande Park on College Avenue. They flew B-17s out of the old airfield, and the noise as each bomber landed and took off was horrendous. Residents complained. The City’s solution was genius: move the Army south of town. When the land south of Roswell transferred to the Army, the city placed a reversionary clause in their contract with the Army that transferred all land back to the City of Roswell if the U.S. Army were to ever abandon the land.  

Thus, when the U.S. Air Force (USAF) announced the closure of Walker AFB in December of 1965, the City of Roswell faced two challenges: a sudden outflow of both jobs and capital, and the acquisition of 10 sections of land now fully developed for use as an air force base. This ruined Christmas for a lot of people in Roswell, but the city wasn’t about to roll over and let unfortunate circumstances sink it. The mayor of Roswell asked USAF General Curtis LeMay if anything could be done to allay the closure of Walker AFB. Roswell was the general’s favorite base. Yet the general had no good news. The order had come straight from Washington. Apparently, Walker AFB wasn’t the only base closure at the time. Three other bases closed at the same time: Amarillo in Texas, Clinton-Sherman in Oklahoma and Schilling in Kansas. Official sources say these base closures were due to a need for war funds during the Vietnam War. But according to former Mayor Bill Brainerd, each base was located in an area that heavily voted against Democratic President Lyndon Johnson and for his Republican challenger, Barry Goldwater. And the official reason for the base closure was suspicious in its own right. The B-52 bombersthe 509th Enola Gay and the 6th Bockscarwere moved to North Dakota and Maine. What were the reasons given for each move and for the base closure? The weather wasn’t right.  

Whatever the real reasons were, the closure of Walker AFB was inevitable. In the face of such dire circumstances, the mayor put together a small, tight committee of a few prominent community members to oversee the transition of land from the U.S. government to the City of RoswellThe four men met once a week for breakfast, tasked with monitoring the base closure and helping the city transition the land into its possession. These four men were Dr. R.J. Marshall, ENMU-R Dean John Gillis, abstractor Liman Sanders and lawyer Bill Brainerd. According to Brainerd, Washington sent their own man as a liaison between the city and the federal government in order to have “as few hitches as possible.”  

Marshall was in charge of the hospital transition between the USAF and the city. One morning as the committee was having breakfast, Marshall mentioned that he had attended medical school at Baylor University with the surgeon general. The committee decided to send Marshall on a plane to meet with the him. “It must have been a pretty good meeting,” noted Brainerd, “because when the Air Force left, they just turned off the lights and left the hospital intact.” The USAF left the hospital fully supplied with surgical tools, clothing, beds and monitors and was in such good shape that the State of New Mexico bought the facility from the City of Roswell.  

John Gillis, dean of Eastern New Mexico University at the time, was tasked with overseeing the dorms, offices and other buildings useful for education. Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell occupied the Old Post Office downtown and had spilled over into the classrooms of Roswell High School. The university needed more space and bought the dorms, office buildings and Officers Club. The dorms were so numerous on the old base that the city had to winterize and preserve many of the unused buildings until the university grew large enough to need them. Brainerd praised Gillis’s efforts, saying that he did an excellent job of “pickling” the dorms. So well, in fact, that very little had to be done once the university finally needed those buildings. The main Air Force office became the main offices for the university, and the Officers Club became the Student Union. 

Brainerd was in charge of the flight line and the transition of the hundreds of bungalows on the base. One of the reasons Roswell was so successful in reclaiming the land at the base and utilizing it was partly due to the city hiring every master sergeant to work on the flight line. The Air Force had installed fuel lines and fueling stations along each runway, and the master sergeants knew where each line went and how to maintenance each line. The city brought in Pan Am and later Boeing to test their airplanes on Roswell’s runways. “We didn’t charge a landing fee, but we did charge a refueling fee. We were basically coining money out there,” Brainerd laughed.  

The city decided to preserve the 801 houses on the base as the housing market in Roswell received a significant blow when the base closed. Brainerd said he wishes the Housing Authority had handled the housing on the base better than they had. The city sat on that property for 10 years hoping to see the housing market rise. The market did rise, but by the time the houses went up for sale, the properties were in such poor condition that they went for a pittance. Some in Roswell are still disappointed with the city’s actions in this area, saying the property could have been used more productively, building such things as light manufacturing and warehouses.  

Roswell went through an extreme downturn during the years following the base closure. Before the closure, Roswell’s population sat at about 48,000. Afterward, Roswell’s population dropped to 33,000, about a third cut in economic wealth. Near the end of my interview with Brainerd, he chuckled as he revealed that after the Air Force vacated the land south of the city, Roswell did see growth in groceries and liquor. Apparently, military personal could purchase groceries and liquor tax free on the base, and the liquor was cheaper than in the city. Sergeants would set up small side markets in their homes and take orders from Roswell citizens, running goods up from the base and making a side profit. When this activity ceased, grocery and liquor stores in Roswell found their profits rising.  

Roswell survived the closure of Walker AFB, and the brave little committee Bill Brainerd served on can be credited with a very large part of why Roswell survived. 


Lea's Grand Historic Hostelry: The Commercial Hotel Continuously Occupied Through Lea's Life

They started constructing the building a century ago this year.  

It was first occupied 99 years ago.

It sits stately with two-story white walls and a red roof just a few yards southeast of the county courthouse.

It is told that Lea’s first flush toilets were installed in it, and they were so unique that farmers and ranchers made trips into Lovington just to marvel at the device with a tank high on the wall and a chain hanging down to just above your head.

You could take a room for $1.00 per night with a meal costing from 35¢ to 50¢.

 The hotel had its own garden, and cows were kept out back for milk, butter and meat. Hotel fowl provided eggs for breakfast and fried chicken for dinner.

It is 112 feet long by 37 feet wide. Its two stories comprise 8,288 square feet.

Its outside walls are hand-poured concrete 12 inches thick, and if you look on its south side you can see where the 14-inch wide forms that held the liquid concrete went up one at a time.

It must have taken many hundreds of man hours to build it. 

Its downstairs ceiling is 12 feet tall, the front desk of the lobby placed next to a stairway, the walls decorated with the stuffed heads of buffalo, antelope and elk as they might have been in the West’s frontier times.

This is Lovington’s Commercial Hotel, the first hotel of its size and quality in this corner of New Mexico; since 1969, it has been the primary building of the Lea County Museum.

Visitors entering the lobby often ask if the hotel has a ghost. They get to hear about the time one of the hotel’s occupants spent a night listening to some unusual sounds below the first  floor, which turned out to be a couple of cats that had snuck into the basement. They can also hear the story of the man who caught fire and died on the second floor. But as far as anyone knows, the only spirit in the Commercial Hotel is the spirit of frontier times and of this neck of the Southern Plains.

The Commercial Hotel was built by four Lovington businessmen and ranchers:  John D. Graham; Dolph Lusk, Sr.; Mathew Sewalt and Seth Alston.

Things did not start out well for them. Sewalt died the same year the hotel opened, 1918, and Lusk died the next year. Over time the hotel had several different owners, and during those years several families and individuals were employed to operate and live in it.

For example, the Fairweather family owned and operated it twice, once in the 1920s and again in the 1930s.

The hotel had three different names:  the Commercial Hotel, the Love Hotel and the Plaza Hotel. Jokes are still told about the second name, such as, “When it was the Love Hotel, you had to be 18 years of age to stay the night.” Love was the name of a family from Pecos, Texas, who owned it for a while. They were not related to the Love family who founded the town of Lovington, however.

The Commercial Hotel provided visitors with the best accommodations in the region, and for Lovington and area residents it was the place for a formal meal. Many good times were had visiting with friends and strangers in the hotel lobby.

It’s Lea’s longest continuously-occupied commercial building.

The county is celebrating its own centennial this year. Next year the Commercial Hotel will be celebrating its centennial, and there is no reason that the building can’t still be standing where it is in another hundred years. It’s that strong and sturdy.

Try to imagine residents of Lea celebrating the hotel’s second centennial in 2117.


Carlsbad Popping: Craze Keeps 

A growing number of Carlsbad youth just can’t help themselvesonce they start popping, there’s no stopping.  

Popping is a funk-based street dance that originated in the Fresno, California, area during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It’s a technique defined by quickly contracting and relaxing muscles to cause rapid, robotic movements. Styles such as “the robot” and “puppet” are generally considered to be subsets of popping, though other definitions consider them to simply be similar moves.  

“You can go way back to Soul Train,” noted Anthony Alanzo, who serves as an instructor and manager for many of Carlsbad’s popping enthusiasts. “They’d find the best dancers and put them on the show, so then everybody would want to learn that style.”  

Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers, known for his role as Turbo in 1984’s Breakin and its sequel Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, was undoubtedly one of the style’s breakout performers, as was co-star Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quinones.  

Carlsbad itself has an early history of interest in the style, Alanzo sharedboasting of stars in the 1980s such as Pete and Jesse Peralta, Jessie Moreno, Ruby Snow, Kelvin Lee, Keith Ingram, Richard Methola and Ben Madrid, to name a fewMadrid, a City of Carlsbad employee, even had a cameo in a Pepsi commercial. 

“There’s a lot of history in Carlsbad,” Alanzo acknowledged 

More recently, Alanzo and other volunteers have been teaching a popping class at the Riverwalk Recreation Center every Tuesday. Alanzo, who grew up dancing in California, recruited some great help to assist him with the classes, including Keenan Williams, AKA Popping Keyz, and Jeffrey Rascon, AKA Zelo 

Alanzo first spotted Williams, then a sophomore in high school, dancing at a local park. Then he met the young dancer while working as a DJ at a local high school dance. “I asked my son, ‘Who is that kid?’” he remembered. I had never seen someone that good.”  

Williams said he began dancing when he was 14. “I saw a YouTube video and I was hooked. I was always really into music and art, and I started going outside (to dance) to get out of the house.” 

He admitted that getting involved with popping has changed his life, and he now really enjoys working with youth. “It’s a good outlet for these kids. A lot of them come from a troubled background. We’ve broken through a lot of shells.”  

The free classes at the rec center are from 6-8 p.m. every Tuesday. Popping isn’t a rehearsed performance, so instruction usually involves overall technique and fine-tuning specific moves that will later be incorporated into the improvisationUp to 20 people participate each week, and the participation includes boys and girls.  

“The purpose of the whole group was to invite kids and attract their mind into this dance,” Alanzo revealed. The age range of participants is usually from 4 to around 22, though a few older participants have joined. 

“I think we’re getting a lot of respect for bringing popping back alive again,” he declared. “Everybody wants to learn a street dance, and this is a street dance.” 

He and his group of poppers travel to several competitions each year, and they have also held a number of such dance-offs in CarlsbadDuring competitions, “O.G.s” ("original gangsters," which basically means older, veteran dancers) serve as judges. 

“They judge on how clean the transitions are, what the combinations are and how you do your movement,” he explained. “They are really looking at the story you tell.” The ultimate goal is to execute a combination so perfectly that the illusion is maintained.  

The group competed in El Paso in December, and Williams and Rascon both received top honors. Another young dancer, Kaleb Martinez, AKA Lil Cooler, made a strong impressionAlanzo’s crew will be competing in the Breaking Hearts competition in March, and a Popping Picnic is planned in Carlsbad on March 25.  

Alanzo volunteers a great deal of his time promoting events in Carlsbad, either dance competitions or professional wrestling exhibitions. The two aren’t related, except for when they are. “Many of the wrestlers who have come to Carlsbad were originally break dancers,” he mused. “So there is a connection.” 

Williams, the local protégé, said he enjoys attending dance battles in El Paso and other locations because they present a chance to meet with new people and to grow. He enjoys watching “old school” dancers like Ben Madrid perform when they can be talked into it. 

“It’s just like riding a bicycle, Williams observed, noting that the skill is never lost. 

Williams has met competitors who have participated in So You Think You Can Dance and other televised events. He said he’d like the opportunity to participate in such an event at some point. “I work out at WIPP as a custodian,” he added, smiling. “Whenever nobody is looking, I’m doing the robot.”  

Alanzo said the March 25 event will be a big deal, as it is the first time the Popper’s Picnic has been held outside of Carlsbad.  

“Carlsbad is recognized all the way from Korea and Singapore to New York City and Boston,” he concluded. “They all recognize the hard work that’s been put into it.”


The Birth of a Diversified Economy

When she was a young girl, Dr. Judy Armstrong moved to Roswell with her family into a house located directly in the flight path of the bombers that practiced at Walker Air Force Base (AFB). “They would come rumbling over, and it just shook the house!” she exclaimed. They would fly so low that we could see the pilots, and we would wave at them.”  

In the 1950s, it was a common sight in Roswell to see Air Force bombers running practice flights, airmen strolling Main Street and $2 bills circulating through the retail shopsthe government’s way of determining how much money the airmen were spending in the community. They were prosperous times in a bustling community.  

“I went off to college in 1964 and everything was fine,” Armstrong recalled. “But when I came back it was like a ghost town. It was sad, very sad.” The Roswell she knew had a Main Street that was full of retail shops, clothing stores, jewelry stores, drug stores; there were movie theaters downtown, three different men’s clothing stores and walkways filled with airmen and their families. That was then.  

Everything changed one summer day in 1967.  

“My wife and I were both home with the flu when it came out on the news,” remembered Roswell resident Bob Plotter. “That’s how I found out the base was closing—from the news.” That might not seem like a very big deal—finding out about something shutting down via the media—but considering the fact that Bob was stationed at Walker AFB and had been for 10 years, it was a very big deal! In a matter of moments his entire life changed. He had a young family, a wife and a mortgage, and just like that he was forced to reconfigure. I was devastated,” he admitted. “We didn’t know how it would affect us or when. We knew we would have to go somewhere…It’s tough on the whole family; we had two children, one in kindergarten and one in preschool  

That “somewhere” for Plotter turned out to be Charleston, South Carolina. Others from the base transferred to New Jersey or Spokane, Washington. Plotter was among the first wave of people transferred out in 1966. On June 30, 1967, the base was officially closed 

The Million-Dollar Question 

Walker AFB opened in 1941 as an Army Air Corps flying school and was active during World War II and the post-war era as Roswell Army Air Field. It was an active base and even became the largest base of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) during the early years of the Cold War. Everything seemed to be rolling along smoothly, or so everyone thought. The 1950s and 60s, however, saw the beginning and climax of the Vietnam War, which as we all know today would end up being a long and costly war to fight. When government officials announced the closure of Walker AFB, it was an unexpected move to locals, but the government’s reasoning seemed to make sense. An official statement alleged that a round of stateside closings and consolidations was necessary as the Defense Department struggled to pay the expenses of the Vietnam War with the budgetary limits set by Congress.  

However, if you ask folks around Roswell why the base closed, you are likely to get a different story. Those at the base during the closure said they were told Roswell was “too dry and dusty” to maintain the planes and equipment at the base, but many believe that the conservative community of Roswell, New Mexico didn’t jive well with the more liberal views of Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson and believe it was a form of retaliation, so to speak, against the Republicans.  

Regardless of why it closed, the fact remained that the community of nearly 60,000 residents was about to undergo a drastic transformation.  

Census numbers indicate that in 1960 the population of Chaves County totaled 57,649, a large segment of which could be attributed to Walker AFBIn the 1970 census, however, the county saw a nearly 25 percent decline in its population; only 43,335 residents remained. “It was devastating to our community,” Armstrong reiterated.  

But while the base closure certainly had an enormous impact for this community, fortunately for us, the story does not end there. Thanks to the vision and tenacity of city leaders at the time, the void left by the base closing was filled with rich diversity ranging from manufacturing to education to agriculture. “When we came back in 1977, we still saw some of the effects of the base closure,” Plotter shared. “A lot of Main Street wasn’t filled up yet, and there were a lot of houses on the market.”  

Even so, Armstrong was present to witness the quick response by city leaders immediately following the closure and was impressed that after 10 years, the community had already begun to bounce back and was on its way to becoming stronger than ever. “I think the base closure taught us that we need to be diversified, because at the time, everyone was counting on the base,” she reckoned.  

Armstrong said city leaders like Mayor Bill Brainerd and the city council worked tirelessly to reinvent the community and bring in other sources of revenue. After closing, the land was divided up with portions going to the City of Roswell, some to Eastern New Mexico University and a third portion earmarked as a residential sector. The city utilized much of their portion for aviation and manufacturing; the college for expansion; and the residential sector for housing.  

“You really have to give so much credit to our mayors and counselors that had the vision to utilize the facility for aviation, because that’s made all the difference,” Armstrong stated. “And of course Dr. (Loyd) Hughes and others from the college who had a vision for expanding the college out there, too.”  

Today, the “old base” is used for storage, manufacturing and aviation, education and housing. The community as a whole has continued to diversify and now credits agriculture and local dairies with assisting in the rebound as well. Still other areas where the community has seen an increase in numbers include tourism and the retiree segment. With the warm, dry climate, access to medical facilities and the relatively low cost of living, Roswell has proven to be an ideal destination for people like Plotter who are looking for a nice place to retire. “After the base closed we moved to South Carolina, then I went to Vietnam, back to South Carolina, and finally Scott Air Force Base in Arizona, where I retired from the Air Force after 40 years,” he shared. “After I retired, we decided to move back to Roswell. It’s probably the best place we’ve ever livedWe really do like it here.” After moving back in 1977, he embarked on a second career and spent the next 20 years working for the United States Post Office in Roswell, retiring in 1997 

And what Roswell growth story would be complete without at least a mention of the famous—or infamousdepending upon who you are and to whom you’re talking—“Roswell Incident” and the subsequent alien culture that has accompanied it?  

The numbers, though, summarize the story best: in 2010, the United States Census Bureau reported the total population of Chaves County at 65,764. That’s a nearly 52 percent increase from the devastating numbers reported in 1970. When asked what he is most proud of in terms of his adopted hometown, Plotter didn’t hesitate. “I’m most proud of the way this community has continued to grow and hasn’t gotten stale. My wife and I travel a lot, and since 2008 when the stock market fell, we see car dealerships and strip malls abandoned and towns just really hurting, but not Roswell. We continue to flourish, and I think it’s because we are so diversified now. That would have never happened if the base hadn’t closed!”