by Oliver E. Owen, M.D.
Class President 1953

This write-up of Roswell, New Mexico, was derived largely from memory. It represents both vague and vivid recollections and may inadvertently contain some inaccuracies. Some of the comments regarding the pioneers were extracted from Carole Larson's book, Forgotten Frontier.

Roswell is located in the dry, high plains of New Mexico, just west of the Pecos River. This region of the United States is relatively poor in natural resources, especially water. Nonetheless, during the early 1900's Roswell was an oasis for farmers and ranchers who controlled the lands east of Mount Baldy (Sierra Blanca). It, however, became relatively rich in human talents. From this sparsely populated region of the nation some interesting characters emerged whose impacts have been permanently imprinted on Roswell as names of streets, parks, statues, etc.

After the Civil War, the southern plains of New Mexico was open grazing land for cattle and sheep. Cattle barons like John Chisum emerged with strength and charisma to acquire wealth and influence. Chisum was astute and both aggressive and defensive, protecting his cattle and other properties as he produced livestock for the market. He moved into the house located on South Spring River in 1875. As youngsters, we would drive by the farm/ranch site and admiringly look at the green trees and fields and pastures, capped by the large house and barns in the distance. The property always had a charming mystique and seemed to have more water and be greener than the adjacent farmlands. The grandeur of open social events was conjured up in our minds. Chisum's forceful and dynamic physique is beautifully displayed in a massive bronze statue in Pioneer Plaza.

From the start of the Roswell community, some of the pioneers were civil minded. Joseph C. Lea promoted Roswell from day one. He was an analytical, diplomatic businessman who was politically influential. Lea arranged to have Roswell surveyed and arranged perpendicular streets leading to a well block-designed town. His son started the Roswell Daily Record, a newspaper where many years later our friends and classmates served as paper delivery boys.

James J. Hagerman was a college-educated entrepreneur. He amassed a fortune from gigantic mining operations. Unfortunately, he developed life-threatening pulmonary tuberculosis and eventually moved from the Midwest to the Southwest to recover his health. He was a generous idealistic philanthropist who promoted both his personal welfare and the welfare of society. However, his fortune was largely lost in his adventures related to unsuccessful attempts to dam the Pecos River for irrigating farm lands.

Lea started the Goss Military Academy in Roswell, which became defunct. Later, Hagerman donated a 40-acre parcel of land on a northern Roswell hill, and a new campus was opened near the turn of the century. The school was renamed the New Mexico Military Institute. Its highly organized buildings of yellow brick have become landmarks in Southeastern New Mexico. It attracts interesting students from local, national and international places. During our high school years, the students at NMMI were all male cadets. There was intense competition among the older Roswell high school boys and the military cadets for the affections of the high school girls and for victories in sporting events. Many of the town youngsters had a lack of appreciation for all of the wonderful endeavors undertaken by the Institute. In spite of our shortcomings, we enjoyed sneaking into the school's heated swimming pool during the winter, using the gym facilities, sharing the basketball courts, watching the polo matches, enjoying performances at the Pearson Auditorium, and cracking disparaging comments upon the disciplined cadets. Now, as older adults, we realize that our behavior was most uncivil.

Martin VanBuren Corn left a legend that is obvious in Roswell. He was a disciplined and hard working farmer who established his farm/ranch north of Roswell. His first wife died after the birth of her 10th child. Corn remarried a young woman, and they had 11 children of their own. Their last child, Poe, was born in 1909. The Corn progeny became prominent in the Roswell community. Poe Corn became a fabulous local athlete, subsequently the head coach, and later the supervisor of physical education of Roswell High School. His children were admirable RHS graduates. His son now serves Senator Pete Domenici.

Among the wealthy cattle barons, land management companies and multiple business enterprises, none was more obvious to our group than James Phelps White. Maybe this is because the remnants of his empire were still standing when we were in high school. Most, if not all, of 1952 and 1953 classmates have passed the sturdy yellow brick J.P. White mansion on the corner of Lea and West Second Streets. The large business office building on West Third Street and the feed mill out toward East Grand Plains reminded us of his vast fortune. He enriched the southeastern corner of New Mexico with profits garnered from raising beef cattle and managing land. Further, his grandchildren were schoolmates, and they shared our enthusiasm for the Roswell culture.

The characteristics of these pioneers were among seminal forces that generated the intangible infrastructure of the current Roswellite personalities: bold but fair, shrewd but honest, hard but charitable, opportunistic but sharing, revengeful but forgiving, tough but loving.

In 1940 Roswell was a town with a population of about 5,000. Most of the inhabitants were connected to the farming, ranching and tourist industries. After the start of World War II in 1941, Roswell began an explosive expansion phase. The Walker Air Force Base was developed south of the town. Major construction of office buildings, roads, airplane landing strips, hangars, barracks, and houses was started and continued for some 10-12 years. The B-29 bomber that transported the first atomic bombs to Japan, the Enola Gay, flew out of Roswell. Walker became a Strategic Air Command facility in 1948. This air force base employed highly technical warfare instruments and weapons personnel. Among the wartime immigrants to Roswell were sophisticated commanders, army and air force engineers, mathematicians, and educational and training experts. Some of the male personnel were accompanied by their talented wives and children. Roswell became a vibrant city. It began accumulating an interesting form of wealth. A new influx of schoolteachers joined the grade school, junior high and senior high faculties. These puritanical and devoted educators brought a wide spectrum of new information to a country town. They inspired civility and promoted literature, music, art, theater and craftsmanship. They stimulated the receptive minds of the Pecos Valley people and helped high school students obtain scholarships to colleges.

Deeply ingrained prejudicial walls began to fall. Imaginations flared and ambitious dreams developed, some of which matured into development of substantial careers as businessmen, politicians, sports celebrities, entertainers, public servants and professionals.

With the influx of people related to the armed forces and support staff, the population increased from about 5,000 in 1940 to 40,000 in 1950. The Roswell community was prosperous. Jobs were available and the pay scale was good. Roswellites became expressive. They wanted and could enjoy life. There was time to have fun, be loved, and be healthy. Personal relationships were generous and forgiving. The Anglo-Hispanic-Indian tri-society generated a creative and stimulating environment. The local radio stations were playing the hits of Tony Bennett, Perry Como and Frankie Lane, as well as those of Lefty Frizzel and Hank Williams. The Roswell High School boys dressed in Levi pants and jackets; the girls wore skirts that hung below the knees, bobbysocks and saddle oxfords. They (we) participated in all kinds of extracurricular activities. There was room for everyone to do something challenging, be it student council, school plays, band, homecoming parades, athletic teams (state basketball champions), parties, dances, and/or social organizations. The Roswell environment was not constrictive. Opportunity was abundant. All you had to do was to grasp it and go. Of course this Camelot period slowly dissipated, but not until most of us developed gratifying careers and matured into successful spouses, parents and grandparents.

A reunion for our 1952 and 1953 classes will be held October 1, 2, and 3, 2002. Humorous jokes, deep loves and fistfights can be recalled during personal conversations at the reunion. Classmates can come together with contentment but without pretense. However, we should be cognizant that aging modifies personalities. It amplifies individual traits. In essence, older people are caricatures of their younger selves. Based upon my premonition, we will be more considerate and extraordinarily attracted to and supportive of each other. The anticipated mental anguish associated with trying to recall names should quickly fade into laughter, handshakes, hugs and kisses. We must take advantage of this opportunity while there is still time to greet those who remain dear to us. We can celebrate during the reunion festivities.